Funeral arrangements are being made as I type this. Family members are probably scurrying around town, getting funeral errands done as the undertaker comes and do what is required and necessary. Phonecalls are made to inform the relatives of the deceased immediately. No further elaboration is given to the other relatives about the details of his death, but are only rushed to come home as soon as possible. The wake will be held for five days and family members from far away are coming back to pay their last respect and fulfill filial piety. Shit happens so suddenly that none of us could even grasp it. Everyone's probably gathered at the funeral parlour/home right now, mourning, while I'm stuck here in KL, unable to go back yet.
Tua pek has passed away last night on his hospital bed.
Everyone thought he was going to make it through his final stage of cancer, but the doctor has proved otherwise last night. The phone call we got from kai ma, bearing the bad news, told us that we had to make arrangements to come back immediately. I was shocked to get the news (so informally) but immediately went back up to the first floor of the bungalow (that feels so empty now) to pack my bags after discussing last minute bus fares with Aunt Mary. Grace and I (being the eldest grandchildren in the family) will be catching a bus today to go back to Penang where all the family members are gathered.
Suddenly, I don't feel like staying anymore. Spent a restless and sleepless night, toiling in the bed and rubbing my eyes, thinking and thinking. I came here full of anxiety but now I'm returning home filled entirely to the brink with distress. I felt stuck for I can't go back to be with the others. Gosh, I din't know what to say. This is... so unexpected. I certainly don't mind my trip getting cut off now. As much as I'm reluctant t go home and face the music, there's still a great sense of responsibility hovering over me, telling me that 'I need to get back home'. Speaking of which, the word is, I'm supposed to take charge of all the rituals during the wake and the funeral seeing that tua pek has no sons and me, being the eldest male gardnchildren in the family would have to do it. Tua pek and the rest of the paternal side of the family are staunch Taoist. Dad's the only one who converted to Catholic. I don't know what to expect but I can say that I'm feeling nervous and afraid.
But not half as worried as I am towards amah. Gosh, I don't know if that grand old lady can take it. She's almost 80 and I'm seriously not sure if she could handle the news. As far as I know, no one have yet took the courage to inform amah. I hope everything's fine. I hope she doesn't crumble under the pressure. Her health isn't at tip top condition and all she needs is a little push to get her heart attack back on. I don't want to lose amah now. Not now. *sobs*. I think amah is the main worry of every family member now. I could still remember amah's face when I was four when ah kong (grandfather) passed away.
It was the funeral and the final rites and ritual were being carried out by the monk in front of our old heritage house, witnessed by all sorts of people that I didn't recognise. The hearse pulled up and the coffin was laid in front of the house for family members and friends to pay their last respect. As a child, I didn't understand what all this meant. Immediate family members were told to kneel down on the rough tar road, under the blazing sun and watch as the coffin got carried into the hearse. Workers from the coffin company were busy doing their work, oblivious to the crying family members. I couldn't cry at that time. Ah kong's death was not an impact to me at all. I had only 2 years of memory to hang on about ah kong then.
In the midst of the crowd as they made their way slowly to tail the hearse (chinese tradition), I turned in excitement to look for amah. I saw her, sitting on a stool beside the open door, with her eyes filled with tears and red. Being the small naive child I was, I asked amah, "Amah, you want to come along?" as I held out my hand for her to hold. She remained seated and sobbing. "Amah, are you crying?" I asked again, getting a little closer as if to inspect her eyes. Wiping her eyes wth the handkerchief, she told me in a shaky vocie, "No lah, ah boy. Faster go. Amah leg pain, cannot walk." Mom came and ushered me to follow the moving crowd whispering to me that I should remain quiet and ask no further questions. I turned back one last time with mom holding my hands to see amah buried in her handkerchief.
I didn't understand what the tears was all about then. I felt so comfortable in the hands of mom, dad, aunties, uncles and elder cousins. Come to think of it, that was the first death I encountered. Everything to me came as a surprise. Something new to watch. Something for me to keep asking 'why'. Something for me to gape in awe. It was two years, I think, after ah kong's death that my (paternal) great-grandmother passed away. Things were pretty much the same then. That was the last death the family has encountered and now, this. I hope amah strive through this.
Though Grace and I had a little conversation last night when were alone in the living room on the first floor. She looked more shocked than I did.
Grace: I didn't have the chance to see him for the last time and bid farewell.
Matt: Don't worry. I'm sure he understands.
Grace: Do you have any feelings towards tua pek's death?
Matt: Do you?
Grace: A little bit.
Matt: Yeah, a little bit. I mean, we totally do not have any great memories with him, right? It's hard for us to feel something great.
Grace: I suppose.
Matt: Why can't we be like that to everybody? Don't keep a close relation and don't have any sweet memories so that we won't feel the pinch when the person passes away.
Grace: Do you think life's that easy?
Matt: Well, no.
Matt: Do you think everyone's mourning at home now?
Grace: Hard to tell.
It really freaks me out that I could feel such a way last night. I'm not entirely sure if we felt the way we felt because we have yet to see the condition and the atmosphere at home or that that we truly do not feel that great sense of remorse. For that, I'm not sure if I'm going to cry. I can only say, let's see how things are first. Are we really being inhuman about this? I don't know. Grace is going to her varsity later today to apply for exemption as she has exams going on now. She's not planning to come back anymore until her holidays are over.
But anyways, I think this'll be my final post for the holiday. There's no telling if we are allowed to go home after going to the funeral parlour/home. I'd probably just post pictures if I could. It's sad that my plans were ruined, but it's even sadder that there's been a death in the family. This makes the second death this year, after kong kong's death. There's nothing more I want now than to get back home and be with the family. It's quite alot for mom to take and it's even more for amah to grasp. I hope everything's ok.
Now, as everyone gathers around the coffin to witness tua pek being laid to rest in his coffin and burn joss papers and other paper paraphernalia at the side of the coffin, I have to go check if all my stuff has safely been put into my baggages. The coffin will be sealed as soon as family members lay in objects for the soul to take to the afterworld. There'll be a great deal of women wailing which will only be heard as muffled voices from the inside of the coffin. But before long, everyone would be settled down at the parlour, going back to chatting (with a tiny tone of grief), paying for a spot in the obituaries in the papers, buying lottery with the deceased's death number (the number on the death certificate), and arranging tables for the night crowd to come attend the wake. Not to mention the frequent prayers held by the taoist monk/priest and the unpacking of food bought by family members to be laid in front of the coffin.
"Haiya, it's the seventh lunar month lor! What bad luck! It must be the spirits..." I can already hear one of my aunts saying to the other as she fans herself with yesterday's Kwong Wah Yit Poh, munching on peanuts and drinking coffee with her left feet up on the other bench.