I'm writing this cos' I'm scared to forget... cos' all I want is to keep remembering... cos' I tend to keep everything to myself, and this is everything that I would like to say...
23rd May 2009 was the most painful day of my life.
It stared off with a cornea harvesting course at TTSH, followed by lunch at SQ's Bedok home which she prepared. During lunch, I heard my phone ring but I ignored it, thinking that it was nothing important. Few minutes later, it started ringing again. I went to the room and answered it. It was my mum, "ah gong's condition no good. We are on the way to ah ma's place now", she said in mandarin.
I went back to the dining table and finished up the remainder of the suddenly tasteless herbal chicken and porridge. Following that, me and SQ were on our way.
On reaching ah ma's place, the metal gate to the flat was left opened. My family was already there. My uncle's family too. There was a knowing silence, and then my uncle told us "ah gong has passed away". I walked past the dining table and looked at ah ma who was sitting at her usual spot. She looked at me, silent as usual, and I went into the room. Ah gong had advance liver cancer and we sort of expected this to happen. Few weeks back, I remembered telling SQ that he probably had another 2 weeks left after seeing how he deteriorated so rapidly. Seeing my ah gong lying motionless on the bed, I broke down.
Ah ma was still sitting at the dining table, looking at things happening around her, still not voicing out anything. She has mild dementia, and although we did tell her before that ah gong was not well, we're not sure how much she could remember. I sat down in the living room, and we all waited for the undertaker to arrive.
They came shortly after and the funeral process was discussed at length. My ah ma seemed fine, despite the discussions taking place at the dining table, where she was sitting. In my mind, I was thinking whether ah ma should be there, but I didn't voice it out as she appeared ok.
Suddenly I noticed some commotion around my ah ma. My mum noticed that the right side of ah ma's mouth was drooping. I realised that her entire right arm and leg were powerless. In my mind I knew that this was a stroke but yet I kept thinking that this was not happening, that the drooping will recover in a matter of minutes. Ah ma mumbled a few words which we could not make out: she had slurring of speech as well. How could this be happening to my beloved ah ma, whom I grew up with when I was young!? We pushed her into her bedroom (ah gong and ah ma were sleeping in different rooms), while I kept asking her to try to grab my fingers with her right hand. I asked whether she could recognise my mum. She mumbled my mum's name and that was the last 2 words which I heard her speak. We called the ambulance. The paramedics arrived and started transferring her onto the stretcher. Ah ma appeared frightened and I tried to calm her down, telling her that "I'm here" and that "we're bringing you to see doctor". I went together with ah ma into the ambulance and we were on our way to TTSH. At a sharp bend at Moulmein, I looked back and I saw ah ma reaching out to the side of the ambulance with her left arm to steady herself. Good, power on the left side still ok... probably a left MCA stroke, maybe still can survive with rehab.
On reaching TTSH A&E, I got down and the paramedic told me to go to the counter to register. I went to my ah ma and told her "ah ma" and I remembered her turning her head to look at me, "don't be afraid, bring you see doctor k", and I went to the counter while ah ma was pushed into the resuscitation area. That was the last time I saw her with her eyes opened, and that was the last time she made eye contact with me. After registering, I was allowed to go into the A&E area (due to H1N1, only one visitor per patient at any one time inside the A&E holding area). The sister there was very helpful. She kept me updated regarding what was being done, that a CT scan was being arranged for her.
I went to fill in the forms for admission, and while I was sitting there, the sister came to me and said "it's a bleed", and my heart sank. "The neurosurgeon will be coming down shortly."
"Even if she survives, she'll probably be bed-ridden, feeding through NG tube, eyes closed and completely dependent", the neurosurg registrar said. "Chances of survivor very slim, not a candidate for surgery looking at the age and the location of the bleed". He was confirming what I already knew. "Can I go in to see her?" "Yes, of course... hold on... the nurses are catheterizing her."
