Long Distance Call

This was my Skype date last Sunday – my cool 94-year-old granddad.

He enjoys truffle fries, stays updated with current affairs, and he remembers our Taiwanese relatives' telephone numbers by heart. I am not too sure how he does it when I forget my wallet every other day (I literally had to have it chained to my bag). At 94, he often surprises me with his fervor to try out new things. It was a side of him which I grew up not knowing. Or maybe it was a part of him that opened up with age, to embrace life in style. Just a few weeks ago, he took the MRT train for the first time. And obviously here he is, skyping like a pro (and maybe struggling a little to understand my horrible dialect).

When I asked about my grandma, he coolly replied that things doesn't change with her illness and told me not to worry and to enjoy myself.

Looking back, my granddad was always open to us traveling. Perhaps it is because he understands the importance of leaving home to explore new lands, having left Taiwan with my great-grandfather when he was young, traveling and working in Indonesia before eventually settling down in Singapore. I wish he kept his Volkswagen van so I can boast about being ferried in one, but I will always have fond memories of him cycling behind my school bus everyday just so I wouldn't cry on my way to kindergarten. And also how he used to make us kites and even taught my brother and I how to make our own out of homemade glue, paper and rattan canes. ☺

These flashes of childhood memories gleamed over the blank frames in between, from when I was growing up till now. I am definitely guilty of prioritizing other things over spending time with my grandparents. It is so easy to take their presence for granted because they almost never demand for your time. I guess for that reason we should even more so make the effort to be in their company and bask in the years of life experiences that they are able to offer. I might then share the secret to remembering my wallet and looking effortlessly cool at 94 years of age.  ☺

Acts of Disappearance

 

When days get too heavy, I sometimes imagine that it'd be a nice feeling to simply vanish. How liberating, to be relinquished from the problems that weigh you down.

It happened one day, when I called out to my grandma who suffers from dementia. She neither responds to my voice nor give the slightest impression that she heard me. At that moment, I felt like I was invisible – I've disappeared.

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My grandma – a shrewd woman with a character as strong as the steel wok that she used to handle everyday to prepare her grandchildren's favorite dishes. The woman who ran the household while my grandfather gladly takes the back seat, all 7 of us grandchildren grew up under her care. I remember how much of a struggle it was trying to win over her affections while growing up. I was always seen as too mischievous and a bad influence to my younger cousins. And it used to bother me a lot when I was a child; when you have made your grandma the Queen in your own little constructed world, you kind of grow up feeling you are less special. Even though we live together, I could never be close to her.

My grandma's favourite drinks are coffee and fizzy cola, she also especially loves spicy food. I wondered if it was the amount of chilli laden food that she has consumed that gave her her fiery temper. Over the years, as illnesses gnawed through her hard shell and through the string of bitter memories from the past that she refuses to let go, the fire within her gradually simmered. She slowly grew frail and child-like as if she lost her cause to fight. The grandma whom I have grown up to know has disappeared. Perhaps a blessing in disguise, she became a happier person and life is much simpler.

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Two Sundays ago, I woke up with a very bad dream. I dreamt that my grandma was drowning and I had to resuscitate her. I made a pact to myself not to tell anyone as it was something that I do not wish to remember. While at work, I received a call from my brother asking me to return home immediately. When I headed straight for the A&E, I prayed for God to fight the battles that my grandma cannot. I later found out that my grandma had fits and my cousin had to perform CPR with the paramedic's instructions over the phone.

She is home safe now after spending a few nights in the hospital.

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At that instance when I realized that I have disappeared from my grandma's memory, I only felt heaviness in my heart and at a loss. To be completely forgotten by someone whom you love is indescribable and somewhat confounding. I desperately wanted to be remembered, but we can never win back time that is lost. Looking back, maybe I was away too much; working, traveling and having fun, I did little to protect the scratch of memory in her head from fading away.

Some people think that memories last forever. Unless one experiences the sense of loss that I felt, they don't. Disappearing is real, dementia is real. Memories don't last, but it is the value that you give to the shared memories that do. She may not remember who I am anymore, but I am going to make extra effort everyday – to remind her that she is still the Queen of my world.

Here's a photo of us together, our birthdays are one day apart. ☺

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