I finally understood what it meant by watching a person’s life slip away.
When you first opened your eyes and saw us at your bedside in the early morning two weeks ago, your first words were those of concern for us and our work at our offices.
The fatigue showed in your eyes but we could hear you well. The frown on your face when you heard us cracking silly jokes gave us the assurance that you were still with us.
Day by day, your breathing grew shallower. You were uttering less words. Soon it was down to a simple “uh” to our questions, not even a yes or no.
More than once, you feebly raised your hand to stroke your scalp, as you laid helplessly on the bed. For a moment, you looked as if you were trying to tidy your hair, or whatever that was left of it from your lengthy chemotherapy treatments.
Little did we know, that you were trying to soothe the pain that was tearing through your skull.
An unspeakable pain that triggered you to gather whatever strength that was left in your shrunken body to lift your stick-thin arm. A pain that eventually sapped all your energy, so you ceased to even knit your brows as you heaved and moaned.
But you held on, ever patiently, to the very end, waiting for every one of us to return to your bedside before you took your final breath and let your heart slow to an eternal pause.
Back before your health spun into this uncontrollable descent, I remembered you saying that you were getting too weak to write as beautifully as before.
I saw the diary that you left behind, after your departure. Pardon me for my impertinence, but I could not resist the urge to flip through the pages.
There, on every page, were neat handwritten entries made during the times before the chemotherapy drugs robbed you of your ability to even hold a pen.
Pages after pages detailing your days alternating between carefree shopping trips with your sister or catchups with friends, and hours of agony from your chemotherapy treatments. And lines after lines that you painstakingly copied from Buddhist scriptures as you sought refuge from your physical suffering.
It is now clear how crippled you must have felt to lose control of your writing hand, and later, all your limbs.
Yet despite all that were taken from you, you have left behind far more than you could have possibly imagined.
You have been a teacher all your life. In school, at home.
In your demise, you continued to teach.
At your wake, over a hundred friends and relatives, many of whom we have never met, turned up to pay their respects and pray for you. A sizeable gathering for someone who had never lived in the limelight, nor craved for any for that matter.
Somehow, in your daily acts of kindness, faith and generosity, you have touched the lives of so many individuals.
As I looked at your portrait in front of the coffin, it dawned on me that for a long time I have been seeing you so ravaged by the disease and the drugs that I have forgotten how you once looked. Cheerful, radiant, and always ready with a big smile. That was how everyone remembered you.
The disease might have ridden your body of all functional organs, but you were able to pass on knowledge even with your cremated remains. That we realised when the young man from the casket company asked if he could take photographs of your jawbone fragments before we placed your remains in the urn.
Jawbones were rarely seen in cremated remains, he said, as they were softer and less likely to withstand the intense heat in the furnace. These images would help their company’s trainees learn to identify such fragments in future, he added.
We gladly agreed.
In your passing, you taught us what it meant to be strong, to be kind. And that a life full of ups and downs could end on a high inspirational note, if we will it to be.
This is not a eulogy.
You have never been the sort to brag and boast. You wouldn’t have wanted one anyway.
It is but an account of a lesson learnt. A reminder that no one dear to us can be with us forever. That a life lived to the fullest is not one travelled alone, but with your loved ones.
Thank you for this final sobering lesson.
And may you be blessed with eternal peace.