May 24, 2007

To My Dear Ah Kung

I call him Ah Kung.

Ah Kung's my mum's father. My Popo (mum's mum) passed away when I was 6 years old, so I didn't really get to know her that well (I remembered that she made a mean braised chicken and mushroom dish though).

My childhood memories with my Ah Kung still lingers vividly in my mind. He was the first person who taught me to drink coffee. I was about 5 years old at the time, and every weekend, my parents would drop me at my grandparents' place, so that they can bring me for ballet lessons the next morning (yeah I know, this lumbering ox was actually a tutu-wearing twinkle-toes for 2 years). I would take the bus with him to the ballet centre every Saturday morning. Before that, we'd have breakfast near the house, where I would order my usual box of UHT chocolate milk, and him a hot cup of kopi. I would always finish my chocolate milk before my food arrives, and he'd pour the kopi onto the saucer, where I'd scoop into my mouth with a teaspoon. This was our routine every Saturday morning for 2 years, before I stopped taking ballet lessons altogether.

Spring in Takasaki

Every weekend, for the past 12 years or so, my family and I would take Ah Kung out for dinner, where he'd stay over for a night before leaving for his home again on Sunday evening. He preferred to stay in his own place, even though we've asked time and again, for him to move in with us. More freedom, he'd say. He'd tell us stories about my mother, of his work (he was a chemist), his beloved tai chi, etc, and we'd have such a good time every weekend with him around.

He stayed in the US for a few months in a year, for a few years, just to visit my aunt and her family. Everyone loved having their Ah Kung around, for he was such a jolly man. And everytime he came home, he'd bring me a t-shirt from his travels to the US. I still have the ratty old San Francisco t-shirt (it's worn to bits) which he got me 10 years ago.


He never forgot our birthdays, and every birthday and Christmas, we'd receive a little present from him. His gifts weren't expensive, as he could only afford so much when he had long retired. My mum would give him a bottle of his favourite cologne which, which we later realised, he never used because he just didn't have the heart to use it ("mm seh tak yong", so to speak).

I remembered talking to him about my apprehension of leaving for the UK to study, when it was going to be the first time I was leaving home, to be on my own. He listened, and told me all he wanted to do was see me graduate, and that was all that mattered.

It was when I was in the UK, that his health started to deteriorate. My parents finally made him stay with us, but even then, he did everything by himself, as he did not want to trouble anyone. It all started with a fall which cracked his hip and leg bone. It was after that that everything went downhill. Mum would tell me over the phone that he was having difficulty remembering things, which became worse when he started having difficulty recognising people.


It was a very tough decision to put him in a nursing home, because my house (with its split levels and all) just wasn't a conducive environment for an old man with mobility problems to live in. Plus, he needed constant medical attention. Ah Kung never complained, but took it in his stride. His Alzheimer's got worse, and it could be that he did not even know he was no longer living in his own home.

When I finally returned to Malaysia for good, I went to the home to visit him. It broke my heart when he could no longer recognise me. My mum would try to remind him of who I was, he would look at me, with slight recognition, and he'd say "Ohhh Tine, you're back". It was heart-breaking to reduce to talking to him in child talk, because it was all he could recognise and understand.

For the next year, his health deteriorated further. His arthritis became so bad; he could no longer move. He had to be turned every hour to avoid bed sores from developing. He could no longer talk.

In the final weeks of his life, taking a breath became a feat for him. As sad as we were when he finally passed away, we were also relieved that he would no longer be suffering as he had for the past year. I remembered those heart-wrenching moments when he was in the ICU, watching him struggle to breathe due to the massive built-up of phlegm in his lungs (he had to have it manually removed every hour).

Tokyo Disneysea

When my aunt came back to see him in his last days, she and my mum talked to him, telling him that they are fine, and that he does not need to worry about his children any longer. I remembered very well, that my grandfather opened his eyes, with the oxygen mask over his mouth and nose, looked at them for a very long time, and tears ran down his cheeks. He could not talk, but his eyes told them everything they needed to know. I cried like a baby that night.

My Ah Kung passed away in April 2004. The funeral was a quick affair, which lasted all but 2 days. In his little "pigeonhole" next to my Popo, he had his favourite cologne with him.

I remembered when I was in Japan, there was an episode of ER (which was showing on TV), featuring a patient who resembled my Ah Kung, in all his sickness too. I remembered tears were rolling down my face, and I couldn't sleep that night, because I missed him so.

It was difficult writing this without a lump in my throat, and tears in my eyes. It's not his death anniversary or something, but I just wanted to dedicate this to my beloved grandfather.


Ah Kung,

It's me, Ah Tine. How are you doing up there, with Popo? I hope you're having a swell time, and am so glad that you are no longer suffering.

I'm getting married soon, did Mum tell you? How I wish you were here to see me walk down the aisle. You missed my graduation, and I'm so sad that you're going to miss my wedding too. I remembered you telling me you wanted to see me graduate, to see me married, and to hold your first great-grandchild. I'm so sorry you won't be able to be there, but I want you to know that you are, and will always be a big part of my life. Don't you worry about me, Ah Kung. You have never met your future grandson-in-law, but I'm sure you'll love him.

Mum misses you tremendously, and so do I. She finally unpacked your clothes from your bag after 2 years (she daren't do so in the beginning, as it was too painful for her), and we both looked back with fondness and sadness, because it reminded us that you're no longer with us. Yet, we know that you're in a much better place now, with Popo.

Thanks for being the loving grandfather you were. You'll always be my one and only Ah Kung.



Jemima said...

Your Ah Kung is smiling down at you - his most loving & caring granddaughter & his future grandson-in-law, Tim.

Your Ah Kung is still with you & your family 'cos death is but crossing the world - he still lives on in all of you.

Kok said...

You are a fillial grand-daughter, no doubt. I'm sure your Ah Kung is still by your side, sharing every single moment with you although you couldn't see him.

Don't be too sad. Life still have to go on. Your Ah Kung will also be sad if you're sad. Live your life to the fullest and your Ah Kung will be happy.

On the other hand, I would like to congratulate you for you are going to get married soon. :)

mott said...

I told my Kong2x about my pending wedding 7 years ago. At his bedside in the ICU. He was unconscious, but I felt I had to tell him.

You writing this letter...brought back a flood of memories.

Thank you.