Gone in 33 days

I saw my grandma less than two weeks ago. I’m going to see her again today — in a white wooden box.

When I left her all swollen like Humpty Dumpty on May 10 to return to Bangkok for work, I knew it was the last time I’d see her alive. By then, she was on her last legs in a hospice. As I bade her farewell that day, her last words to me were “Let’s have a meal together and you can go back to Bangkok and we’ll go back to Singapore.” Perhaps she thought we were in Hong Kong.

Those were also her final lucid words before pain claimed her for its own, leaving only deep sighing groans and plaintive cries in its wake.

My paternal grandmother was surprisingly healthy for an 84-year-old. No diabetes, no high blood pressure. She wasn’t mobile but she certainly wasn’t in the line for being the First Death in my family.

Over the Easter weekend, she complained of abdominal pain and was warded. She was soon diagnosed as being in the final stage of liver cancer (this was to be recorded as uterine cancer on the death certificate, as that was the origin of the tumours).

Without knowing that she was dying, my grandma decided she wanted to get baptized and be a Christian, saying that she felt at peace whenever she hears about Jesus, a complete turnaround from decades of hostility towards my father’s faith.

By her own admission, she’s very fierce and probably not the nicest person around. Yet God wrought such an amazing transformation in her that, without prompting, she asked for forgiveness from those whom she had wronged and forgave those who had wronged her. Chasms were bridged; broken relationships were mended.

I was never terribly close to her. She was extremely deft with her hands and I always associated her with pyjama trousers, quilt blankets, homemade fishcakes, and crispy peanut puffs for Chinese New Year.

These were also the same things I thanked her for when I got to spend an entire week by her hospital bed earlier this month. I was working most of the time but being physically there meant I could at least serve her in minute ways, like adjusting the angle of her bed every five minutes in search of the ever-elusive comfortable position.

I showed her photos of the shoebox apartment that I rented in Hong Kong (wah, so small!) and the crowds in the city (you should come home) while she dispensed helpful advice (marry a Hokkien man because they take care of their wife).

Those were precious days for the family where her mind remained a steel trap and the pain had yet to engulf her. We returned from each hospital visit marvelling at her quickness and clarity of mind.

My parents had taught her a simple Christian song when she got baptized which went:

主耶稣爱我,主耶稣爱我

主耶稣爱我,因圣经告诉我

She was going through a particularly tough patch when we sang this song with her. When we stopped, she continued singing using her own lyrics:

主耶稣帮我,主耶稣帮我

主耶稣帮我,因圣经告诉我

This will always remain my favourite memory, along with another occasion when she sang Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So out of the blue. She was not trained in music but certainly passed those genes down.

I never knew my grandma loved music. It’s probably going to be one of my biggest regrets that she never got to hear me play the piano when she was alive. I suppose she’d just have to make do with listening from heaven tomorrow. And yes, we’ll be singing her version of “Jesus Loves Me”.