Saturday, April 13, 2013

my ah po

the heartache remains even though it's been more than a week since she's left us.
i can see how much each one of us (both in my own family and in my extended family) still miss her and still cannot come to terms with the fact that she is really gone. 
we miss her warm smile. we miss being able to hold her hand and just be by her side. 
when i take a quick glance at someone's cellphone, i see a photo of her as their wallpaper. every now and then, i see on facebook that someone has changed their profile picture or cover photo to one of her. we continue to hold on to those memories. 

we take comfort in the fact that she is in a better place and that she no longer has to suffer but we definitely still wish we could have had more time with her. 
i'm so grateful that i was able to spend her last 3 days on this earth with her. 
my grandmother is an amazingly strong woman. she battled cancer for a little more than two years. when she was first diagnosed, the doctor said she only had 6 months left. she passed that 6 months mark and then the doctor said she only had 3 more months left maximum. she lived past that 3 months and battled her illness very bravely for a good year and a half more. i had never heard my grandmother complain in my whole life and it wasn't until they had to draw water out from her lungs that i heard her say that something was painful for the first time. if my grandmother would actually admit that something was painful, it must have been unbearable. and yet when the cancer left her increasingly breathless, she was willing to go through that pain of drawing out the water from her lungs each time so that she could breathe better. 

i tried to skype her on a regular basis since i live so far away and i watched her grow skinnier and skinnier as well as get more and more breathless. even then, she remained very independent and never wanted to rely on others for fear of being a burden. it got to a point where skype sessions just consisted of me sitting across the screen just watching her and telling her not to try to talk because it would take too much of her energy.
by the time i made it back to singapore this time, she was having so much difficulty breathing she had to breathe through her mouth (even though she had an oxygen tube on all the time). the last three days spent with her, i mostly just sat by her, held her hand, fed her water and watched over her at night while she slept. i felt my heart break inside of me and i was willing to let her go because i didn't want her to have to suffer any longer. 

thursday morning at 3am, we rushed down to the hospice because my dad (who was on night duty that day) called to say that ah po's breathing was slowly getting more and more difficult. we rushed down and my cousins and i (all of us girls) just stood by her side, held her hand and cried and cried. my cousin charmaine as well as my aunt and uncle were on their way back to see ah po. we tried to make her comfortable and prayed hard that she would hold on. charmaine's flight was arriving at 6:40am and uncle kai kok and aunt anabel's flight was supposed to arrive at 9 plus. we knew we were praying for a miracle - asking her to hold on for at least 7 hours in her critical state. and then it was as if my world was going to come crashing down when i heard that uncle kai kok and aunt anabel had missed their connecting flight and were not going to get to singapore until 11:45am. 
thankfully her breathing started to get more stable and we kept telling her to wait just a bit more while praying really hard. as the time got closer to 11:45, everyone started to get anxious. we all kept looking at the clock while checking on ah po's condition. that day, i learned that a mother will always wait for her child. they finally got to the hospice at 1 plus  and it was a really emotional scene because we expected her to go right after she saw them. all her children even told her to go peacefully so that she would no longer have to suffer. 

despite that, she continued to hold on and even drank quite a bit of water that we fed her throughout the day. i'd like to think that she still could not bear to leave us. that night, i took the night duty because i didn't want to be at home and then have to rush down if anything happened. they increased the dosage of the medicine so as to make her comfortable so she could sleep. she was stable the whole night but her condition changed - she no longer responded to us when we would call her or shake her (normally she would close her eyes to rest or sleep but would be very alert and responsive when we talked to her). my cousins went back to school and work respectively since she was stable. 

in the morning after breakfast, we took a break to go home and shower while her condition was still stable. at 1 plus, we received a frantic call from my aunt telling us to hurry back (ah po was starting to break out in cold sweat and her toenails and finger nails were starting to turn purple - signs of impending death that my father had seen in my grandfather right before he passed away). we rushed back and i held her hand during those last moments. it was the most heartbreaking thing i had ever felt in my life. watching her slowly go (she was so strong even during those last moments, using all her energy that she had left to breathe and breathe) and feeling the tug of war in my heart - wanting to call her back but at the same time, wanting the pain to disappear for her. she left us at 2:44pm and she did so very peacefully. some of my cousins did not rush back in time and it was very sad to watch it hit them that she had already passed and then break down.
we were allowed to be by her side for a good hour or so after. we continued to hold her hand and spent the time sharing our favorite memories of her. and then i felt like someone stabbed me in the heart when i had to kiss her goodbye and they took her body away to prepare for the funeral.    
her arms had become so thin and weak

we had a 3-day viewing where friends and relatives could come to pay their final respects to my ah po. the last time we had to do something like this was when my grandfather passed away 18 years ago. we were still young then. but now, all my cousins and i have grown up and it really has been awhile since so many of us gathered together and spent so much time together. it was a really good bonding time and we also treasured those last few days with ah po. i don't think anyone else could comprehend how much we miss her. us cousins kept going to where her body was every few hours to talk to her or just to see her. seeing us like that, the people who were helping us with the funeral were even curious and asked us about our relationships with ah po. we love her so much.
she looks so happy in this photo
tree of loving memories that was mostly filled up by my cousins and i. so many memories of her because she raised us and loved us so much.
we also printed photos and put together two photo boards that we placed right by the condolence money table so that people who didn't know her personally could too see what a wonderful person she was.
we had a memorial service on sunday night where the beautiful eulogy written by my cousin jermaine (who is in boston and was not able to come back) was read by my eldest cousin charlene and my sister clarissa (she translated it into mandarin). 

on tuesday april 9, we said goodbye to her for the last time in a short service in the morning before we set off for the burial. we, the grandchildren, were asked to speak for 2 minutes each. the 7 of us stood up there and choked through our tears to share what we love about our ah po. she was the strongest person we ever knew. she was also the kindest, most tender, most compassionate person we knew. we put flowers in her coffin and said goodbye to her before they shut the coffin and we could no longer see her and talk to her physically. 
we then headed for choa chu kang cemetery where we would lay her down to rest. 
we trembled while sobbing but felt a feeling of peace telling us that she has gone off to a better place and that we are to be grateful for the time we did have with her and not be sad that she is gone. 
we loved taking photos with her and she would always say, "拍! 又拍! 拍什么拍!" 
when we took this photo, it was almost as if we could hear her saying that to us in the background. her legacy lives on.

ah po, i miss you very much and wish you could come back. even now, everytime i think about her, i can't help but tear up. it saddens me that when i go home to singapore, i will no longer see her smiling face during chinese new year or family gatherings. the scene of her taking her last breath continues to replay in my mind and i want to pull her back. 
i will miss the times when she would bring her little phone book to me and ask me to help her find someone's phone number. my ah po never had a chance to go to school and so she never had the chance to learn how to read and write. 
i will forever think of her when the song for the taiwanese drama 爱 comes on because i remember how she loved watching it and how i would always ask her about it over skype. 
i will miss eating her amazing food and miss her asking me what i want to eat for dinner that day.
i will miss driving her to the market to buy groceries and watching her interact with all the different store owners, laughing happily. 
i will miss seeing her interact with little children and how her face would light up. i will forever feel regretful that my own children will never have the chance to know her. 
i will miss visiting her at her house in north bridge road and walking in that neighborhood that she had lived in for years and where she brought up my dad and his siblings. 
i will miss her smile.
i will miss her love.
but i will keep that all inside my heart and know that i will see her again. till then, take care and know that i love you.
 
flowers for my beautiful grandmother's temporary tomb while they build the permanent headstone

xoxo,
C

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