Farewell Grandma

The peaceful passing of our beloved grandmother, Mak Cheng Hai, on July 2, 2015 marks the end of era in our family.  She was 103.

Our grandma, Mak Cheng Hai (1912 - 2015)
As the family matriarch, gran was a strong influence in our lives.  In the hours after the news about her passing was shared, Facebook savvy family members posted thoughts and comments along with poignant photos of gran.  I share some of them here as a fitting tribute to our deal old gran.

Cousin, Eva Ng, posted: Our beloved 103 year old grandmother left in peace today to meet our grandfather.  She may have held the hands of many grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great grandchild for a while, but she will hold our hearts forever.  We miss you, Ah Mah.

Cousin, Gillian Choo, posted: Until we meet again, our dearest and beloved Ah Mah.  Simply a legend!

Cousin, Malcolm Ng, posted: Mak Cheng Hai (1912 – 2015).  Mother of 11, grandmother of 30, great-grandmother of 31 and great-great-grandmother of one!  She was a remarkable woman!

Farewell, Grandma!  Special thanks to two exceptional Loh & Choo families who generously and graciously gave her a home for the past 30 years!  Special thanks also to Aunty Eng and Uncle Mok for their continuous and unfailing support!

Five generations together: My sister Ruby
[Right] holding Vivienne, her grand-daughter,
niece Amanda [Left] with Aunty Polly
and 103-year old grandma
My sister, Ruby Loh, commented:  My mother’s mother, my grandmother, my children’s great-grandmother and my grandchild’s great-great-grandmother.  Champion!

Cousin, Shaun Mok, posted: You will be dearly missed (1912 – 2015).  The Matriarch, my beloved Ah Mah, my moral compass…  You’ve lived through the invention of the TV from Black & White to 3-D.  What a champion!  Love you Ah Mah.

Niece, Amanda Loh, posted: Twenty years back with Lau-Ma [the Teochew term for great-grandmother].  She’s watching her great-grand-daughter running away!

How awesome to have grown up with her and listened to her stories on how she survived the war and many more exciting (and disturbing) stuff.  I’m glad that we were able to celebrate her 103rd birthday a few weeks ago.  You are dearly missed, Lau-Ma.

One of our Filipina helpers who cared of gran, Lura, posted: I will miss you Nenek of Malaysia!

Amanda [Right] with her great-grandmother
I have a special bond with gran because she lived with our family for almost 20 years after our grandfather or Ah Kong, Ng Ngoh Tee, passed away some 35 years ago.  As she advanced in age, the caring became more challenging and a live-in helper was engaged for an extra pair of hands to help mum with gran.

Eight years ago, the reins were passed to mum’s sister, Aunty Polly and her husband Uncle Steven who cared for gran with the support of Aunty Sylvia and her husband Uncle Mok.  We often say in jest that gran is so blessed with award-wining sons-in-law because they are a special breed of sons-in-law who got on very well with their mother-in-law and who treated her like their own mother.

In 2012, we celebrated gran’s 100th birthday with a grand celebration and I had the privilege to feature our gran in a cover story, The Real Champion, in Life & Times, New Sunday Times.  After her 100th birthday, every day was a bonus and we made it a point to celebrate gran whenever she had any visitors.

Another birthday with gran!
Gran had a form of dementia that manifested in a pattern of a few high days when she would be alert and chattering non-stop that alternated with a few low days when her battery was probably flat and being recharged, and she would be sleepy and quiet. 

On her low days, she had to be awakened for meals and fed blended food but on her high days, gran could be very demanding and challenging.  She could sometimes eat food by herself, ask a lot of questions, even insist on holding a small torch and keep it flashing [playing in a child-like way!] throughout the night!

When our aunts mastered the skills of handling smartphones, we had the privilege of “live” updates on gran, not only through photos but also with videos.  Very often they are poorly focused but we got the idea and enjoyed live views of what’s happening with gran.  

Our aunts are crazy practical jokers and they often have fun with gran on her high days.  They sent countless videos and I remember a hilarious one that showed gran with an old [land line] telephone and they urged gran to make a call to Ah Kong!  And gran was heard saying, “Hello, hello!”  

Grandma and grandfather - a couple who played badminton together and raised a family of champions!
In spite of her age, gran is remarkably healthy and does not suffer from any heart disease, high-blood pressure or diabetes.  She was just old.  Lina, one of my friends, often asks me, “What’s her secret?”

During our early school-going years, my brother, sisters, cousins and I lived with our grandparents at No. 154 Jalan Ngee Heng where we were trained by gran to be responsible for specific household chores – sweeping (indoor and outdoor), washing dishes, polishing silver (trophies!), folding clothes and even cleaning up dog poop!  

Gran could hold the cup and drink by herself!
We all enjoyed her cooking and agree that diet played a big part in building up gran’s core strength.  We can never forget how gran used to make her own cooking oil from pure animal fat and cooked huge meals to feed the family.  In those days, there was no such thing as keeping a close watch on high cholesterol levels!

Gran had the Cantonese tradition of preparing slow-boiled soups from fresh ingredients in deep pots boiling on charcoal or kerosene stoves, to nourish bodies of growing grand-children and her children who had daily badminton training.  This regular habit of drinking good soups may have contributed to building up gran’s healthy core strength.

Since late last year gran’s health was on the decline and she took a turn for the worse early this year.  As she became more helpless, a nursing agency was engaged to assign day-care nurses for professional help to manage gran.  At first, the nurses came to the house in two shifts but as Aunty and our live-in helper acquired some skills in handling gran, the nursing care was reduced to only one morning shift.

Still drinking by herself on 102nd birthday!
The nurses naturally established a bond with gran, who was always good natured.  One of the most heart-warming video’s that Aunty shared was a video taken on June 21 with nurse Khadijah.  As usual after feeding gran her breakfast, they would interact with her – chatting or just counting numbers in sequence.  Last year, gran could count up to 99 in English and Malay and sometimes, even in Mandarin!

In this video, gran’s eyes were closed but her mind was very alert.  The nurse spoke into her good ear to ask gran, “What is your name?” to which gran replied clearly in a complete sentence, “My name is Mak Cheong Hai (name pronounced in her own dialect).

The videographer – Aunty, I presume – reacted in surprise (the screen shook!) when gran promptly asked the nurse, “Now, what is your name?”  The nurse choked back a laugh and replied into gran’s ear, “Khadijah!”  Gran responded with surprise at the unfamiliar name but the videographer stopped filming and was probably laughing too much!

It’s sad that less than two weeks later, she would be gone.  But gran has lived a long and eventful life and her 103-year old heart must be so tired.  She deserves a good rest now.

Mak Cheng Hai (1912 - 2015)
Complying with gran’s wishes, she will have a grand send-off in a 5-day wake with all the trimmings.  The Chinese have an interesting tradition where the passing of those aged 100 and above is a celebration.  Instead of wearing somber colours for mourning, the family should be wearing red and bright colours!

At the funeral parlour, our family is attracting a great deal of attention, dressed in different shades of red, orange and flowered clothes in honour of our dear gran.  Even as I write, relatives are arriving from North and East Malaysia, Singapore, Australia and the UK to join us in JB for a family reunion and celebration of gran’s life that will culminate with a grand send-off.

Gran, my beloved por-por, you were an exceptional homemaker, wife, mother, sister, aunt, grandmother, great-grandmother and great-great-grandmother. Thank you for the valuable life’s lessons and the priceless legacy you have given us.  We love and miss you gran.  Rest in peace.

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