In memory of my grandmother, Lui Lan Hee, lovingly known as Ah Ma to this grandson of hers…
Please also visit the online memorial created by Derek Lau, my dear cousin who traveled a long way to be with us and to share in my granny’s final week.
I remember how she would always be the first one to arrive at the appointed meeting place, always holding either a bottle of freshly brewed herbal tea or fruits, meant for my week in Singapore. How, when I approached her, she would lift her hand to me, beckoning me to carry her up (her inability to do so herself with ease being a price she pays for sitting down a good half-hour ahead of the rendezvous time). And we would exchange our usual (but much enjoyed) banter, me telling her how young and strong she looks, she asking me how my week was, interspersed with complaints about the state of my shoes, my hair, my shirt, my face. We would then go for the Main (Only?) Event – lunch (or, on occasion, dinner) – she having already in mind a venue, me just tagging along. Then she’d grab my hand (or I hers, hard to tell) and we’d walk, a slow stroll, straight to where the chow was. We didn’t stop very often to look at discounts or unusual/cool things; my granny wasn’t much the shopping type (not even window).
We’d eat, sometimes I bought, sometimes she did; most times we ordered too much. And then we’d take our slow stroll back to the place where we’d say goodbye and promised to see each other again two Saturdays later (notwithstanding a mahjong session for her).
These special weekends were made occasionally even more special by an invitation to her place (a small one-bedroom flat shared with two other women and a blind poodle which barked at every not-invented-here sound or smell). I would arrive to always find her sitting, waiting for me, asking why I took so long and premonitioning that lunch (or, on occasion, dinner) is getting cold. It would always be absolutely sumptuous with two dishes minimum. And, yet again, before I left there would either be a packet of herbal drinks or fruits packed and ready to go (which, I confess, I didn’t always finish).
She’d call me frequently during my fortnightly stays in Toa Payoh; she made no secret of her desire to spend time with me, to share those much-cherished meals (she didn’t eat out that often), to groan about life ‘in general’, to scrutinize the ordinary.
But this was a year ago…
About a week earlier she held my hand for the last time; she stroked my face, a few final touches. A few days later, she couldn’t recognize me anymore, shortly after which she lost completely all physical interfaces with the world beyond her mind.
She died tonight. Barely five minutes after my arrival at the nursing home, hardly three minutes after I held her yet warm – though motionless – hand. Maybe she was waiting for my last visit, postponing her final breath till I was next to her. Or maybe it was a coincidence. I would love to know it was the former, but my grief depends not on either.
And as I’ve been trying for the past week to hold in my tears (I can hold them back no longer, though), I think of the simple love she showed me. And how her death has left me with the loss of a dear, sweet friend.
She didn’t always have the best ideas, only the most excited ones. She didn’t necessarily have the least selfish motives, only some of the most selflessly hospitable ones I’ve ever seen. She wasn’t all that appreciative of life, but she did exude a kind of caring not needful of appreciation.
How I wish I could go back in time, to those weekend outings I had with her…in Aljunied, in Tiong Bahru, in Sogo, in Chinatown, even in Starbucks (where she had the one and only latte in her life, I think). These are now memorials in my mind, always.
I will never forget you, Ah Ma…how I wish I could walk you across the road again…and hear you nag me…I miss you dearly…you have been and are still deeply loved and cherished…and I will always look forward to that day we see each other again, and we dance and laugh together in the light and love of our Lord, who loves you more than I ever can, and whose warmth and caring I have felt from you.
28th July 2002