Sunday, July 18, 2010


When someone is in your heart, they're never truly gone. MITCH ALBOM
Friday 30 November 2007: I had a vivid dream of Catherine last night. In the dream, she came to the house for a party with Her Husband (HM). She looked her former self, before she was sick, before her flesh melted away. There was a smile on her face and she looked pretty in a sleeveless, figure-hugging dress. It was a turquoise hue: blue-green and I could clearly see the rough texture of the material.

The bright smile was the same. She had retained that same smile even when she was ill although in odd, unguarded moments the smile had a tinge of sadness.

She and HM sat on the settee. I put a pair of ear-rings on her ears. Gold-coloured and heart-shaped. Then I put another pair on her foot. Blue. Plastic.

"There," she said, pointing to the hole in her foot. It was between the big toe and the toe next to it. "Ada lubang. There's a hole" Somehow, I wasn't surprised to find the hole in the foot although I had to search for it with the 'post' of the ear-ring. I guess the 'post' must have been extra long because it went through the foot and I could secure the ear-ring with the thingy on the sole.

Apparently, HM couldn't see her although they had come together. It was as though they hadn't come from the same house and he had gone to fetch her from somewhere but she was invisible to him. When he realised that Catherine was there sitting beside him on the settee, he brightened up and asked, "She's here? Mana dia? Where's she?" He smiled.

Then it was like she became visible to him. He was able to take her in his arms and, later, he put his head on her lap and cried a little.

I woke up suddenly and wondered why I had dreamt of Catherine. I had dreamt of her only once before (when I was a child and that dream was also so vivid I've not forgotten it.)

Yesterday was exactly three months and one day after she died.

Sunday 18 July 2010: We grew up under one roof, Catherine and I, but we never did quite 'clicked' together. Perhaps it had something to do with sibling rivalry. Maybe because she had been Mama's favourite and I had been jealous of the attention and 'privileges' Mama had showered on her.

We were also as different as night and day. As a kid I was reserved, sensitive and painfully shy. I had this highly developed sense of justice and fair-play. She was the exact opposite . She had a care-free attitude and attracted a lot of friends while I was friendless. She was pretty and I looked like one of Cinderella's ugly sisters. Even my own mother said so. At home we were like the biblical Mary and Martha. She entertained the friends while I toiled in the kitchen preparing food for the friends, and our family. (I just happened to be more comfortable doing the chores than entertaining people.)

We grew up and drifted apart. Her marriage took her even farther away and we hardly saw her for 25 years. Mama's illness kind of brought us back together and during the months prior to my retirement, we became the closest we had ever been. She was at my house frequently. We talked about projects we'd start and run together. Then came the devastating news. She was diagnosed with cancer. Third stage.

"I can beat this," she said after the first surgery, just before she started going for chemo. "If Morris can, so can I." Morris is younger than us and he already had surgeries and a series of chemo.

I started writing short articles about growing up in the kampong and showed them to Catherine. And because these cheered her up, I wrote more and brought bits and pieces for her to read between her trips to the hospital. Now, I was the one at her house frequently. We'd reminisce and laugh at all the silly things we had done growing up. We talked about the people we'd met when we were kids and how we coped growing up in a houseful of siblings.

She fought her battle. There were near misses but she was determined to get better. There were events to look forward to. Her son and daughter-in-law were going to give her another grandchild, her second. Her daughter was getting married, and that must have been on her mind when she said, "We'll go shopping when I am well."

We all urged her to eat well, to drink her liquids. She had sporadic bleeding episodes during which her blood pressure would plummet to dangerously low levels and she had to be rushed to hospital. She had to go for tests and xrays and driven from the hospital -- where she was warded -- to another one several miles away. But she could still smilingly relate how the the ambulance ferrying the patients (and she among them), raced through the traffic, zig-zagging it's way, siren screaming, along the jammed roads and if the patients didn't succumb to their illnesses, the ride to the hospital would kill them. Hahaha, she'd chuckle at the irony.

There was that near miss when in May she lost consciousness, her facial muscles locked ... like when you're in mid-sneeze and your muscles are frozen forever -- the mouth opens in achooo and the eyeballs bulge, unseeing.

"Only a miracle will save her," said the priest, a family friend, who'd come to visit her at the hospital.

A miracle saved her. It was not her time. She regained consciousness. Her muscles relaxed. Her tongue defroze and she could talk again. She came home. She asked me to smock a Christening gown for her next grandchild. "Here," she said as she handed me an endless length of white satin. "Keep whatever is left."

One Sunday I found her lying on her sofa, turning one foot to and fro, to and fro -- like the wiper on the windscreen of a car -- keeping time with the music playing on the radio. She 'ordered' tea and cakes from her daughters. We had a feast but she only nibbled at her cake before giving up and discarding it.

Although she wasn't eating well and although a wheelchair had become a necessity, she was in good spirits. She was pleased with the almost-completed baby dress I was making and passed it round to be admired. When we said goodbye, we never knew that we'd never see her alive again.

She passed away on a Tuesday, two days later. She was just one month shy of her fifty-fifth birhday.

I'm grateful to have been given the opportunity to be close to her before she passed away. Too often, people don't have the time or chance to rekindle their friendship with those they care about until it is too late.

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