Saturday, October 30, 2010

Chasing the hearse

I was about to be fetched home by my mum and wife from camp after serving the first of a two-week in-camp reservist training, when I heard that my uncle had passed away.

I felt puzzled at the news for a couple of minutes (and am now puzzled as to why I felt puzzled), but later began to realise that my uncle has indeed passed. My mum told me he died on Thursday.

People talk about the "sinking in" of news and I am reminded of the experience once again. I cried.

As we followed the hearse for a short yet agonising distance, I thought to myself as my eyes welled up with tears, "This is ironic."

At the end of our regular family visits to the Koh's at Namly in the 1980s and early 1990s, my brother and I, upon having seated at the back of the car, would be alerted by our father, "Look behind you! There is a monster!"

And there was Uncle Koh, who raised both hands, opened his mouth to bear his teeth and began chasing our car. And my dad would not help us either, moving the car off pretty slowly.

"Ahhh!!!" Uncle Koh shouted.

"Yahhh!!!" I went, each time with a mix of fear, excitement and laughter.

Every farewell would be the same. I would always turn my head to see Uncle Koh following us. Chasing us would be his way of saying "Goodbye and see you again."

As the years went by, our visits were less frequent. And even though I was no longer a child, I still turned around every time I got seated at the back of my parents' car. There was an expectation that Uncle Koh would be the car-chasing monster. But a wave goodbye had by then already sufficed.

Perhaps, we knew we were older. But I still expected him to chase our car.

Fast-forward to Saturday October 30, 4.45pm. I play the role of the monster now, chasing Uncle Koh as he is leaving in his vehicle.

However, it was not an exciting, or fearful, or joyous farewell like the ones we used to share in the 1980s and 1990s. It was a sombre one.

It was all the more heart-wrenching when I was reminded of the car-chasing farewells by Uncle Koh as I slowly chased the hearse today.

It is a tragedy that 20 years later, the laughter and "Ahhhh!!"s would be replaced by the sound of the engine of the hearse.

Uncle Koh would chase us for a few metres before slowly down, laughing, waving us goodbye and returning to his home.

Today, along with many others, I chased Uncle Koh for the first time to say goodbye. And he has got to a speed and distance with which I can no longer keep up. I can only slow down, wave him goodbye and return to my home.

I regret that for the past couple of years, I didn't stop by Namly when I was Bukit Timah/Holland Road, to say hello to Uncle Koh and family. I knew for a long time he always had interesting news and gossip about politics, but was too young to understand what he was talking about.

I thought it would have been a good time to hear what he has to say now that I have the fortune and privilege of higher education. It is painfully ironic that I only seized the one chance to say goodbye when I had so many opportunities to say hello.

My brother has more memories than I have of the Koh's, but I know both our families have a bond that extends beyond just that of my mum and her half-sister (Uncle Koh's wife). My dad enjoyed the company of Uncle Koh. My brother enjoyed the company of my cousin. I was the youngest and most playful, but I still have these memories.

Booking out should be a happy occasion for any reservist soldier, and I had looked forward to dinner with my wife and my parents. I had wanted my mum to hang out at my place for a while, as it would be most ideal to be in the company of two very important women in my life, before we picked up my dad for dinner.

But plans had to change. And now I still haven't any appetite.

As we got to Mount Vernon. I met my aunties, uncles and cousins. I even met the caretaker (distant relative) auntie who adopted my rabbit when we had to give her away. My rabbit, Furry, is another story altogether, and when my mum mentioned that this was the auntie who looked after Furry until Furry died of old age, I went, "Wow, hello auntie. So you looked after my rabbit Fur... thank you thank you" but couldn't bring myself to saying my rabbit's name.

In 1998, while having dinner after coming back from school, my mum walked towards me hesitantly and told me, "You know, I don't know how to tell you, but Furry died today." I couldn't taste my food. Perhaps my penchant for big huggable plush toys might be related to my fondness for Furry. It sucks to be my mum who has to tell her son such bad news.

Today, my mum has another responsibility. I guess that is part of "growing up". You hear of deaths, you experience deaths of loved ones and you have to break the news to other loved ones. No one deserves this.

As we walked around Uncle Koh who was resting in his coffin, my mum said to me the same thing she has always said at every funeral we have been to. "He looks like he is sleeping."

I may be 27 years old, but my response was the same as when I was 6 or 7. "Ya."

Uncle Koh's ashes will be collected either on Sunday or Monday. I am not sure about the arrangements but I think he will eventually be scattered into the sea.

It is very sad that our series of happy farewells had to end with a tearful one.

I will miss you Uncle Koh. I will remember you with great fondness.

1 comment:

Laremy said...

Saw you at the bus-stop while riding out, was wondering why you looked so sad.

Sorry to hear the news man :(