| Opinion | 14 May 2017 | Asia Samachar |
By Jaginder Singh
In March 1993, my uncle, a retired policeman who lived in Tanjung Malim, Perak, breathed his last at home after failing to recover from a long illness. Just days before that, he told his wife that his life was coming to an end and he was sorry that he had to leave her alone to fend for the children. His parting words simply were: “My time is up. With me gone, the family will need you more than ever. Be there for them. Please don’t come too soon after me.”
My auntie, Madam Swaran Kaur, was only 61 then. It was the beginning of a long journey which was going to be spent without her spouse, her precious half, her faithful companion of decades. Rather than allowing the separation to weaken her, she stood up to the challenge and took over the lead in the family.
Nothing was easy for my auntie. First, she lost her mother when she was barely 13, and as was the practice those days, she got married at the age of 18. She became an instant mother to two of her younger siblings. Besides having her 11 own children, she also had to look after her ailing father, all of which, she took in her stride. She did not complain or lament. Instead, she saw it as an opportunity to serve her family. Her husband was a fine gentleman and very understanding. There was enough room, space and food for everyone. There was fun and laughter in the house, and lots of prayers, too. Uncle was the sole bread winner but he did remarkably well to finance the needs of the family.
After uncle’s death in 1993, auntie soldiered on in life. She had her husband’s pension to rely on. Besides, by this time, most of her children were already working and helped out with the needs of the family. She continued the good governance of the house and the family. Her children were very caring and supportive, thanks to excellent upbringing, and that definitely was a much-needed and timely boost to recover from uncle’s death. By God’s Grace and through auntie’s perseverance, life slowly and steadily returned to normal. But it was not free from challenges.
Exactly a month after losing her husband, her first challenge was the handling of one of her daughter’s inevitable divorce. Society was judgemental then, and divorce was a taboo topic. However, she stood by her daughter, giving her all the support and encouragement needed to facilitate the separation process. It must have been very painful, but the pain was well-concealed by Auntie. She was a steady pillar of strength for her daughter.
Tragedy struck again in 2004 when Auntie lost her eldest son. Yet again, during such times when people are choked with emotions, she showed strength. She kept the family intact by showering love and care to her daughter-in-law and her three granddaughters, just as before. The relationship between them has remained strong till today.
Besides losing her son, she lost a brother in 1995 and a sister in 2000. Being the eldest in the family, she was instrumental in keeping the family together and helping them to remain composed and strong during the difficult times. Her mere presence was a show of strength. She was a woman made of steel, not one that would break down easily. Of course, it’s hard to hold back tears when a loved one is gone forever, but she was remarkable when it came to holding back her emotions – cool and calm in facing challenges and adversities of life!
FAMILY VALUES, PRAYER
One of auntie’s most significant contribution to her family was the instilling of family values and the importance of prayer. There was general calm in the house, immense respect for elders and mutual respect among siblings. Everyone had a role to play – household chores were evenly distributed. The family sat together for the evening prayer daily – with uncle leading the prayers. After his demise, auntie took over the lead. Such was the practice that eventually every member of the family could lead the prayer. And this practice continues today in the homes of her children and grandchildren. It was simply leadership through example.
Another virtue that auntie possessed was the showering of unconditional love to everyone. For this, the whole family held her in high esteem. In a large family, it’s quite impossible to remain impartial. There will always be favourites, the blue-eyed ones. Auntie was amazingly different. She loved everyone the same, always fair and equal. She treated everyone with respect and love, and she did it without any expectations. She knew the favourite food of all her siblings, children and grandchildren, and rest assured, the food would be served when they visited her. No guest to the house was small. The unconditional love was even felt by her nephews and nieces, who were always welcome to her home. Most relatives would make a short stopover at Tanjung Malim each time they passed by the town. Besides the warm hospitality and company of Auntie, the freshly prepared tea savoured with biscuits and home-made cookies was a perfect combination to rejuvenate the tired bodies.
I am extremely indebted to Auntie for all the help that she rendered to my family. When my mother suffered a hypertension stroke in 1978, resulting in paralysis for 22 years, Auntie was a familiar figure in our home. She visited my Mum at every available opportunity, and was a valuable companion who always provided comforting words and encouragement to her. Besides, she took over many roles that Mum could no longer play. For example, she helped us out in an advisory role during festivals and functions especially weddings. She was a big asset in helping my wife cope with events before and after the delivery of children, staying with us for almost the entire confinement period.
