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Wednesday 16 Mar 05
7:00pm : It was what seemed a usual Wednesday night for me. It was this way even before Dad had the stroke. Wednesday is the day of the week that we have a family meal together; where Mom, Dad, and my sister Joo Kim, would come over to join my family for a meal; where we could either catch up on latest happenings, or just spend quiet time with each other. After Dad's stroke, we carried on the routine, and I would pick Mom and Kim up from their home, and bring them over to mine. This "pick up" routine typically included me going into the house to see and speak to Dad.
This night, Dad was breathing a bit raspier than usual. He sounded really chesty, and it sounded like it was time for him to have his chest "vacuumed". Sudy, our maid, said that she had just done that, and would be doing it again later. I place my hand on Dad, and just let him feel my presence. His ribs feel oh so thin, as though he's wasting away beneath my finger tips. I whisper to Dad, say hello to him, and tell him that things are all right. I tell him to be at peace, that Mom and everyone else is doing fine. He seems to hear me, and his breathing eases abruptly; no wheezing sounds emit for what seemed like more than a few seconds. He swallows. And then the chesty breathing sounds resume. I tell him to continue to pray, that even though he can't say it aloud, that God will hear him. I tell him that we will all be together again one day.
10.00pm : Dinner is over, and I send Mom and Kim back home. I pop in to say good night to Dad. As I arrive at his bedside, Sudy leaves to attend to Mom. She says she had just cleaned and fed him. I lean over and talk to him, and initially I was impressed with how easily Dad was breathing. This soon turned to curiosity, and before I knew it, the hairs on the back of my neck was starting to stand on end. Dad wasn't really breathing at all. Some part of me wanted to just turn away - say good night - and be on my way home... but I resisted. I place my hand over his chest and hold my breath, and even try to stop my heart from beating, just so that I could be sure I would be able to discern the slightest movement from Dad. After what seemed a long time, I call Kim over, and tell her I think something is wrong. She walks over, unknowingly, and when I explain my fears to her, she too tries to sense Dad's breathing. I extricate a stethoscope from the drawer, and I search in vain for a heartbeat. Kim looks at me and I shake my head. The realization dawns on us, and we begin to grieve....
12.00am : The doctor had already been and given us a certificate for the cause of death - basically stating that it was due to urinary tract infection. I had also called Trinity Casket, who handles Christian funeral services. They really were very helpful and capable, and they provided the full range of services and all the links that we would ever need, including canopy setup, food, drinks and condiments, burial or cremation bookings, etc. They took Dad's body away for embalming and said that they would return the next day. Janet and I then went to make the police report, before retiring for, what was going to be, the last restful night for the next few days.
Thursday - Saturday 17-19 Mar 05
The next 3 days were all about the wake. Dad now lay in the living room. He doesn't really look like the man I knew, which actually makes it easier. Many wreaths and flowers surround him. Joo Ann has arrived from Vienna. A canopy is erected and tables all laid out. Many relatives and friends have visited to provide condolences, comfort and support. Our church pastor (Reverend Sng) and lay leaders (Major Robson and John Lim) have led the nightly services. I also displayed some photos of Dad so that those who didn't know him could get a sense of what he was like.
Sunday 20 Mar 05
2.45pm : It is time to close the casket, and Reverend Sng says a short prayer for Dad, and the casket is closed and brought out to the waiting hearse. We march solemnly behind for a short while, then we drive slowly in convoy all the way to Mandai Crematorium.
3.45pm : The crematorium is very new and looks really very much better than the Mt. Vernon Crematorium. We proceed to Hall 4 and it is almost like a little theatrette, with seats that descend row by row to the bottom, where the casket lay. Reverend Sng leads the service, in which Joo Ann delivers a poignant eulogy. At the end, we take a teary walk round the casket, and it is then wheeled to a viewing gallery, where the casket is robotically guided the last few 15m or so and finally enters the furnace. Vivien shouts a fond "Goodbye lak chek, we love you" at the very last second, as the casket disappears from view.
6.00pm : We had asked all friends and relatives who had been at the funeral to have dinner with us. It was a truly sumptuous one, and just had to cater from Dad's favourite restaurant, West Lake. The atmosphere was at least much less somber than previous nights. We certainly were very appreciative of all the support from relatives and friends throughout this period.
Saturday 26 Mar 05
10.00am : Today is Dad's birthday, so it is befitting a day to remember him by. We had arranged to perform a sea burial for Dad. Hock Boon had kindly agreed to bring us out to international waters on his yacht. It was quite a long ride, and thankfully the weather was perfect, with light winds most of the way. When we reached the spot, Uncle Donald (my Kao Chek) read a passage from the Bible which I knew my Dad would like, Psalm 23. The sea was quite calm and still, and when the reading was over, we each took a stalk of flowers and dropped them as well as Dad's ashes into the sea, as Joo Ann read a short poem that he had written for the occasion. The waters quietly swirled around the yacht, which carried the flowers seemingly around the boat in lazy circles while we all hummed "Blessed be the ties that bind". It was an emotional moment for many of us. After a long moments silence, we turned the boat around and headed back for home.
6.30pm : The dinner is a birthday/memorial for Dad. We had a few people come over for a peranakan dinner at my place, after which Joo Ann played Dad's favourite piece on the piano. We then each shared whatever memories and thoughts we had about him. It was clear that we all saw very different facets of the man, and he had truly touched many lives.