In loving memory

Twelve months has passed.  Someone is missing.  And this was felt by everyone in the family, each in our own way.

It was the most difficult twelve months for me and even though I told myself, “I’m not counting,” I couldn’t help marking the days and dates, the birthdays and anniversaries and feeling dad’s absence acutely because he was a major part of my life.

On dad’s birthday, my brother posted his date of birth in Facebook and one of the comments received from a naïve friend was a question if it was a 4-D number.  He clearly couldn’t count because a date of birth was certainly more than four digits!

On the first anniversary of dad’s passing, my brother posted a photo that I took of the three generations of Loh men – dad, my brother and his son – while they were in the swimming pool at Cinta-Ayu Suites, Pulai Springs Resort, on Christmas Day 2015, just weeks before dad left us on 17 January 2016. 

My brother, dad, Uncle Steven and Aunt Polly [L to R]
dining together at Sing Kee restaurant, Melodies Garden
This photo of dad, then aged 93 – who swam a few laps in the pool – was a reminder of how vibrant he was and the way he taught us to swim at the beach in Kampung Pasir Gudang, long before it was turned into Johor Port. 

Every time I look at dad’s empty chair, I miss his presence, his words of encouragement and his quiet pride when he reads the articles with my byline.

While dad clearly supported what I do, he refrained from showing favouritism.  He was just honest and caring, polite and undemanding. 

Aunt Sylvia, Uncle Mok, mum, dad, me, and Uncle Steven
[L to R] with Aunt Polly, behind the camera, at Leong Kee
We used to tease dad by referring to our sister-in-law as his “favourite daughter-in-law” simply because dad has one son and she would automatically be his one and only daughter-in-law!  But dad would smile and say, “I have no favourites.”

A further insight into dad’s upbringing and the kind of person he was, was his sense of courtesy.  

In the Asian context where our elders expect us to jump to their requests and do it out of filial piety and duty, I observed that dad as a father, NEVER took for granted that he need not say “Thanks” to his children for doing simple tasks for him.

Thought of dad when I saw this crab dish in the
Makan Kitchen buffet, DoubleTree by Hilton JB
Even when he asked for something as mundane as, “Please pass the salt,” he would use “magic words” like “Please” and when he received the item he asked for, dad would always and I repeat, ALWAYS say, “Thank you.” 

No, I don’t need any psychoanalysis to help get me through the difficult patches because it’s a natural process of coming to terms with the changes and I’m dealing with it at my own pace.

Losing dad was like cutting out a huge chunk of my heart and it will take time to heal while I go about the business of living and doing all that I know he would be proud of.

For me, it’s therapeutic to talk about it rather than keep it bottled up inside and writing about dad is my way of dealing with it.

On the first anniversary of dad’s passing, my brother and his wife sent us a trivia question: “One year ago, after we came back from the funeral director’s place, what did we have for dinner?”

Dad's usual pick of Chicken in Rice Wine - set meal
served at Ke Ren Lai, Hakka restaurant
I can remember almost every detail in the chain of events that started when dad collapsed with an acute stroke on Jan 14 last year but this question simply drew a blank!

It was an emotional time for all of us, making decisions and arrangements for the wake services and funeral, and one year on, they are wondering what we ate that night.

Enjoying good food was one of the fun things we did with dad so during the few days of dad’s wake, we decided to eat the food that dad enjoyed as a tribute to him.

A serving of mushroom soup at Niniq Bistro
Of course, we did not order in stir-fried crabs – the blue (flower) type – which was dad’s preference to the more fleshy mud crabs, or dad’s preferred choice of chicken cooked in Chinese rice wine, as it was inconvenient and inappropriate to eat these at the funeral parlour.

I tried to jog my memory in an attempt to answer my brother’s question but all I remember was feeling numb and going to the funeral director with the selected set of clothes to dress dad in but what happened next was a total blank.

Niniq's Grilled Chicken Sandwich
After asking around among our church family who were with us throughout those eventful days, we finally got the answer: Sing Kee restaurant at Melodies Garden.  And they even remembered the dishes ordered in honour of dad including his favourite, sambal petai!

One of dad’s favourite noodle choices was the Teochew fish noodles by Leong Kee at Jalan Storey.  Since discovering it, dad always recommended it to friends and family.