LOVE, JOY & LAUGHTER
Auntie continued to enjoy a special place in the hearts of all the people around her. Her siblings, especially the two younger siblings to whom she was more than a mother, made frequent visits to her home. Her children and grandchildren had every reason to come over the weekend or holidays. Her house remained a hive of activity – filled with love, joy and laughter, and merry-making. The daily prayers remained a fixed feature of the house, never mind the occasion or number of people in it.
Over the years, with the advancement of age, came the first tell-tale signs of wear and tear. Auntie had the first of a series of heart-related problems in 1997, and this was a source of constant concern and worry ever since. Diabetes was her other health problem. Her diet had to be carefully watched, something her children prepared diligently and enforced piously on her. Along the way, she also had some loss of hearing, which was offset through the use of a hearing aid. None of this could stop her from doing what she wanted – she kept receiving and visiting relatives and friends, and attending social and religious functions. Travelling, especially long distance, was becoming more difficult, but travel she did where she felt her presence was necessary.
Despite the love showered on her and extreme care taken, both in terms of hygiene and food, the time comes when we have to part with our loved ones. Somehow, a reason pops out of nowhere, a reason that signals the end of the road. The end of a journey.
In early February this year, while I was away on holiday in Sarawak with my family, I received shocking and depressing news that Auntie was critically ill with a series of complications. We had the holiday, with her on our minds and in our hearts at all times. We prayed for her swift recovery. She was not only an Auntie, she was more of a mum to us all.
Auntie kept fighting for days. There was hope that yet again she would prevail and pull through. Upon our return, we headed straight to University Hospital. At the ICU unit, the sight of her family and relatives greeted us. There were scores of them. They were all reciting prayers endlessly for her wellbeing and recovery. Her children and grandchildren even took turns to recite prayers by her side. There was no sobbing, but warm hugs and words of consolation. The elders kept everyone composed through prayer. If there was any force that could possibly bring her back, it could only be the divine force. A miracle. An act of God.
I went into Auntie’s room with mixed emotions, knowing very well that she was on a ventilator, sedated heavily and fighting for her dear life. What I saw was not a pleasant sight to behold. Noboby likes to see a loved one in such a sorry state, lying almost motionless, living with the support of machines which were supporting almost all her bodily functions. This evoked memories of the last few days of my late mother who was in similar condition. This was a very emotional moment, a moment when time stands still and you lose all sanity!
Upon calling out to her, she tried to open her eyes but was too weak. A gentle touch on her shoulder and feet was all I could manage. The only consolation – she looked at peace with herself, and had a radiant glow on her face, as if ready to meet her Creator. I barely stood for a few minutes, reciting a short prayer for her wellbeing.
The Auntie who gave her all for umpteen years with an open heart and outstretched arms with immense hospitality, was now confined to bed, heavily sedated in a solitary room, unable to even offer a simple greeting. There was little she could offer now. It was our turn to do whatever we could to facilitate her departure. While the medical team worked on the wonders of science tirelessly, we sought divine help.
Her family kept faith, very strong faith. They took turns to keep vigil the whole day and night. Each time the doctors came for a visit, there was mixed news, sometimes good but most of the time bad. Slowly, she was sinking. One after another, the complications grew.
The doctors worked round the clock to cope with each complication, not giving up hope. There was always something they could do, and they did. And for this, the family is extremely indebted to the team of doctors who attended to Auntie. Their determination to give their best was motivation for the family, and the family united in prayer.
Late one night, the inevitable time arrived. Almost all her children gathered around her, gently touching her and assuring her that all was well. They were prepared to release her. She was already 85 years old, and had served the family for 24 years after her husband passed away. She had more than fulfilled all the duties and responsibilities that her husband left to her. She honoured her husband’s request of not coming too soon after him. Did she? Most certainly. She far exceeded that request.
Amidst the recitation of prayers by her family, Auntie left us for Heavenly abode that night. The curtain came down to signal the end of an illustrious and successful journey.
It’s never easy to say the final goodbye, but we learnt from Auntie the art of doing so. Auntie and her legacy will continue to guide and light up our lives. Fond memories of her, from now on, will be our consolation, and I believe all her daughters and granddaughters will carry on with the special role and emulate her to be an exemplary mum. A mum for all seasons.
Happy Mother’s Day, Auntie!
May God bless you and all mothers with His divine Grace .
Jaginder Singh works as an English Language Coach at the District Education Office in Kampar in Perak, Malaysia. Swaran Kaur d/o Ram Singh departed on 16 Feb 2017, as captured in Asia Samachar records. See here.
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Giving away so willingly (Asia Samachar, 1 April 2017)