Hello there. I am Terry and I am a full-time undergraduate based in Singapore. I take photos, write a blog and design websites.

And no, I'm not a teddy bear.

In the arms of the angel, fly away from here

A family portrait with greatgradma. I'm the one on the lower right.

A family portrait with greatgradma. I'm the one on the lower right.

Mom recently broke the news to be that greatgrandma will not last much longer. The old, wise and gentle lady that used to lead the family of hundred plus members is no longer the healthy, perky and humourous motherly figure that we can relate to. When my uncle held his wedding in my hometown Malaysia last weekend, she travelled all the way from the northern part of the country to give him her blessings. Before everyone could figure anything out, she was down with pneumonia, struggling with death on the hospital bed.

The doctors helped to alleviate her discomfort by removing water from her lungs. The next day, the water came back again. Noticing something amiss, the doctor checked with the rest of the extended family for her clinical background. She had intestinal cancer many years back and his best guess was that it’s a relapse.

She’s 96 and the days are numbered. Life is slowing seeping out of her as she laboured to gasp every breath of air around her. Her four daughters immediately travelled down from the north too (most of the members of the maternal side of the family live in Penang, a city up north of my country’s capital). The doctor suggested that since the water in her lungs would not cease, he suggested euthanasia by removal of the feeding tube.

She would wither slowly, painlessly but surely, he said. And in a week’s time she will be relieved from all the mortal burdens and move on to a better place, away from illness, suffering and pain.

The entire family panicked. My cousins and brother cried. My grandma, considered as a very strong, resilient woman of her age, couldn’t help but shed a lot of tears too. After a few days in the hospital, she was bundled into an emergency trip returning to Penang where more people could care for her. So far, what I’ve been getting from my mom is that she’s still battling hard against death.

She pulled the feeding tube from her. She refused to be fed. Perhaps she wanted a quick reprieve from the illness she’s suffering. She could barely drink or eat now, and she has been wandering dangerously close to the line that separates life and death.

Afterall, greatgrandma is the very top of our family hierarchy and in my culture, family is the one that matters the most. Year after year we would visit greatgrandma in Penang during Lunar New Year. I gave up asking my parents how old she is turning that very year and my parents gave up on my incessant questioning. When I was a kid, I had always prayed that she would turn 100 and enjoy five full generations under one roof. What never crossed my mind was her departure.

Family and Death

Death is something very foreign to me. Besides an unfortunate death of my uncle when I was in primary school due to a tragic industrial accident, our 100-strong extended family had never been apart and had never lost anyone since. His death reminds me of the mortality of human – how fragile and emotional we were, and that our organic, mortal bodies were merely vessels of the true, eternal spirit in within.

When we die, we will no longer be able to accompany our loved ones, our friends and our partners. However, what we leave behind is a lot of love and a legend that people will speak of. My late uncle had this unique place in my heart – a guitar man, an awesomely-good joke teller, a good (and sometimes irritating, haha) tickler, a man faithful to his partner, a filial son to my grandaunt, a shady knobby tree for his two sisters.

My greatgrandma, on the other hand, brought her two elder daughters from China many decades ago, when China and Japan were in war. They settled in the Malayan peninsula, living in the jungles feeding off potatoes and vegetables to avoid the ruthless Japanese army. They lived, with many other fearful Chinese fleeing from the Japanese onslaught, in caves or in jungles. Malnutrition kicked in, many suffered from scabies. Up till today I felt that it was a miracle they made it out alive.

Soon after that my greatgrandma ended up with four sons and five daughters, forming a very close knitted family up till today. My grandma is the elder daughter of all, and willingly picked up all greatgrandma’s duties when she was too old to handle family issues. Greatgrandpa died young – he had diabetes but he died of old age, interesting man, isn’t he? I could vividly remember how my mom recalled to me in my childhood years on his stubborn demeanor. Despite being a diabetic, he tirelessly groomed roses in his garden. A single cut could have killed him.

I pray

I know I am being very selfish here. I pray that my grandma would not pass away during my exams – as a part of the extended family, I feel that it is a must for me to pay her my last respects when she decides to leave. My exams start in a week and a half’s time and will not end until 7th of May.

And I seriously doubt that she will be able to make it until that date. She couldn’t eat or drink well for the moment being and she pulled the feeding tube out (and we, as her family members, respect her decision not to be tube-fed). I don’t know when she will go.

Greatgrandma, I love you so so so much. I blame myself that I couldn’t communicate fluently with you in the dialect that you can understand, but you do know that I love you. My love for you is as tall as the sky and is as deep as the ocean.

In the arms of the angel, fly away from here.

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