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Finding The Happy

Looking for joy in all the right places

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remembering

About Death, Departing, and Disco

[Note: this written on 3 September, published today]

Today has been a strange sort of day.

DISCO

I’ll start with the light and fluffy – an earworm. I woke up this morning with Take That’s version of Could It Be Magic in my head. Lord knows what I had been dreaming. It was so loud, so catchy, and so stubborn, I ended up downloading it. And then hummed it for the rest of the day.

(Never watched this MTV till now. Talk about throwback to the ’90s!)

I have never been a Take That fan and I’m not about to start… but I did bop around like I was 13 again and it might be helped in part by…

DEPARTING

We signed the contract. They signed the contract. And then we exchanged today. We have sold our first home.

I got the call from the agent after pulling into the garage, and walked into the backdoor for the first time as a tenant. We are no longer this home’s owners, not really. We’ve been thrilled by how quickly the house sold, but the excitement and relief is also tinged with sadness. God willing, we leave this place in November as scheduled so we have three full months to work up to that goodbye. I will miss this place.

DEATH

The Cuz has been dead for five years today. It feels like it should be such a milestone, so as usual I’m conflicted to the point where emotions are muted. The picture of 21-year-old us still sits on our sideboard. It faces the kitchen, in the heart of our home. When I’m feeding the kids, or preparing lunches and dinners, I see our faces. I still think about her often.

But I no longer think of her daily.

Such a brutal confession to myself and to you, reader. No one likes to admit the awful realities of beginning to not remember someone they love. I will never forget her, but I don’t always remember her. I still love her. I still miss her. I still want to tell her things. But my life is so completely different now to what it was when she parted this earth, so I don’t always imagine her understanding. I can’t always conjure a typical response.

It strikes me that the version I have and keep of her is 5 years old, and it slightly terrifies me that I’m growing older and therefore apart from her. Will I still be able to half-talk to her when I’m 40, and she’s 30? When I’m 50? When I’m 60? When will it start to feel like I’m a crone talking to a young woman, instead of girl talking to her first and closest friend? She stays the same. I have not. I am always changing, no matter how stubborn I claim to be. God sees to that.

Today, I thought about her gorgeous, shiny, white teeth. That brilliant smile. She had one canine that was turned 90 degrees, but her teeth were still straight and her smile, still dazzling. She had such razor-sharp wit, but enough girly goofiness to laugh at my jokes. She read, and read, and read. Heaven has a library for her.

I still have your knee-high boots. I haven’t worn them. I probably should one of these years, but I wouldn’t know what to match them with and they’re camel, and probably won’t match my skin tone (made all the more translucent by Canberra winters). You always had such fabulous skin.

I have a son, Celina. I have two children now. I cannot hear your reply.

I still remember the daydream we had for years and years, the one where we’d share a house and prepare to go on double-dates together. Perhaps we could share a mansion in heaven.

Say hello to my mum for me.

Childhood Smellies

We started Atticus on solid foods in the last week, partly because he suddenly grew two teeth but mostly to see if filling his tummy up before bedtime was going to result in him sleeping through the night. So far, he’s slept through two out of three nights, so we’re hoping tonight will mark three out of four.

It’s also meant that he’s sitting more regularly in the high chair. And boy, is he loving the view.

Today, I trotted out the clip-on one for our benchtop so he could watch me get lunch ready. It was a surefire way to stop the constant grizzling – in fact, he slipped into a baby stupor as I prepped, wearing this spellbound expression for the entire 20 minutes and following my every move up and down the kitchen like a tennis match.

First time Atticus sits at kitchen bench
I have no idea what she’s doing, but I can’t look away.

In the last 18 months, I’ve rediscovered sardines. One of the simplest meals my mother used to conjure was the humble sardine sandwich. Take a can of sardines in tomato sauce (I only use Ayam brand – pure nostalgia), and fry ’em up with red shallots and sliced chilli. A dash of white pepper, a squeeze of lime and voilà — mouthwatering yums. Slather between two pieces of bread. End up polishing off half a loaf.

It’s comfort food – my comfort food. It takes me back to Mei Ling Street, and primary school recesses, and secret sacrifices made for two kittens I absolutely adored who lived in the wet market I walked through on the way home from school. I didn’t much care for bread growing up. But give me fried chilli sardines, and suddenly the Gardenia loaf starts to look rather short.

Gardenia bread
I grew up with this bread. We didn’t eat Sunshine bread until they brought out the chocolate loaf. Tony tried Gardenia once and said it’s way too sweet for him.

One of the things I found on my mother’s laptop the day after her death was a letter to me that she had started but never finished. She was starting to tell me about her life, not just with the broad strokes I’d always known, but in intricate detail. It left me wanting a whole lot more. I really wished I got to interview her properly before she died.

Shoulda coulda

It strikes me that as much as this is a blog about my education as a parent, I would like my children to read it one day. A big part of why I’m doing this is so I never forget their stories, in detail. So that if I were to die before I ever get to remembering with them, I’ve got their histories chronicled. Today’s mundanities can become so cherished tomorrow. Like pennies.

