That stickly sweet sensation of grief is all over the house again as I try to maintain a sense of normalcy – as Yani is busily doing the laundry, I try to smile, chat, tease, and work, just to keep grief at the bay. From my experience with the death of my younger brother, I know that grief comes in waves. I know that there would be moments where I end up sobbing without any apparent reasons. Admittedly I have been preparing myself for this for a while, ever since Dad had a stroke so many years ago and ever since I heard that fateful phone call in February 2008 when my sister told me about my younger brother’s early departure.
I would be heading off to Indonesia on Wednesday – which would allow me to at least teach a class on Tuesday, whilst having to ask my colleagues to take over my other classes. I was so looking forward to teaching them for the last time before the exam period, but life dictates otherwise. It will be a marathon journey as well as I need to fly out at 7.00am to Sydney, and then onwards to Jakarta, arriving at 6.40pm. I will then need to take a bus that will carry me to Bandung, my hometown – about two to three hours’ journey. The funeral has been scheduled for Thursday, so even though I will miss the open casket, I will be there for the funeral. Morbid, as it seems, I have asked my brother to take a picture of the open casket for me. Just for my private viewing – not on my Facebook page, not on anything public. I’m not going to keep the photo – I just want it for my own closure.
I choose to remember Dad the way that he was before he had his stroke – proud, stubborn, sensitive, melancholic, and smart. He was only left a fraction of his old self after the stroke – and with each passing day, this part diminishes in size. I don’t want to remember him as a paralysed old man – I want to remember him as somebody who worked hard to send all of his children to school. Somebody who smoked non-stop while manning his stationery shop in Jalan Kiaracondong in Bandung – across the road from a busy wet market – while he joined the banters with the folks lounging outside his little shop. I choose to remember him as somebody who liked ‘dangdut’ (a street music that is popular in Indonesia) and loved eating all kinds of nuts. I remember myself being a boy in the closed shop, in the afternoon hours when my Dad had retreated to his room for a siesta. I was content reading the cartoon books that my father also sold – after promising him that I wouldn’t crease or smudge them. I would sit in the dark, reading and happy on my own. I also loved watching the lights dancing through the air holes, projected on the dark wall, imagining it as something like a movie that I would view through the imagination of a boy.
I also remember him as somebody who loved his crossword puzzles, who smoked even when he was inside the house and ate with his mouth open (to my dismay). Weaknesses he had many, but he was somebody who ultimately had done a great job raising his family.
I posted a blog entry way back in June 2008 after I saw a movie called And when did you last see your father? There is a little poem by Blake Morrison at the end of the movie that goes like this:
And when did you last see your father?
Was it when they burnt the coffin?
Put the lid on it?
When he exhaled his last breath?
When he sat up and said something?
When he last recognised you?
When he last smiled?
When did you last see your father?
The last time he was healthy, active?
The last time you had an argument about something?
Those weeks we tried to say goodbye were like a series of depletions. Each day I thought, “he can’t get less like himself than this,” yet each day he did. So I’ve been trying to recall the last time I actually saw him, the last time he was unmistakably there, in the fullness of being … him.
The words capture my sentiment about my Dad. I don’t want to have an image of a grumbling old man. I want to remember him as somebody who was fully ‘him’ – with his strengths and weaknesses. Any fraction of his old personality wouldn’t do him any justice.