Almost a month ago, almost the entire extended family stood in vigil as my grandmother breathed her last, in bed 3003 in Mount Elizabeth Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit. We watched as her heart rate fell from the 50s, to the 40s, the thirties and the sudden, prolonged 0.
Two months ago, nobody saw this coming. She was still happily playing mahjong at home.
And six months ago, I definitely did not see this coming, because I posted the following status on my status page.
I recall that weekend, I was preparing to conduct my first ever workshop at a gamification event. It was a stressful period – rushing slides, preparing material and all. On hindsight, I guess I got too caught up.
My grandmother was still perfectly healthy at that time, and I completely took that for granted, thinking that “I could always attend her birthday next year”.
Someone commented on that status update which made me think a little bit. Initially, I berated myself for ‘thinking too much’. At the very last moment, I flung all my stuff aside and raced all the way down to her birthday dinner venue to catch the last 30 minutes of the festivities.
I’m glad I did, because that birthday turned out to be her very last.
In December, my grandmother landed up in hospital briefly. Everyone came down to visit one by one. No one thought much of it though, and the usual family drama occurred (one extremely loud aunt apparently spoke so loudly in the ward that the patient in the next bed complained – resulting in everyone being thrown out). My grandmother got discharged, everyone was relieved.
Then, it turned out she had stage 4 cancer.
A secret so well-kept that only a grand total of 6 people knew. I only learned about this a week before my grandmother left. Likewise for a handful of my cousins. As for the remainder of the family, they only discovered hours before her death.
As for my grandmother, she was completely clueless that she had cancer.
The people heavily involved with my grandmother’s treatment had a rationale for keeping it from everyone (and even my grandmother herself), which I understand. They didn’t want the rest of us to worry. She had been undergoing a special kind of chemo which didn’t cause her hair to fall out so everyone was none the wiser. Plus, she seemed to be doing well.
As of March, her tumour markers was almost down to normal. Things looked promising.
Then in April, she decided to skip her medication (the one supposedly to support her immune system which was damaged by the chemo), thinking that it would be okay.
It took only 2 weeks for it to go completely downhill.
During her wake, my cousins and I transformed it into a celebration of her life, getting our hands dirty on Day 1 creating three large posterboards featuring my grandmother during her happier times – travelling to Hong Kong, China, Vietnam and even as far as Canada and the US of A. They were put up around the wake for all visitors to look at.
We want people to remember her as the jet-setting grandmother who went everywhere, always surrounded by her loved ones. And not the frail version of her former self which we all last saw of her.
Her death was a huge wake-up call that I’ve been neglecting the people who matter to me most – my family and extended family (whom I used to see almost weekly or at least monthly, but only every 4-6 months in the past 4 years).
Although it’s too late to start getting back the lost time I could have spent with my grandmother, it’s not too late to start earning back moments with the other important people in my life.
I’m still in shock at how things turned topsy turvy so quickly in less than 6 months.
Treasure those you have with you now, because they are not going to be there forever.
Rest in peace, grandma. And I hope there are snow mountains for you to look at, and the grizzly bear which you wanted to take a photo with when we were in Toronto.