But what about my history?

If I were to try and condense all the wonderful nonsense of my life in a letter to my children and husband while on my deathbed, I doubt I’d know where to start or what to say.

So yes, sardines. Inconsequential, kinda random… but it’s a little jaunt down memory lane for me. Today, Atticus got to witness fried chilli sardines in the making, and both of us sputtered and sneezed through the fumes. Not great for open-plan living, but the result was wunderbar, and brought me back at least 25 years. A bit of my history in the remaking.

I ate six slices of bread.

Fried chilli sardines
So noxious, so good

Two years today

Between the passing of Lee Kuan Yew on Monday and the anniversary of my mother’s death today, I’ve spent quite a bit of time thinking about who my heroes are.

Lee Kuan Yew was the man who made a great nation rise like a phoenix from the ashes of separation from Malaysia, and the kthxbai desertion from the Brits. My mother was the woman who rose far, far above her circumstances. And made it her life’s work to build us a deeply loving home.

And while I’m thankful to LKY, I’m indebted to my mother most of all. Because what good are four walls and a roof over one’s head, if there is no love therein?


Very disjointed thoughts, filled with themes that collide on occasion. I thought a little about what I wanted to blog about her today. I thought a lot about what I want my children to know about her. What I want them to remember before I forget.

Like the way her eyes crinkled when she smiled. And how perfect her teeth were. She never wore braces — wouldn’t have been able to afford them even if she had needed them, which she didn’t. I remember visiting a dentist at the National University Hospital and how the dean of the University’s dental faculty – also a brother in Christ – was so impressed by the fact that my mother, about my current age then, didn’t have any fillings in her teeth. He ended up getting photos done of her teeth to frame up, or use as teaching aids. I can’t quite remember. But she had perfect teeth, and a beautiful smile that she gave away generously.

I loved that smile. I yearned for her approval. No matter how hard I rebelled on and off, I know how much I always craved her approval. Even despite my best efforts.

Mothers and daughters.


My mother was still in her twenties when she faced the reality of living the rest of her life as a young, divorced mother. Singapore still isn’t a welfare state, and back then there was definitely nothing in place like Centrelink for young, struggling mothers. So it took a special kind of courage to decide to go it alone. I remember going to the old church building during the weekdays and playing with Pac Man on an Apple computer with the green screen while I waited dutifully. We were there, because my mother was seeking counsel. It was a decision that took years in the making, even while my parents stayed separate. Ultimately, I think she made the decision because it was obvious my father wasn’t serious about his vows, and my safety and security were paramount to her.

It’s why I feel particularly protective of her whenever I hear a sermon or a bible study about divorce. Sometimes, she would wonder aloud if she had made the righteous decision. It was the right decision, perhaps… but was it righteous in the sight of God? That tormented her sometimes. I wish it didn’t. My father walked away from his responsibilities, and then brought trouble back — repeatedly. She protected us. To this day, it makes me furious when I hear anything that could have made her feel guilty about her divorce because it was one of the most heroic actions she took for us.


I know she would have loved to meet Atticus. She would have made him laugh so hard, just as she did with Arddun that age. She just had that way with Arddun. I look at Atticus as I soak in his babyness, and I miss my mother because she can’t. Not in the flesh anyway.


I was just saying to Tony last night how I still can’t believe that my mother was cremated. There is something just so final about burning a body – even more so than burying it, perhaps. And yet, I remember holding her bones and letting them go in the sea. It remains the most painful thing I’ve ever had to do. The heart physically squeezing as it breaks. The finality of it.


I still shop and mentally pick out things she would’ve liked. Bought a bag yesterday that she would have adored, and I would have probably given to her as a present. It was pure leather and had blue in it, of course it did. My children, your Grandma Singapore was almost obsessed with the colour blue. It’s why when she finally renovated her kitchen, it was like walking into Sea World. Blue upon blue. We called it the fishtank and laughed gently at her. But she loved her little kitchen. And then she stuck sea animals on the blue glass cabinet, because she loved us for laughing.

Blue never used to be my favourite colour. But I love it now, because when I carry a bit of blue, I take with me a bit of your grandmother.


It’s been two years. And I still wish fervently that I’d round a corner, only to find you standing there. Arms outstretched for a hug. Grinning.

By hand

Dearest mum,

Sometimes, I’ll come across You.

Today, it happened when I was rummaging through my recipe folder

The one with the magazine clippings and stolen ideas

And hastily written hand-me-downs from people I love

And towards the back, I saw your handwritten note.

Something mundane, about a small wok you had bought me

But it struck me then how alive you once were

With thoughts and wishes and advice and love

And that you were an individual with fabulous penmanship

And a gift for giving

And a heart that would

And I miss you, oh so very much.

All these tears, just because I was trying to find

The recipe for pineapple tarts. xx

Four years today

Celina-and-I
Missing you.

Thought about you quite a bit today, in bits and bobs. Second thing in the morning, close to last thing tonight. Flashes of memories technicolour and sepia-toned… like your dancer’s gait, your sulk, and your laugh. Your wild, wild hair, thick and forever your bane.

