I half expected to see Papa lying in bed, asking me with his hoarse voice, “Jeung saha ka dieu, Ri?” (“Who do you come with?”) and Mama sitting next to him, watching her favourite Chinese channel on TV. Instead, I came to an empty room in my second sister’s house – and when I turned the TV on, the last channel that Mama watched seemed to resume its broadcast after several months’ hiatus.
Mama and Papa used to stay with my second sister’s family in Jakarta, as it is conveniently located to the hospital and there is easier access to transport. Furthermore, their dieting habit could be monitored closer here (to my parents’ displeasure). Mama now chooses to stay in Bandung for the time being, with Papa’s carer. She’s no longer fit as well and needs to be aided to walk. Most of her health issues are caused by her diet and her weight – but there’s a fine line between advising and nagging – what we consider as advising and informing, she takes it as non-stop nagging. I suppose it’s true that our roles are reversed when we reach adulthood – we become the “parents” to them.
After Papa’s burial on Thursday, I stayed with Mama and even slept in their bedroom – just to keep her company. On the last day before I went to Jakarta, we had a family gathering just to have our thanksgiving that everything went well with Papa’s burial. The pastor who shared in the meeting knows our family very well – he was also the one who strengthened our family as well after my younger brother’s death in 2008. His message was around the twelve spies who were sent by Moses to see the Promised Land – ten were controlled by the circumstances, while two – Joshua and Caleb – saw the challenges through their eyes of faith. He then continued his message by relating the story from the book of John, chapter five – of the lame man near the pool of Bethesda who had been there for thirty-eight years. Pastor Gideon Eddy said, imagine Jesus walking through those who were sick – wanting to be healed, to be released – and somehow He walked around them, perhaps without any pattern through the crowds around the pool, and then stopped by this lame man. Jesus asked him whether he wanted to be healed – and although the lame man gave him excuses – at the end, he was healed, not in a manner that he thought of, but through a method that God wanted. Pastor Eddy then said that our mourning is similar to the twelve spies – that in the sadness, we have a choice to be dictated by the situation and continue to mourn, or rise up and see things through the eyes of faith. God has chosen the best for Papa. While he shared his message, I could picture Jesus walking through the sick and the stressed, and stopping by Papa and asked, “Do you want to come home?”. It would be such a beautiful way to go.
I do miss Papa, but my mourning is over – logic dictates that I should be sad and grieving, but somehow there is a lot of strength and joy that is flowing through me. Your prayers continue to sustain and uplift me – I know that He is in a better place. I sensed that Mama was a bit confused when we had the fellowship – the Chinese culture and her upbringing led her to believe that she should be sad and mourning, and yet the message given by the Pastor was very positive and uplifting. All of the children are already believers in various degree of relationship – so we learn to see our situation through what the Bible says about the departure of those who believe in Christ. Mama is missing Papa but she is slowly moving on as well – her challenge now is to find ways to occupy her mind and her time as she is still very confused with her newly-found freedom.
My trip home this time is filled with sadness – but not deep grief, like what I experienced in 2008 – but more like a dull aching. Maybe because we have all prepared ourselves for the inevitable. This is a closure for Dad after a prolonged period of illness.
On Wednesday morning, before the fellowship and before I was due to go to Jakarta in the evening, Mama, my eldest sister and my older brother visited Dad’s grave just to have a look at the site. Nestled between his mum’s grave and my younger brother’s lies Dad’s body under a mound of earth, with a wooden cross that will be replaced with a permanent tombstone. The Chinese cemetery is located to the east of Bandung in a hilly area called Cikadut – I wandered around and read some of the tombstones, some of which I couldn’t understand due to the Chinese script. Some have been neglected with outgrown shrubs and trees crowding and dwarfing the memorials. The same may happen to Papa’s and Handy’s grave in twenty, thirty or fifty years’ time. I can be all sad and melancholy, but the fact is, it’s the cycle of life – it needs to move on with new generations taking over and the older ones bowing out and let the younger ones taking over the stage.
On the way back from the cemetery, I asked my older brother whether we could pass the old neighbourhood where we lived before. I know the route going there from the cemetery, but the streets which I thought were wide, now physically seem so narrow. When we reached Kiaracondong (the street where we grew up in), it was a mishmash of vendors and traffic. The construction of a flyover over Kiaracondong some years ago has taken away some of the business from the shops and changed the character of the neighbourhood forever, as the street is now filled with unruly angkots (public transport cars). Stalls are also erected on the footpath, blocking the shopfront and making the situation even unbearable. We passed my uncle’s chemist’s shop – already sold to a new owner – and also another shop belonging to another uncle, now managed by his widow and children. We passed Papa’s old stationery store in front of the Kiaracondong Wet Market, now converted into a dress store. We also passed the store that Papa inherited from grandma, now closed and looking sad and derelict. All of the stores seem smaller than what I had in mind … I remember a happy childhood, even with the teasing that I used to get from the local children because I’m chinese and I had a harelip. I remember Papa closing the store on evening and presenting a tin of biscuit to us -it was a dark blue Nissin tin. Funny how trivial things are imprinted in our memory! It was a luxury then for us – we were raised to be simple folks, as Papa wanted to save all of his money for our education. We continued with black and white TV even when everybody already converted to colour TV – I remember having to walk to my uncle’s house so I could enjoy cartoons in colour. All simple things – all good.
So now, fast forward to June 2011 – Dad has left the building. He can stand tall in Heaven – having done the best that he could on earth, raising eight children, all of us have tertiary degrees, all of us married. He has lovely grandchildren.
It’s all good.
“Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.” – Philippians 4:11-13 (NLT)