When our uncles and aunts visited us, dad suggested that we lunch out at Leong Kee with them and it pleased him very much when they agreed with him that they too approved and appreciated the taste of these noodles, served in a rich fish broth.

Dad never said “No” to this comforting bowl of rice noodles in fish soup so very often I would tah-pau or buy takeaways for dad to enjoy a satisfying soft meal at home or when he was recuperating from some chest infection in hospital. 

When we dine with dad at various cafés and restaurants, and ordered mushroom soup, dad always compared it against the mushroom soup at Niniq Bistro.  That was because the mushroom soup at Niniq so pleased dad that it became the benchmark by which he compared with any others he tasted.

Lunch of Leong Kee's fish noodles shares with
Sunny and May Tan, mum and Ruby
After tasting a poorer comparison at another café, dad declared in a loud whisper – much to our embarrassment – that: “Niniq’s tastes better!”

“Shh…!” I tried to hush him but it was too late.  It was just like dad to speak his mind, much too loudly sometimes.  He would just say it quite spontaneously because to him, nothing compared to his favourite taste of mushroom soup at Niniq!

At Niniq, dad’s usual order was mushroom soup with a grilled chicken sandwich.  In the early days, Niniq used to serve this sandwich, made with focaccia bread, sliced into halves.

We would always ask the staff to slice the halves into quarters because it was easier to handle and dad usually ate only three quarters of the sandwich.  I don’t know if it was because of our regular request but since then, Niniq continued to present their grilled chicken sandwich cut into quarters.

Dinner at Niniq Bistro to enjoy dad's favourite order
of mushroom soup and grilled chicken sandwich
I remember how we enjoyed a Caesar Salad together and when dad crunched into a bite, he would comment that it would taste better with Thousand Island dressing.  And we would roll our eyes and explain to dad that Caesar Salad comes with a cream sauce and not Thousand Island.  It’s a different recipe so try to enjoy it, please?

This happened often during a stage when dad favored the taste of Thousand Island salad dressing so we used to joke about bringing a bottle along whenever we dined out so that we have a ready supply to please him.  Aware of his preference for Thousand Island sauce, we always kept stock of it at home but in the months prior to his departure, he no longer asked for it. 

Taking dad out for meals was very much part of our lives and to commemorate the first anniversary of dad’s departure, we decided to celebrate his life by eating some of the food that dad so enjoyed.

A page from dad's Tamil exercise book where he
practiced writing out phrases and sentences
Our lunch and dinner that day was more meaningful when it was shared with the church family who also have fond memories of him.

As May used her chopsticks to lift her noodles out from the bowl of steaming fish broth to cool, she said each time she and her sons ate at Leong Kee, she couldn’t help reminding them that this was one of Uncle Loh’s favourite noodles. 

Then her sons, who heard her say it once too often, would reply with a growl of impatience, “Mummy we know.  You told us already!”

The food was good even though we had a bittersweet time in his memory as we recalled dad’s idiosyncrasies and his wacky sense of humour. 

While our aunts were not present with us that day, Aunty Polly (on holiday in the UK) and Aunty Sylvia (in KL) were with us in thoughts as they sent sweet messages with comments and memories of their experiences with dad.

In loving memory of dads who
have gone ahead of us
We recalled how unsuspecting phone callers to our home would be shocked when dad picked up the phone and greeted them, “Vanakkam!”  [This is the Tamil word for Hello, Hai or Welcome]  Very often, they panicked and hung up quickly, thinking that they called a wrong number!

If they ventured to call again, dad may pick up the phone and put them out of their misery by not only saying, Vanakkam but follow up with asking, “Who’s calling?” so that the caller may identify himself and go on with the conversation.

Regulars soon caught on to dad’s way of answering the phone and they would cheerfully reply with their own, Vanakkam, and chat with him before asking for mum or me.  Dad already had working knowledge of spoken Tamil and with a passion to learn to read and write the language, he would take every opportunity to practice his Tamil!

Dad’s absence is going to be felt acutely at every celebration and anniversary but we praise God for dad’s life, his testimony and the legacy he left with us.  I’m sure dad would have approved of how we remember him, even as he lives on in our hearts.

While it was just another day on the calendar, it was significant for us as we cherish our thoughts and memories.  The first year is over.  I hope the next twelve months will rush pass again.  Maybe, just maybe it might pass with a little less pain. 

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