Eleventh hour on that last Sunday of February

funeral3

As we grow older, inevitably we become more acquainted with death – a grandfather, a good friend, an uncle – yet nothing ever fully prepares us for the next.

We were with grandma just 23 days ago. She hadn’t been able to make it for the wedding celebration in Singapore so we had all trooped over to Malaysia during Chinese New Year to offer her tea – Jiak dair as grandma used to say. It may just be a cup of tea but to grandma, it meant everything, a sweet cup of everything that she had looked forward to.

A telephone call at past 12am, a flight booked hurriedly for the next morning without the usual price nit-picking. The sort of flight one dreads, this time from Hong Kong to Kuala Lumpur, with swollen eyes and barely a few hours of sleep.

We call her grandma in Teochew – Ah-Mah (阿嬷) or Mah-Mah (嬷嬷) – and then you realize you don’t actually remember her actual name. You learn new things like how grandma used to be a social smoker, menthol cigarettes only (and she didn’t enjoy smoking all that much) or how folded joss paper does not just facilitate burning but they are more valuable in the netherworld.

Malaysia has always been about the grandparents since my earliest memories – after grandpa’s death 15 years ago, we travel up north to visit grandma twice every year. First Jalan Klang Lama then Bandar Puchong Jaya, and sometimes Jalan Ipoh, in recent years, we never did much sight-seeing. We mostly stayed at home, occasional trips to IOI Mall, Mid Valley Mall and Chinatown aside. Ironically, I know Shanghai, where I’d lived for just a couple of years, much better than KL, a city that I’ve visited since I was born.

Recent afternoons were spent folding joss papers at the funeral parlor under the whirring fan, evenings participating in traditional Teochew prayer ceremonies extolling the 24 paragons of Chinese filial piety and journeys of the newly-deceased to the netherworld (complete with subtitles on an LED display screen) – parts of which could have been extremely funny in normal circumstances (not this time).

On the day of the funeral, we collected grandma’s ashes by late afternoon. It is sobering to see grandma alive and well one moment, lifeless in the coffin the next and then no more – ashes in an urn. If only all the praying, kneeling, chanting, kowtowing and bowing could bring her back to us.

But that’s selfish speak I know since we are missing her very much. It doesn’t help that we were told grandma had been re-watching our wedding celebration video (thanks to a cousin who shot it on his smartphone) on her final afternoon. Malaysia holds a special place in my heart but going there would never be the same again.

One Thought on “Eleventh hour on that last Sunday of February

  1. My heart aches again after reading this post. I will never forget the moment 嬷嬷 drank that cup of tea. It’s the brightest smile I’ve ever seen on her face. Thank you Weeling jeh and Jordi! *hugs*

    p.s.: Nice photo. I love the birds, though they are probably crows.

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