A Fond Farewell

This morning, my sister Ruby asked, “Wonder if anyone had a visit from porpor?”  That’s because it’s traditionally believed that the deceased will return to visit family members on thau chatt, Cantonese for the seventh day after someone had passed away.

Family photo before leaving funeral parlour for the cemetery
When grandmother passed away exactly a week ago, family members who were abroad made their way back to Johor Baru to pay their last respects and give her a grand send off.  

My blog post, Farewell Grandma, was widely shared and I wish to thank friends and readers who expressed their condolences and those who came to pay their respects.  As I grief over the passing of our beloved gran, your thoughts and comforting words mean a lot and are deeply appreciated.

Grandmother [Right] with her mother,
[Left], Philip and Malcolm
[Front row Left and Right] and
dog Rajan [Front Far Right] at
No. 154 Jalan Ngee Heng
Our cousin Gillian in Sydney was the first arrival via KL while Malcolm and his wife, also from Sydney, suffered a horrendous 3-hour traffic snarl to get across the causeway on Saturday night.  Cousin Bernice, who arrived from London a little earlier on the same day, also did the causeway crawl through the weekend traffic.  Cousin Jessie, who was flying back from Sarawak, told his former classmate about his arrival but due to a miscommunication, they missed meeting each other at the funeral parlour!

It was a family reunion of sorts where members of grandma’s immediate family gathered together with members of her extended family who came from near and far.  It was quite amusing when relatives from gran’s side of the family turned up along with members of grandfather or Ah Kong’s family and they not only don’t know each other, many of us also have not met them before! 

Our gran was such a meticulous person who knew exactly what she wanted for her final send off and each item was specifically spelled out in her last will and testament.  She thought of all the details from the choice of a quality casket to the 5-day lying-in-state wake period, they type of prayers she wanted as well as the food catering that she insisted, should be sufficient for visiting guests and relatives.

My brother Kenneth [Left] with cousins Malcolm [Centre]
and Philip [Right]
In the past few days, talk about our gran’s “visits” was prevalent.  Malcolm and his wife, who stayed at Ruby’s place, told us that when they got up one morning, they asked each other, “Who turned off the fan last night?”

This was because they kept the fan on in the air-conditioned room and woke up to find that the fan was off.  As they asked each other, they found that neither one of them got up to turn off the fan.  So who did?  And someone suggested, “It must be gran!”

Message from Jackson to his Lau-ma
Then my brother and his wife shared this episode between them and their daughter:  Apparently, my niece Amanda was looking high and low for her pair of Nike shoes and discovered them on the piano stool.  Her mother’s annoyed question was, “How did it get on the piano stool?” and my brother’s glib reply was, “Grandma found them kot…”

It’s interesting how such imagined “visits” by a loved one seem to be both amusing and heart-warming as opposed to the squeamish anticipation of horrific encounters in the hauntings of those who have offended the deceased when she was alive!

Quinlan's question to Lau-ma!
This made me reminisce about old black & white Chinese movies, that I used to watch with grandma back at No. 154 Jalan Ngee Heng that often portrayed evil-doers on the receiving end of hauntings in the form of bad dreams and visions…until they broke down and confessed to their crimes!

“It was an amazing reunion of us cousins,” declared Bernice in a phone message as she hurried to the gate to board her flight back to the UK.  “Now I must get back to mum duties,” she added.  Ber, a mother of two young boys, came back with drawings with poignant messages by her two boys that she pinned onto the wreaths. 

The "foreigners" enjoying a taste of our king of fruits!
Her older son, Jackson scribbled his message: “Dear Lau-ma (Teochew for great-grandmother), we love you always and forever” [The “O” filled in with a smiley face and tall ears!] and added another line, “Enjoy heaven, Lau-ma” and wrote in another colour, “We love you so much, Lau-ma.”  At the bottom left of the page, he signed off, “From your great-grandson, Jackson.”

Bernice said her younger son, Quinlan, probably couldn’t grasp what it means that his great-grandmother has passed away.  He too drew a picture for Lau-ma but it surprised Bernice when he asked if Lau-ma likes cheese?  She encouraged him to ask Lau-ma and he scribbled in his wobbly handwriting, “Do you like cheese?”

