On the night of 14th July, 2012, my Po Po, maternal grandmother, passed away peacefully in her house. She would have turned 80 this October. All 28 years of my life, she was the only grandparent I knew.
She is survived by nine children, twenty-two grandchildren, one great-grandchild (with one more on the way), two godchildren and six god-grandsons.
It wasn't unexpected. Grandma was hospitalized a week earlier after some health complications. My mother, sister and I rushed back to Ipoh to visit her, fearing and preparing for the worst, but hoping for the best.
The last time I saw her was on the evening of 9th of July, Po Po had looked better than the day before, reacting and smiling to those who gathered around her bed. But she could not speak anymore. But at least she looked at me and smiled.
Mom stayed in her hometown to tend to her mother. Two nights later she called Dad telling us that grandma’s condition had worsened. On the following day, Mom called again, saying that grandma wouldn’t be able to make it, it was better for us to hurry back to Ipoh.
Grandma died while we were on the way, my sister announced it when she received my mother’s text message. My father was driving, I was seated next to him, behind were my sister and our two cousins, Kampolo and Ngan polo (their real names are Kian Tat and Kian Lap, but since birth, we have called them "Golden Pineapple" and "Silver Pineapple").
When we reached my grandmother’s home, she was lying on a bed in the middle of the living room. My mother, my uncles and their wives, my aunts and their husbands, my cousins, and other relatives, along with the Indonesian maid who had taken care of my grandmother in the past few months, were all gathered around her. There were two Buddhist monks reciting Buddhist prayers.
The prayers were supposed to last for 8 straight hours. The recitals went on even after the monks had left, among my grandmother’s children, in-laws, and grandchildren. I sat and joined the recitals for 5 hours. By the time it ended most of the family members had arrived, even those who were living abroad.
In those 5 hours I sat before my grandmother, I tried to search and replay my memories of her, through my memory vault of videos and photos. Special and precious ones. But there were too many to single out. She had long been a part of my life.
This was the earliest photo I have of us. Taken in June 1985. I was a little more than a year old.
Within my iPhone, I still have the very last photo I took of her. March 2011. She was at my living room. Something outside had caught her attention. I never knew what it was.
While in the car, after we already knew of Grandma's passing, I spoke to dad of an incident that happened in December 2007.
In December 2007, grandma was a victim of snatch theft. There was an overwhelming storm of emotions I had to experience then, it was particularly devastating because just a month earlier, she was with us to celebrate Mom's birthday.
"I have feared for the worst then. And after Po Po managed to survive that, I just try to regard every extra year she had with us as a blessing." I said.
In my post "My Grandmother's Love", I wrote about the incident in detail, and the aftermath in the hospital. At that time, I was just starting out as a filmmaker.
At 2pm today, mom, my sister, cousin Fung Ming and I had to leave Ipoh.
We couldn't say goodbye to grandmother because we didn't want to cause unnecessary panic for her, so we just entered the room and spoke to her again.
Mom's words to grandmother were comforting, and grandmother just smiled and nodded occasionally. Mom told grandmother that she was in the hospital because she accidentally fell.
I stood beside grandmother again.
"Get well soon, okay, grandma? I'm going to make some new films for you to watch soon once you come to Kuala Lumpur." I said.
Grandmother tried to speak. Her speech was slurred and unclear. But I nodded and grinned.
Then slowly she reached out her hand and brushed her fingers on my stomach.
"I know, I'm getting fatter huh, grandma?" I chuckled.
Grandmother continued to smile.
My chuckle sounded like a croak. For that one brief moment, I found myself blinking back tears.
Shortly after that, on the Chinese New Year of 2008 (I wrote about it in my post, A Bittersweet Return to Ipoh in Chinese New Year 2008), I took a photo with grandma which I think could be our last photo together.
Since then, it became more common for me to take photos of other people than having people take photos of me.
A photo of grandma and my mom at a prayer ceremony in 2009.
Or photos of her in Chinese New Year 2010.
With my sister.
With mom and some of her siblings (Big Auntie, 3rd Auntie, 4th Auntie and 3rd Uncle).
Having lunch at Grandma's dining room.
I do remember many things of my Grandmother, especially as I am writing this now and looking through the photos and old writings I had.
Memory is a precious thing.
My grandmother was actually diagnosed with Alzheimer's quite a few years ago, but I already noticed symptoms of it many years before that, when she began showing disturbing signs of forgetfulness.
When I was a child, during those periods of time when grandma was visiting, I would always go out and rent Hong Kong TVB dramas to have TV marathons with her. I cannot even remember the amount of serials we have watched together (she even had to suffer through those anime series that I was watching back then) But when she began to regularly forget about the events of earlier episodes she watched just shortly before, I was more than a little horrified.
The betrayal of memory is such a cruel thing. Towards the last few years of grandma's life, she had lost all traces of her memories of us. Through my anger and sadness I tried to find humour in Grandma's condition, but I couldn't help but feel that even though I have just lost my grandmother, I have, in fact, been losing her for the past few years.
As I've mentioned earlier, the last time I saw her at the hospital, she smiled at me. In my imagination, I try to believe that she could recognize me. It was a comforting thought.