My husband is contemplating sitting with a friend who waits alone in Tan Tock Seng Hospital, keeping vigil by his wife’s bedside. She has slipped into unconsciousness and he knows this is all the earthly time he has left with her. She appeared to have beaten the cervical cancer which troubled her a few years ago, but fell ill recently. Her deterioration was so rapid that the medical staff prepared him for the worst.
As the year rolls to a close, my thoughts turn to the many dear ones I miss. Besides my mother and favourite aunt, there was the friend who passed on just two months ago. Fortunately, we managed to visit and spend an afternoon with him when he was still able to entertain visitors, albeit with his oxygen tank (he had emphysema).
One of my regrets will always be not making it to Belfast where Sister Finbarr retired. She was the Irish Principal of the convent school (Katong Convent) I attended and I was too callow to realise how fond I was of her until long after she had left Singapore. I remember being summoned to her little office because she found my reading report (we were encouraged to maintain reading lists) unbelievably long.
Quaking, I would give her a synopsis of any book she picked from my list. After a couple of visits, we became quite pally as it dawned on her I was devouring my way through the children’s section of the National Library. Very astute, she must have noticed that I was too timid to make things up, so she would pat me on the head and send me on my way. Henceforth, for a painfully shy child, I felt quite chuffed to have her call me by name every time I was in her line of vision. But, more importantly, close proximity allowed a glimpse of the kindness and concern behind the steely blue eyes and stern demeanour.
Someone else I regret not making time for was my best friend in my first two years of school. Her name was Mary Ng and she was too good for this world, and probably too good for me. We drifted apart as we grew up and while I can’t remember why, I’m sure we would have stayed firm friends if I had made an effort. When we were 16, Mary died from something related to her asthma problem. Again, it took years for me to feel the loss.
However, not to end on a sad note, death while wrenching for the ones left behind, reminds us to be mindful of life. As the fellow with the scythe can haul any of us off at his convenience, I am going to try to keep contact with the people I’m fond of – a colossal task for someone about as sociable as a tarsier. Let me ponder whether I even want to join Facebook. Nope! But there’s always the phone and old-fashioned email.