I’ve been away. The weekend before last, I sneaked back to Singapore to check on my grandma and brother, courtesy of 1200-HKD tickets from Singapore Airlines. And thank God for that, cos just as I was about to leave for the airport with my family, news came that my mum’s second eldest sister had passed away suddenly. For the first time, I witnessed my mum allowing this avalanche of sorrow to overpower her. I didn’t really know what to do at first, and tried to be practical. In the end, I’m just glad that my dad, my brother and I were all there with her when horrible truth descended.
So, the following weekend, the one that just swept by, I went to Malaysia for the funeral. I guess I could easily have squirmed out of it, begging leave because of work and fellowship camp, but the thing about my family is this — and I’m not saying that it’s vastly different for anyone else — it’s always been drummed into me that family comes first, that you don’t let bridges burn, that you give proper respect, that you love, not necessarily by word, but always by deed. So, I took a three-hour-odd flight to Kuala Lumpur, and then it was a four-hour-odd car ride to Sitiawan, Perak, my mum’s hometown.
There were lots of tears, food, conversations, histories revealed and dirty linen washed. My second aunt was a Christian who practised what was preached, so there were lots of opportunities to share certainties with my mum. And life went on — this time of the year being one of those inevitable peak seasons in educational publishing, I brought and got some work done; I experienced a rather heady massage at a local hairdresser’s; on the last morning, I met a gruesome black rat on its way out of my hotel bathroom (but let’s not linger on that memory).
I think my abiding memory will be the awful view I had of the workings of grief. My aunt was only 67, so her six children were wracked with such pain, and perhaps a little regret for any missteps they may have made; her six siblings too. Beyond this, I’m clinging on to an indefinable gratitude and awe as to the mystery of death, and the life before and beyond it. The day I was to leave for the airport again, the news came that a cousin’s wife had delivered a healthy baby boy that morning.