The past few days have been like a dream, a dream I wish I could wake up from and find that it is not real. The past 2 months, for that matter, have been like that.
Pa has passed on, after 2 months of being in close medical care. He was in hospital for 50 days and spent his last 10 in a hospice. He spent the last 5 years battling cancer on and off, doing a lot of chemotherapy, went through surgery and learnt to live with a lot of changes. It’s been a long and treacherous 5 years for him and everyone close, especially for my mum.
I know he has definitely fought a long and hard battle. From the time he was diagnosed with stage 4 tongue cancer, he was determined to find ways to treat the illness and live for as long as he was able to. He seeked second opinion and found a doctor he felt he could trust to fight the cancer with. He saw a couple of other doctors over the next few years and never gave up. Well-meaning relatives would also seek all kinds of possible remedies for him, and help him with his fight.
By the time Pa passed on, it had been 2 months since he was able to verbally communicate with us. He was unconscious in a medically induced coma, and when he came to, the only thing he managed to do was to open his eyes. While some doctors said he wasn’t able to recognize us, other debated that. I choose to believe that he could recognize voices. He would hear certain people and open his eyes. Whether he could actually see us, I must admit that I don’t know but choose to think he can.
During these 2 months, Ben and I kept recording videos of Phoebie talking to Pa so that Pa could hear her. She wasn’t allowed into the ICU and HDU where he spent most of his time. Hearing her videos seemed to help Pa regain consciousness and the neurologist encouraged us to keep it up.
2nd March 2014, exactly 2 months after Pa had to go for an emergency surgery, gained consciousness, suddenly had to be resuscitated and eventually slipped into a coma, my elder brother rushed me to go to the hospice to accompany my mum because she was rather emotional and needed company. I had planned to go there after church but headed to the hospice instead. Ben parked the car while I rushed up to Pa’s room to see what was going on.
What happened from there was like a whirlwind. I walked into the room, seeing my mum cry uncontrollably. With her was a hospice staff and a well-meaning lady whose dad was in the next room.
“Pa is gone…” Mum managed to say, “He left…” She tried to explain what had happened and what she saw when she arrived. I stared at her in disbelief and then looked at Pa. His face was no longer the usual pink. His cheeks had started to sink. It all felt like a very bad joke. I grabbed on to Pa and laid on his chest and asked him to wake up as I started wailing.
“Pa, wake up! Wake up! Don’t go! I’m due in two months! Wake up! You need to see your grandson! Wake up! I’ll massage you now, please wake up!” I went on and on. Everyone in the room tried to get me to sit down, worrying that I might go into labour, but I refused. I stamped my feet like a willful child, insisting that Pa should wake up and that he wasn’t gone. But no matter what I said, he didn’t open his eyes. This wasn’t a bad joke, it was reality that I wished was simple a bad dream.
As much as I knew that Pa wasn’t doing too well before he passed on, I had insisted that a miracle would happen and wanted him to meet his grandson. When he was doing better last year, Pa had offered to look after Phoebie while I did my confinement and I had told him that I wanted him to cook for me. So I desperately and selfishly wanted him to be around, at least to meet his grandson.
Pa’s room at the hospice was decorated with photos of our family, as suggested by the doctor at the hospice, so that he would be more comfortable and feel more encouraged. I had purposely put Phoebie’s photos at a place where he could see if he was turned to face the wall.
My brothers and 3 of my dad’s younger siblings soon arrived at the hospice and devastated as everyone was, they soon went on their way to prepare for the wake and funeral, which would take place over the next 5 days.
The number of people who turned up to pay their final respects amazed me. Distant relatives, old neighbours, friends. Everyone spoke of how helpful a person Pa had always been.
A lot of my older cousins couldn’t hold back their tears when they saw Pa’s coffin. Pa had loved bringing them out when he was dating my mum, and was always there when my maternal family needed help. When Pa was doing well financially, he would always chip in whatever he could to tide someone in need over.
Even my mum’s aunties and uncles, my grandaunts and granduncles, had much to say about how Pa was always there when they needed extra hands with something.
That’s just how Pa was to relatives and friends. If they needed help and Pa heard about it, he would surely be there.
