Usually I write my essays within the few days that I’m hit with the "inspiration". It could have been plain laziness or maybe an urge to avoid dredging up old painful memories (the tears came as I typed this) but it took quite a bit of will power to type everything out... this is my small little tribute to my late Auntie Margaret.
I remember Auntie Margaret carrying me on her shoulders. I was only 5 years old and she was in her AJC uniform, smiling and giggling as she always did. We were in the hospital; my then one-year-old brother just had a heart operation. I see her and myself from a third person perspective; that’s the odd thing about this memory but it’s probably because she’s told me several times about this scene. She remembered it well because someone had asked her if I was her son.
She was the youngest of the family, hence the affectionate name "small small". Bubbly and cheerful, she was adored and doted upon by the rest of the family. It was only during her wake that I realized she was also an excuse for my uncles and aunties to go "paat tor" (hokkien for going on a date).
I remember Auntie Margaret, with eyes beaming with pride, telling my dad that she had won an art competition in AJC and asking him to go see her prize of a tub of Hagen Daas ice-cream sitting in the refrigerator. She had a good singing voice too and I liked to hear her sing in the house.
Once, at some Malaysian resort, we were playing in the swimming pool and she was showing me how to squeeze the pinkness out of Bougainvillea petals. We just floated at the side of the pool, watching the pinkness flow away. And she started doing this silly wind-screen wiper thing with her arms after that. I probably imitated her but got bored.
The first thing that happens when you learn of someone’s passing away is usually an instinctive hauling up of old memories of past experiences with that someone. For some like me, a struggle ensues, a coming to terms with that person’s death.
I remember first learning about her death from my dad. He had just received a phone call and then he told me that Auntie Margaret had committed suicide by throwing herself off a building. I couldn’t believe what I had just heard and kept asking him how and why. He said that she was suffering from post-natal depression and had gone missing from home while her husband was away. After her husband had reported her missing, he was asked to identify her body. It took a while before it finally sank in; I was sitting in front of my desk and slowly the tears came.
I remember staring murderously at the pastor during the service conducted at the wake.
I remember dragging my heavy feet in the funeral procession behind the van carrying her casket. A speaker on the van was wailing out some Christian piano music, quivering under the pressure of so much grief.
I remember my eyes brimming with tears but I was gritting my teeth, trying not to cry. My throat was hurting from the effort.
I remember boarding the bus, on the way to the crematorium. I sat by myself, staring out of the window before finally breaking down and crying uncontrollably. Everyone was either silent or crying.
I remember staring through the glass as a man pushed her casket into the furnace. Sobs grew to cries and her mother-in-law yelled out her name.
I remember streaming out of the viewing room. Everyone’s eyes were red.
Some nights I lie there on my bed and these faded images and sounds creep back into my head...