(I hope God’s given you sleek, manageable hair now.)

 

Sitting with you deep into the night in your backyard, just listening while you chain-smoked and rationalised and tried to explain, and tried not to care.

Shopping with you, meeting you after school. The fact that you always had a library book in your bag, and a glare on the ready. The fact that you were always smarter and brighter and funnier and wittier, and grouchier and moodier, and infinitely more loyal.

The fact that we always fought and forgave and fought and forgave because we were blood, if not quite sisters.

Your allergy to Maggie Noodles and how you hated piano lessons.

Introducing me to Ingham’s marinated turkey – which, by the way, they no longer bring into Canberra. I know, right?

Telling you about Canberra, telling you about Tony, growing apart for a little while.

I wonder what you think of my life now, and I wonder if you miss yours in this world. Even just a tiny bit.

I wonder what you think of Arddun. Would she be the only child you would’ve grudgingly grown to love, if only because she is mine?

I miss your spark, your drama, your loyalty, your listening ear. Your brilliance, your sunshine, your aspiration, your strength.

You.

An anniversary

One year ago, I woke up to find a text from my mother, telling me that she had to cancel her flight to Canberra because she was experiencing acute pains around her diaphragm.

Unknown to both of us then, it was the beginning of the death setting in.

I’ve been dreaming about her a lot this week. She’s always alive, healthy, strong. Sometimes, she had already gone through the death and we sit and talk about present things and present times, and I’m filling her in about what we’re doing about her house, and what’s been happening since we last caught up. In my dream last night, she had just gotten out of the communal shower at a church camp while I was waiting for her in our room, so I could get my turn. She was telling someone I know about how she had survived her cancer, and how she had never experienced such pain as she did until it reached her hips and legs. In that dream, I had the foreknowledge that she was about to get her second round, and she was going to die from it – but she didn’t know that yet.

I miss her from the deepest core of my being.

The long kiss goodnight

I can’t sleep tonight. Lots running around the brain about love, and forgiveness, and how the internet has a memory like 20 gajillion elephants.

It’s Valentine’s Day. Tony and I celebrated yesterday to avoid the 800% price hike across the continent, and today I got some beautiful red roses and watched season 4 of The Tudors. (We’re at the Queen Catherine Howard bit.)

Then I checked my emails and read one that I probably wasn’t supposed to receive, let alone digest and lose sleep over.

Darn Reply All function.

I’ve blogged for almost 10 years now. Started lots of blogs, but they didn’t go very far because I was writing either to vent or psycho-analyse. And then one day, at my most heartbroken, I forgot myself and in a very selfish act, went and burnt many bridges through my writing. And it doesn’t matter how much spax you throw at it. When something like this happens, the bridge doesn’t get built again. You have to go and build a new bridge. Or you build it halfway, and you wait for the other side to respond. Which may never happen.

Some people murder, others steal. I hurt people through clumsy, hot words.

And if you’re reading this and thinking, “Huh? What happened? What’s she talking about? What are the specifics?” – complete dampener here. This post isn’t about rehashing past regrets. But it is about words.

As far as possible, I try to have my insides match my outsides. But this also means that my inside words sometimes shoot past the filter and land on the outside, impaling individuals in the process.

As far as possible, I try to forgive easily. And most of the time, I do. But I really, REALLY struggle with forgiving others who have not forgiven me. Especially after I’d forgiven them, only to find my forgiveness rebuffed and my wrong, forever embossed on their foreheads and their hearts. And then I fall a little bit to pieces.

There’s a video that’s gone viral in the past week. It’s a father’s video response to his teenage daughter’s Facebook rant. Huge spoiler – he shoots her laptop to teach her a lesson. It’s a tit for tat response, father to daughter.

You can watch it for yourself, if you can stomach all of it:

It makes me squirm for so many reasons, chief of which are:

  • The daughter reminds me of what I’ve been like.
  • The father reminds me of what I’ve been like.
  • It’s an awful lesson on parenting.
  • I’m almost certainly capable of doing something that desperate and petty to Arddun.

The worst part is how public it all is. Long, loooong after that teenager grows up and marries and has children of her own, that video will be lurking around somewhere on the internet. It’s hard enough trying to forgive and forget… but now there’s a replay button.

What am I trying to say?

On a day when love is celebrated, I received an email that confirmed that I was not loved. Words floating around on the internet, biting me for a change. And perhaps I read too much into it. The email didn’t dwell on specifics. And perhaps I’m being quite melodramatic. Expecting to be loved is a huge ask.

Except I wasn’t asking to be loved. Just forgiven.

Except that I know forgiveness requires the forgiver to love.

Gah.

If there’s one big, multi-pronged life skill I hope to teach Arddun even though I have such a lousy track record myself, it’d be this: the ability to shut up and love her enemies, and bless those who hurt her. I’m thinking real hard about this as I type, because it’d be more simplistic to wish that she could just make friends, not enemies.

But enemies sometimes find you, even when you keep right out of their way. It is the nature of bullies.

And as for forgiveness – the devil is in the detail of remembering. And I pray tonight for a heart that can let go and let God.

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