To my brothers’ close friends, Pa has always been like the unofficial Godfather. Pa would nag at them or tell them off if he felt that they weren’t doing right, but would commend and praise them when they did well.
When Pa wanted to celebrate his birthday last year, which surprised us because he has never asked to do so, my brothers’ close friends were all here. And that was also when we took our last family photo.
Pa didn’t say much that day, but he insisted that he was the one who cooked. If I could say so, Pa actually cooks better than Mum, and Mum already cooks quite well. Looking at the photos now, I realize how happy Pa actually was that day.
Pa has always been a simple man. He almost never travelled and took great interest in cooking. In fact, he loved cooking so much that he was always looking for some kind of food business to do. I can’t even count with my two hands how many different kinds of businesses Pa has done in the past 30 years. Even when I finished my diploma, Pa offered to open a shop for me to run, but I rejected him because I wasn’t interested.
Pa may not be well-travelled, but he always planned outings and growing up, he kept his wife and children close by his side. He brought us on farm visits, countless car rides, many trips to East Coast Park and we enjoyed food all over Singapore.
Growing up, I watched Pa and Ma work side by side in every business venture Pa ran. They had their differences but rarely did they show it in front of us. Pa wasn’t verbally expressive about love, but his actions towards Ma spoke volumes.
My brothers and I had our differences with Pa too. Most of the time, we didn’t agree with Pa’s opinion and found him conservative in many ways. Growing up, I rarely had a good conversation with Pa without arguing. It wasn’t until I got married that I finally felt he was getting easier to talk to.
Of the 3.5 years Pa had with Phoebie, we spent half of it in the US. I knew he was quietly upset that we had to go somewhere so far away but he never said anything.
My consolation, perhaps, is that we lived with Pa and Ma when we came back. We lived with them for more than a year before we finally moved back to our own home.
Pa and I clashed a lot over parenting issues. We didn’t agree on how disciplining should be done. As a result, I didn’t really trust him and Ma to look after Phoebie for me. But on the few occasions they had to watch Phoebie while I had to get things done, Pa would always rave about how well-behaved Phoebie was when I wasn’t at home. He loved watching Phoebie so much that he was always the one more confident about looking after Phoebie than my mum.
When we found out that I was pregnant and due in May this year, Pa said that he would love to look after Phoebie for me when the baby is born, but he just wasn’t confident about his own health. At that point, I kept telling him to stay positive and remember that goal. Now I just wish he could have been around to see the new baby too, never mind about looking after Phoebie.
Losing Pa has been a torture. It may not be a surprise to some, since he has been unwell for a while and had been in a semi-coma for the past 2 months. Many have said how leaving is a better relief for him because he is no longer in pain. I understand all this, I do. But no one can ever be prepared enough to lose someone so dear. And the selfish side of human nature would like to hold on to hope that Pa would get well, somehow.
This entry has taken me 3 days to write because my thoughts are still messed up, and I get too choked up to write on sometimes.
Pa, it’s still surreal that you are gone. I’m stuck in the moment that I put my face in your hand, begging you to wake up and look at me, and to at least wait until you meet your grandson. I’m stuck in the disbelief that I walked into your room just about 15 minutes after you breathed your last. I’m stuck in the frame of time when Ma said you are gone.
How can it be? You had so many plans. We have yet to bring you to Taiwan for the long awaited holiday. You said you will look after Phoebie for me while I did my freelance work. I wanted you to cook my confinement food. You still haven’t brought Phoebie for a ride on your bicycle.
The day of your funeral, Phoebie broke into tears the moment we boarded the bus bound for the cemetery. When Ben asked her why she was crying, she said, “Because Gongong is leaving…” Even she misses you dearly.
Your greatest worry, Pa, must be how Ma will be. Rest assured that we are going to take good care of her. It’s gonna take some time for Ma to get used to you not being around too. But I know we will all eventually adjust. Gone but not forgotten, well-loved, respected and treasured, that’s who you are, Pa.
May the best of who you are live on in the 3 of us, your kids, and also in your grandchildren. I will always remind Phoebie how much Gonggong loved her.