For six years, I attended a primary school atop a hill. Whenever the unreliable school bus broke down (which was frequent), much to my 婆婆’s chagrin, Dad would proudly cycle me to school en route to his “office” (he was an electrician). The final leg of the ride was the toughest – it was a steep slope steadily inclining upwards to the school gate. As the Chevrolets and Mercedes Benz whizzed past us, Dad would peddle even harder, occasionally humming off-key to entertain me.
As I advanced to the upper primary years, I grew uncomfortable with being associated with the bicycle.
“You can stop here”, I told Dad one morning, at the foot of the hill, just as he was about to begin our sojourn upslope. He paused and turned back to look at me quizzically with raised eyebrows, “Huh?”
“I can walk up the hill by myself”, I declared, defiantly.
Dad was quiet as he parked his bicycle and helped me down. Dad insisted on watching me walk up, but I waved him off. After all, I was already 11; I was big enough.
Dad never cycled up that hill again.
I lost my father on the 7th day of November and the 7th day of the week after he had been suffering from sickness for 7 years.
Remember the time when life was going so swimmingly that you scarcely believed it and you were holding your breath, waiting, watching for the pin to drop?
The pin has dropped.
Grief transforms you in ways you never imagined possible.
Just as I had stopped my Dad from advancing beyond the foot of the hill to school many years ago, I found myself at the foot of Tan Tock Seng Hospital, denied entrance to see my Dad due to the then Covid-19 restrictions. As he lay helpless in the resuscitation ward and my brother, being the single NOK allowed in, stood outside the ward, I paced about the edge of the hospital and anxiously phoned my Aunty, the only other “adult” besides my Mom whom I trust with my life to share the news. The hospital was fenced up with bright yellow barricades and straddled by large white tents which acted as testing cubicles for Covid-19.
It was 1:30AM on a Sunday.
“That is my father and he is dying. Please, please, please let me in”, I begged in vain to the hospital staff. Just as I was resolute in scaling the hill on my own many years ago, the staff was equally resolute (and correct) in enforcing the Covid-19 guidelines. After all, only 1 NOK was allowed in and I was too late.
My brother emerged moments later. We were divided by the bright yellow barricades which determined who was allowed in and who was not. He was utterly silent, but the news was written all over his face. He jumped over the barricade towards me, to envelope me in a hug. He caught me just as my knees buckled and I howled.
“Jie, it’s just the three of us now”.
Dad had been sick for many years. He fainted at work during my second year of law school. He was rushed to the hospital and the doctors diagnosed him with, among a laundry list of other afflictions, kidney failure.
I thought I was mentally prepared. Seven years is a long time to come to terms with the inevitable. I had witnessed Dad physically wither away as each passing year added to his list of bodily ills and diminished his unique brand of Dad humour and vigour. Dad, suspicious of “Western medicine”, reluctantly succumbed to dialysis treatments about 1.5 years later. Over the next few years, Dad would frequent the hospital for a variety of ills – pre-heart attack, pre-stroke, diabetes…
Daily life quickly unraveled for Dad and Mom. Mom heroically took on the role of Dad’s caretaker, while simultaneously battling her own demons. Mom became a pharmacist, psychologist, physiotherapist and personal assistant, without any promotion in prestige or pay. She estimated that at one point, Dad had about 30 pills to consume.
Dad was let go from work unceremoniously with no private healthcare coverage. His job was a menial one, and the 3x/week dialysis treatments meant that he simply could not work. The veins on Dad’s upper right arm swelled to the size of a tennis ball, as the veins were never allowed to fully heal before being hooked onto the dialysis machines again. Dad was also not patient enough to wait for the wounds to close and would resentfully rip off the dressing right after the dialysis treatment the moment he returned home. Often, this resulted in the blood squirting from his veins to the floors of our flat.
It was a bloody, heartwrenching mess.
2020 was a particularly difficult year for Dad (and the world). Dad was visiting our ancestors for 清明节. The incense from the joss stick burnt a few of his toes, which quickly turned gangrenous. Doctors warned that if those toes were not amputated, the infection would prove fatal. Dad was devastated.
One of my Dad’s favourite lines is this – “I am a simple man”. Very rarely would someone take pride in being “simple”. Many would boast of fame and fortune, but my Dad’s greatest achievement was being “simple”.
Dad was a simple man. Others have their fancy cars, Dad had his trusty, rickety old bicycle.
Dad was a simple man. Others went on exotic overseas trips and Disneyland rides, Dad used his humour and imagination to regale my brother and me with hilarious bedtime stories that defied the laws of physics and transcended logical reasoning.
Dad was a simple man. Others had their surround sound system for entertainment, Dad had his guitar gifted from a friend and a repertoire of a grand total of 3 songs to entertain himself (and annoy my Mom).
Dad was called to the Lord at 1:45AM on 7 November 2021. He passed away peacefully in the arms of the love of his life who selflessly took care of him, with her superhuman strength that can only be described as an outpouring of God’s abundant grace. Nothing in life prepares you for the loss of the loved one, especially your parent. I had hoped that Dad would one day walk me down the aisle at my wedding, but I found myself preparing his eulogy instead.
While Dad was in great pain, he always had a smile for his friends (especially the uncles and aunties at the hawker centre) and never wanted to burden anyone with the crippling pain he felt. It was God’s perfect timing that after 7 years of pain, He chose the 7th day of November for Dad to finally rest with our Lord in Heaven on Sunday – the Sabbath day of rest.
Dad, may you rest in peace. Your loud, cackling laughter and incredulous stories are dearly missed. We mourn and grieve your absence but also celebrate your reunion with Christ. Thank you for all that you have done for us. May you celebrate in Eternity with Christ in Heaven.