The last few hours before.
30 April 2017
I am ransacking my wardrobe for a jacket I intend to wear for church service tomorrow.
(Or later, given that it’s past midnight).
I can’t find the jacket.
So, I give up and go to bed.
I am woken up by a light touch to my cheek.
It’s my domestic helper.
In my groggy state, I hear her say,
“Wake up, I heard that Popo is not breathing.”
I sit up as fast as I can.
My sister, who heard the exact chilling sentence I did, also sits up with a jolt.
Both of us cannot seem to move.
“Where’s Mummy?” I ask my helper.
She replies “She’s getting ready to go over to Popo’s house.”
30 April 2017, Saturday
My sister goes out of the room and stands in the corridor, stupefied.
I follow, but remain behind the doors.
My legs feel weak.
I hear my parents’ room door open with a rush.
My mum is speaking to my aunt over the phone:
“I’m coming over, Jenny. Wait for me.
The paramedics are there?
I know, Jenny. Just wait for me.”
My mum’s voice is shaky.
I hold on tightly to my doorknob.
I look over at my sister, just as tears start to roll down her face.
As my parents leave the house in haste, I go back to my bed in silence.
My sister walks over to my brother’s room to inform him what happened.
I lie in bed and pray that this is just a dream.
My dad texts in the group chat: “Do you guys want to come over?”
I reply immediately: “Yes”.
We arrive at my grandma’s house.
My siblings walk ahead of me.
I hear my mum sobbing in my grandma’s room.
The rest of our extended family are in the living room.
They look blankly at us as we pass them on the way to my grandma’s room.
Right before I turn into her room, I stand at the corner and take a deep breath
But nothing could have prepared me for what I was to see.
My grandma was lying on the floor (I believe the paramedics moved her from her bed to check on her),
while my mother was sobbing next to her body. I fell to the floor and broke down.
I called to her (in Cantonese), “Popo, please wake up, we are here to see you…”
She would have turned 90 on 1 May 2017. As her birthday fell on a public holiday, we made plans to head out to celebrate. We never unexpected that she would leave us just like that, one day before her birthday.
There are no words to describe the pain of losing a loved one so unexpectedly.
I repeatedly questioned myself during the wake,
Why hadn’t I visited her during the weekdays?
I usually visit her on Sundays, but the last Sunday before her death, I was not in Singapore.
And then she was gone.
I was the first grandchild in the family, so the amount of love she showered on me was tremendous. I remember how whenever I told her I wanted to eat the porridge made by her own hand, a huge pot of pork liver porridge would be waiting for me by the next day.
Raising three kids on her own was definitely tough, especially in Singapore, and the only language/dialect she could speak was Cantonese. She was a strong woman, and I always looked up to her. Though my Cantonese is poor, I tried to converse with her to the best of my ability.
Once, she called my home phone and I picked up. She asked me what was I doing, and I didn’t know how to tell her that I was watching TV in Cantonese. So I used the only Cantonese words I knew: “Fan gao” (I told her I was sleeping).
I miss her terribly. I miss watching her face light up when we went over to visit her, I miss playing mahjong with her, I miss listening to her call out to me to help her with chores.
I wish I told her I loved her. I was just always awfully shy to say those 3 words in Cantonese.
But the succor of my family and friends were a huge support to me. Whenever I heard someone say “She looks peaceful,” or “She lived a long fulfilling life,” I felt a strong sense of comfort.
When I kept asking,
Why couldn’t she wait for us to celebrate her birthday with her?
Someone close to my heart asked me,
“How many birthdays have you celebrated with her? How many birthdays have your grandpa celebrated with her? He must be jealous by now. He probably missed her too much, so he took her with him.”
Please always be happy, Popo. I hope you had a good celebration with Gong Gong over there. Now, sleep peacefully.
If you’re reading this now, and you are blessed enough to still have your grandparents with you, spend more time with them. Listen to their stories, and tell them yours. Our grandparents are usually the ones who cosseted us, so now that we are able to, it’s our turn to pamper them too.