Saturday, July 19, 2008

About grandma

We bade farewell to my grandma yesterday. The funeral proceedings went smoothly at her home before her cremation at the Melaka Memorial Park. After it was all over, we had lunch at a nearby restaurant.

It was a gray rainy morning as we left Kuala Lumpur for the drive down to Melaka. We spotted a rainbow along the way as the drizzle turned into a heavy downpour halfway through the journey. Eugene had driven his 'bella' (his Italian second wife)at a speed which I was only aware of upon arrival much earlier than expected (get the picture?). The day was cool and slightly overcast. I guess Por Por (grandma) had made a pact with God to spare us from the heat. Caitlin was generally well-behaved and manageable. I'm glad she was prepared mentally for it. She only asked one question to re-confirm her death after seeing her lying in the casket and placing the note she had written earlier inside it.

True to what I'd read earlier about experts saying that kids her age view death as something temporary or reversible, while in the washroom she asked if Por Tai (great grandma) had died forever. So I repeated what I had told her the day before based on the answers recommended by the experts in the article.

I have yet to start really missing my grandma. In my younger days, Por Por was a motherly figure who was soft-spoken, gentle and a great cook. I don't recall any time when she had raised her voice or complained. She was born in Mauritius 90 years ago and I guess, as a young lady, she came to this country, married my late grandpa and had nine children altogether.

During my school days, Sunday lunch was a family gathering at her home. She single-handedly cooked many great dishes for her children and their families. I had mentioned at lunch yesterday about this and one cousin chipped in with his memory of her tasty red rice wine chicken and stuffed calamari which I also remember and enjoyed. My mum remembers that Por Por not only served us lunch but also made extras for all of us to take away. There was always plenty of good and delicious food on the table, double servings of each, every Sunday. There were times when she also handmade fish paste for the traditional Hakka yong tau foo and fermented her own Chinese rice wine for cooking.

When I started school, I lived with my paternal grandparents as my dad had a career which required him to move from one place to another every few years. This was unsettling for our education so my parents decided that we remain in our hometown and live with my grandparents. When I was 10 years old, my paternal grandma had to re-locate temporarily for a year to Singapore. I then lived with Por Por and an aunt that school year. Looking back, the disruption to my routine which encompassed mainly my school and piano lessons was hardly felt. I can only conclude that Por Por and my aunt did a great job in taking care of me for me to not have experienced any discomfort or inconvenience.

I also remember one afternoon when Por Por accompanied me for my piano lesson. There was some confusion as to where the lesson was to be held. It was usually at my home i.e paternal grandparents' home, so we went there first. But my teacher was late and we thought that maybe we were wrong and had to go to her home, which was about half a kilometre away. Those were the days when a mobile phone never existed so we decided to walk there and find out. While walking, my teacher who was finally on her way to my place spotted us, picked us up and drove us back to my place. I still remember my teacher 'scolding' me for making my grandma walk. But hey teacher, I was only 10 then and you were late....

Those were some things I remember clearly. After I went to university and started life in Kuala Lumpur, visiting grandma became less frequent. From weekly Sunday lunches those days, it dwindled to only the annual Chinese New Year, her birthday, important family gatherings and short visits when I happened to make trips back to my hometown. At each meeting, she would take my hand and kiss it when I greeted her. She would ask how the others (Eugene, my brothers) were doing if they were not present with me then. She always found ways to return the equivalent value of any gift we gave her, be it in cash (angpows or Chinese red packets) or kind.

In the past few years, as she grew older, she became naturally 'slower' in movement and activity. While she was not as talkative as before, it was clear that she was still attentive and found pleasure in trying to 'connect' with her great grandchildren like Caitlin.

At her auspicious 88th birthday dinner almost two years ago, I felt proud that Por Por could live to such an old age. I had expected her to leave us through natural causes at least a number of years later. I guess God decided otherwise and that it was time for her to re-unite with grandpa and an aunt (a daughter of hers who passed away about 25 years ago).

Looking on the bright side, although she was suddenly diagnosed with colon cancer, her suffering was for only three weeks, compared to the months and years other cancer patients and their families would have endured.

Por Por is now free from pain and I would like to believe, resting happily in the afterworld.

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