Living and Dying

This won’t be morbid and I won’t make it depressing.
I was home in Banting early this month – it was an early morning phone call which woke me up and I knew it wasn’t good news. No one calls at 7am on a Saturday.
It was my Sis.
She couldn’t reach me via my mobile (I switch it off each night because there are crackpots who think nothing of dialling a wrong number at 3am and I do so value my beauty sleep) and called my landline.
“Mom wants us back home. Grandma’s is the hospital. Mom thinks she may go any moment….”
I never think of death and dying much although as a Buddhist, I am constantly reminded of it. Dying is inevitable.
Yet, we always think Dying (with a capital D) happens to other people. And like most Chinese, talking about Death warrants a loud, unbemused “choi”! Particularly if I am speaking to my aunts who get highly superstitious at any mention of unmentionables.
Yet, Grandma was 88 years old. She had lived a long life. Was it a good life? I hoped so. I hoped she enjoyed the last few decades – despite the hardships and difficulties early in her life.
What I remember most about her was her constant struggle with pain and aches though. Mom used to repeat the story of why Grandma had such a pronounced limp.
Grandma was a working woman back in the 1960s. She used to wash and clean huge ships which moored off the port in Penang. She took on this job as my Grandfather who was a goldsmith, had been laid off from work.
One day, as she was getting ready to go home after a particularly tiring night of cleaning and mopping, she mistook a step while she was getting into the boat. The boat ferried these working women from the port to the ship in the middle of the straits. The next thing she knew, she slipped and fell and fractured her hip!
She never quite recovered despite the hospitalisation and subsequent check-ups and she often walked with a limp. In her later years, she used a walking stick because her legs were not strong enough to hold her body weight.
As such, she lived on medicine. She was at her happiest when she had her store of Panadol and rheumatism pills. Her other vice was buying numbers from the “kedai nombor empat ekor”. And like a true blue Cantonese, she enjoyed mahjong too. She would usually be more alert if she is sitting and watching a boisterous mahjong game.
As sickly as Grandma was, ironically it was Grandfather who passed away first. I will forever remember that time as it was during the finals of the 2002 World Cup. Not that I am a football fan. Sometimes things like that stick in one’s mind.
Grandfather, the hale and healthy one, the one who never had a single white hair on his head, even though he was in his 90s, just passed away suddenly without any sickness or long-suffering pain.
But it’s not easy to watch your loved one go before you do.
At that time, Grandma was quite composed when she pressed the button and stared unflinchingly as the coffin with her husband’s body disappeared into the cremator. Grandfather had firm instructions that he wanted to be cremated and his ashes strewn into the sea.
And this time, in similar fashion, Mom would press the button.
We saw the coffin moving into the inner hall, where two crematorium staff then loaded the entire coffin into the cremator which had its door open and ready. The cremator is a large furnace which burns the body to ashes. Grandma’s ashes would be collected a day later and strewn into the sea. Just like her husband’s.
It was very poignant – those few solemn moments when the cremator door shut and the sounds of the furnace being started were heard – that signalled the last time we would ever see Grandma again.
Mental note to self: Let us appreciate what we have right here, right now so that when we go (yes, we all go some day) we go with a peaceful heart and no regrets or fears. And of course, appreciate and treat well those around us so that we know we’ve been the best we could be, to them.

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