I learned about these beautiful words from a colleague at work and a retiring Head of School. They told me that in Jewish tradition, these are the words that are given to somebody grieving. I learn subsequently that this is in line with Proverbs 10:7a, “The memory of the righteous is blessed.” This knowledge alone is precious to me.
Every grey matter that keeps my memory with Mama ever since I was a little boy, is now activated. They’re ready to be called on duty whenever I experience something that reminds me of Mama – until time dulls them down, or until I also closes my eyes for the last time.
Based on previous experiences, I know what’s in store for me. I have to be ready when I see something and think, “Mama would like this.” – and then realise that she’s no longer around. It’s similar to the trilling whistle that got me teary, while walking around in Singapore some years ago. It reminded me of Papa – he could do that, I can’t whistle the way he did. The mundane dishes like pork satay, angeun kacang, or asinan would also remind me of my eldest sister. She knew that I loved her cooking, too. There are times when something silly reminds me of the private jokes that I shared with my younger brother – they would matter little to anybody else. I’m now the keeper of those jokes – entombed in my mind and can only be appreciated alone.
When Mama saw “Lock Up” on TV – a forgettable Sylvester Stallone movie – Mama then told me to be careful of who I hang around with as an undergrad student in Australia. She was scared that I would end up being incarcerated, like the character in the movie. Bless her. From that moment on, I teased her about it – to which she would repeat the same advice in all earnestness. It’s a joke that also means little to anybody else. I also won’t be able to tease Mama about her fear of giant Marabunta ants. Mama told me that she saw a movie featuring the ants when she was young. She used to go to the picture theatres in Bogor with her friends, when she was young. Through my research on the net, the movie that Mama mentioned may have been “The Naked Jungle” – a 1954-movie starring Charlton Heston and Eleanor Parker. I must have inherited my interest in movies and stories from her.
As a cheeky person, I used to tease Mama a lot – I used to rest my head on her round, wobbly stomach (even as a grown-up man) – and teased her with a mock conversation with the baby inside. Having given birth to eight children had left an irreversible change to her body. These are the things that matter naught to everybody else but me. Again, I am now the sole keeper of those memories.
As I write and publish this blog post, my siblings and members of our extended family are in Cikadut, West Java – a well-known Chinese cemetery near Bandung. When I was a young boy, my younger brother and I used to climb up to the vantage point on the platform on top of our shophouse. We could see the fancy domes and structures in the cemetery up in the Cikadut hills far away. I can’t remember whether Mama or Papa who told us that the biggest structure that we could see was the grave of a kungfu master – his pupils collected money to build him a majestic burial place as an expression of gratitude. As I got older, and taller buildings popped up all over the place, this view was blocked by a grey, ugly wall.
From the photo that I received from my siblings just then, Mama’s casket had been lowered down. She’s ready for her last, peaceful sleep. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
Whenever somebody passed on, it’s as if they had broken a big chunk of diamond and pass on a tiny piece with people that were touched by their life. Each piece is different and personal, and can only be enjoyed privately. Sometimes, in our subsequent conversations about the dearly departed with a friend or a family, we find that the other person carries a diamond piece that complements ours. It further adds stories and insights to the piece that we carry. It’s the memory that becomes a blessing to us, long after the person is gone.
May her memory be a blessing.