The Mok family with former pre-school teachers
from Hilltop Private School
While they spent their days at the funeral parlour, our cousins from abroad and who live outside JB, took the opportunity to enjoy as much of the local food for breakfast and supper.  They know that a visit to their hometown is not complete without a taste of familiar comfort food and had their fill of kway-chap… a Teochew favourite.  Since this visit back is also the durian season, the “foreigners” also had the opportunity to indulge in a taste of the king of fruits!

Time just seemed to fly by when the cousins sat together, sharing memories and reminiscing about the growing-up years in JB, literally in telling grandmother stories.  It was truly a celebration of her life as friends and family members met in gran’s honour to renew their acquaintance with each other, talk about the last time they met with gran or recollect some special memory about her.

Grandma's final journey even had police escort?
As readers of My Johor Stories shared the news about gran’s passing, I received countless phone messages, calls and visits.  As I was making my way to the parlour on the morning of the funeral, I received a phone message from Gillian, saying that friends of mine was already there.  Many friends had already visited in the past days and I wondered who it could be?

When Gillian enquired, the two ladies said they were my friends who heard the news about gran’s passing from a staff member who follows my blog.  As I was approaching the parlour, I was deeply touched to see that the ladies were Mrs Jennifer Ho and Ms Thava from Hilltop Private School.  While they took time off from work to come, I had earlier received a call from Nurhayati, mother of that staff member, who gave me her condolences by phone because she was babysitting grandchildren and could not come.

Ryan [Left] and Eva in red stripes!
It so happened that both children of Aunty Sylvia, cousins Shaun and Ryan, were Hilltop School alumni and they had a little reunion of teachers and former students.  When they saw how Shaun and Ryan have grown, they marveled at where had all the years gone.  In the happy reunion, Shaun even had the pleasure to introduce his wife, Grace and daughter, Caitlyn, to his former pre-school teachers!

Following the Chinese funeral tradition for those aged above 100 years old, our family members came dressed in a variety of red tops – almost as if it was Chinese New Year – but it was in fact, a somber day when we were giving our beloved grandmother a grand send-off.  

While most wore solid red colour T-shirts, some wore shirts in shades of red and several wore stripes.  Young Caitlyn approached me and pointed out that we both wore stripes but Ryan and Eva looked like they were in uniform red vertical stripes!

Bidding a fond farewell to dear gran
The weather was bright and sunny as we set out for the cemetery where gran was to be buried in the twin-lot alongside Ah Kong, who has gone ahead some 35 years ago.  When the convoy of cars following the hearse reached the Inner Ring Road, we heard loud sirens and slowed down to stop by the road.  In the rearview mirror I spotted police outriders escorting the vehicle bearing no number plate but the royal symbol of the Johor Sultan!

The journey continued uneventfully to Johor Jaya and after the rituals at the grave site were performed, our gran was placed in her final resting place next to Ah Kong.  Yesterday, our cousins made jokes, with absurd ideas and wild speculations about how Ah Kong would react to seeing his wife again after so many years.  But at the final moments of inevitable separation with our dear old gran, the atmosphere was solemn with silent grieving even as dark clouds gathered and rain threatened.

Ah Kong's Report of Birth found among
gran's old documents
That evening, some of my cousins and aunts came over to our house to look at some of gran’s clothes and personal items to select some souvenirs for themselves.  Among other things, Bernice found a piece of patchwork quilt that she wanted.  Besides gran’s photo collection in two albums, we opened envelopes of old photos that were distributed back to those in the photos with her.

One of the most precious discoveries from gran’s old documents was a copy of Ah Kong’s Report of Birth that recorded the name of his father.  Now we finally know that great-grandfather was Ng Ang Nee, a name that nobody knew for sure until now.

The peaceful passing of our dear gran certainly marks the end of an era for the family.  While an entire chapter is being closed, a new one opens with the growth of the next generation.  As of now, gran’s 31 great-grandchildren will soon have two new additions while her first great-great-grand-daughter, will be joined by another cousin due to arrive later this year.  I’m sure these new additions to the family will inevitably learn about the family matriarch, Mak Cheng Hai, who lived to a ripe old age of 103.

No comments:

Post a Comment