I went into the resuscitation room. Ah ma was lying there with her eyes closed. I started to call her "ah ma..." no response. I started to shake her... "ah ma..." still no response. I broke down again. I felt so, so lonely at that time... all I wanted was for ah ma to open her eyes and to acknowledge me. The neurosurg reg was very kind... he took down my number and offered to keep me updated of her condition during her stay in hospital.
Ah ma was wheeled up to the neurosurg ward. As she was critically ill, the entire family was allowed to go up to the ward. Ah ma remained unresponsive, breathing heavily. My mum was in tears. It must really be extremely painful for her as she had been going to ah ma's place every morning daily to look after her for the past few years.
Two nurses came by to put up a drip. They closed the curtains and we were ushered to the corridor outside the cubicle. We heard a loud gasp coming from ah ma and my mum asked me what happened. I went over to look and in between the curtains, I saw my ah ma lying still, no longer breathing. I walked back to my family, not saying anything. In my mind, I kept thinking that ah ma was still there, probably breathing gently, and hence I must have not noticed it. Couple of minutes later, the MO came and pushed the resus trolley in and I knew. The MO came out and told me what I did not want to hear. "I'm sorry but she has passed away". I hid behind a white board and cried. SQ was sobbing beside me, as she placed her hands on my back. My mum was wailing. Memories of my childhood with ah ma started flooding me. Uptill now, I still can't believe that I can never see ah ma or hear her gentle voice saying "hello? shi ah wee ma?" over the phone again.
Losing two love ones on the same day was really painful. Their passing was actually reported in Shin Ming and in the NewPaper, and was talked about by DJs on 93.3 fm and 100.3 fm (according to friends). Was it a coincidence that both passed away on a Saturday, the day where my family will always go over to visit them (together with my uncle's family)? Ah gong's death was expected, and we were ready for it. But ah ma's was completely unexpected. I really wanted her to be there for my ROM and wedding banquet as I know that seeing me get married will make her really, really, really happy. Now, that can never happen. I regret not being with her when she slipped into the comatose state. I regret that she had to be around strangers when that happened. I regret that she might have been really frightened during that period of time. I also regret not buying my Canon EOS camera earlier... I would have much more photos of her to keep. Now I only have 2 photos of her in my hp which I took many years back when I was in her room studying.
Yet I'm glad that she left together with ah gong. This is where I'm torn between science and religion. I really want to believe that they are together now, and that ah gong is looking after her. And that they are both happy in another world, free of pain and suffering. I'm glad that ah ma will not have to suffer the pain of losing a spouse; and that she left this world painlessly.
Every single day now, whenever I'm not occupied, I'd think of them. I'd remember how ah gong used to buy tanjung rhu bao for us after dinner on Saturdays when we visited them, and how he'd always tell us that dinner was "hou liao" ("good stuff") and whether we had our fill; and how, when I was really young, I enjoyed sitting on his chair in his office in the spare part shop which he owned; and how he could never remember SQ's name, always calling her "the one from ying chun (her hometown)"; and how he liked to ask me which hospital I'm at now and what my salary was and that being a doctor is good because can save lives.
I'd remember how I frequently stayed over at ah ma's place when I was young, and how ah ma would cover me with the blanket in the middle of the night (while I pretended to be sleeping) and how she would bring me out for morning walks the next day (across the Kallang river towards the National Stadium); and how she'd buy zai (vegetarian) bee hoon from the market for my breakfast; how she'd whistle (in a single tone) to herself whenever she was cooking long, long time ago; how we frequently brought her with us on family trips and I'd always sleep with her in the same room while my parents and sis will take another room; and how she'd wait for me to have dinner (as I was late) when everybody else had theirs already; and how she used to remember my birthday every year; and how she always looked at my 3/4s shorts and ask "how come so many pockets?"; and deep in my heart, I know that she really loved me and cared for me...
O well... 2 less birthdays to celebrate and less chances for the 2 families to get together now. I wonder what the future has in store and whether time can really heal these wounds. The Saturdays which I know of for the past 27 years of my life, will never be the same again.
Right now, all I want is to keep remembering their faces, and their voices, and I'll do that religiously on a daily basis whenever I'm alone, as I'm so damn afraid that I will forget.