Saturday, October 16, 2010

To remember


It is my grandmother's funeral today. She is probably being buried as I type this and my heart is aching desperately that I'm not there with the family. It's been about four days and it's taken me about that long to sort out the bundle of emotions I've been feeling.

I defended my dissertation on Tuesday, the same day (Singapore time) that my grandma passed away. She's been really ill for a long time now, which is why I dedicated my dissertation to her. And now it's almost poetic that I did... She had actually passed the day before but my parents kept it from me knowing that if they told me, that I wouldn't have been able to go through with the defense as I did. And they were right. Till now, I don't think I've quite come to terms with the fact that I'm done with grad school. The initial relief and euphoria of having defended has been mixed up with all these other feelings of sadness and guilt. The last leg of the dissertation writing was also when my grandma's condition took a turn for the worse and writing up that last chapter will forever be associated with me thinking of my grandmother virtually all the time. I jumped at every unexpected phone call, prepared to hear from my parents that my grandma was gone. I even dreamed of her a few times, one of which involved her taking me to a hair salon in Hong Kong (don't ask...) to get my hair permed. She did love to perm her hair...

I want to write some more eloquent about my grandma, something nice to remember her by but I can't seem to. Either I'm all worded-out from writing that 241-page tome of a dissertation or all this jumble of emotions is just getting in the way. So I'm re-posting something I had written last year when we were home for Christmas.

I love you, Ah Ma. I miss you...

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[from 26 December 2009]

Some of my fondest memories of childhood are spending Saturdays at my grandma's in Bukit Ho Swee. My aunts and cousins all gathered for the lunch my grandma would make and while the adults caught up with each other on their week, my cousins and I indulged in the kind of carefree whimsy and mischief I can only hope Sophie will be able to enjoy with her cousins one day. The image of my grandma looms large in these memories- she of that kind face and doting disposition. I remember her constant laughter, perfectly coiffed hair, and gentle affection for all her grandchildren. These days, as she ages into her eighties, she doesn't always remember us all anymore. Over the past six years, seeing her only once or twice a year constantly reminds me how old she now is- her body becoming thinner and more frail, her posture and gait weakening. But the light and laughter are not gone from her eyes. Nor is the desire to painstakingly maintain her beautiful perm every week. I visited her with Sophie yesterday and while she probably doesn't remember me very well, and I had to tell her several times that Sophie's a girl and not a boy, she responded to Sophie the same way I remember her looking at me when I was a child- always with a smile. She could even say that Sophie looks just like Jude, no mean feat for someone who sometimes can't recognize her children's faces...


I'm glad Sophie got to meet her great-grandmother. It was a beautiful visit, seeing the youngest member of the family meet the oldest. It was also a little sad, looking at how much my grandma has aged while Sophie's little life has only just begun. I know how trite and hackneyed it is to evoke the whole circle of life thing but it was hard not to think that as I watched my 20-week old daughter and 87 year old grandmother in the same room.


When Sophie's older, I'll remind her of her great-grandma. And how much she loved me. I will tell her how special a grandmother's love is and impart to her one of life's greatest wisdoms I learned from her- a woman should always take care of her hair...

2 comments:

Noor said...

Serene - I'm so so sorry for your loss. :(

Madhu said...

Serene, I'm sorry about your grandma's passing. I'm so glad Sophie and she got to meet! Hugs!