She exhaled one last breath on a Sunday morning, with most of her sons, daughters, grandchildren and the extended family surrounded her on a hospital bed. Her one last breath was an equivalent to a sigh of relief for the family after a losing battle of lung cancer that she had bravely fought for over eight months.
At an elderly age of 79, she had lived through decades of profound experiences enough to compile an entire biography. From the times of World War II to how Malaysia got its independence from the colonisation of the British to the forward thinking of our nation in achieving Vision 2020, she has lived it all. However, what I would like to highlight here is to capture the bits and pieces of my grandmother’s influence in the family through all generations; as a mother, a grandmother, a wife and also as a sister. She lived the last quarter of her life as a widow when my grandfather passed away during the early 90s. She stayed strong indefinitely to set a good example to all her children whom most of them already have their own family and kids. I have never ever caught a glimpse or any moment at all of my grandmother feeling sorrow at all about the death of her husband, this certainly shows the positivity she has in her that she tries repeatedly to instil in everyone of us, her loved ones.
All grandmothers come in an enormous package filled with all sorts of love, nurture and care. Mine came in more than just that, being a Chinese grandmother she has her very own family remedies for all kinds of illness or any discomfort in the form of herbs and ingredients mixed in a pestle and mortar. This one vivid memory as a child, whenever any of us had wind our tummy (upset stomach) she would heat up this dark brown coloured ointment which I later found out it is made out of Eucalyptus plant; and message onto our tummy in circular motion to provide heat in order to transfer the wind out. The one reason why this memory stayed vividly in my mind is evidently explained in the science of smell and memory can bring back floods of childhood memory and also call up plenty of memories and powerful responses almost instantaneously.
This specified bottle of Eucalyptus ointment has stayed in the family through thick and thin and has been used by everyone for us for late night stomach upset remedy. “After the used of the Eucalyptus ointment she would then sing her own rendition of lullaby, ‘Dudu Sayang’ to put us to sleep while she fans us with a weaved palm fan”, one of my cousin recalls.
She hailed from the ancestry dated all the way back in the days of Baba Nyonya culture or better known as the Peranakan Chinese in the 15th century; the fusion between the migration of Chinese to the land of Malaya where they eventually adopted the local culture and lifestyle. From such extensive long line of ancestry fusion in both culture and lifestyle of course it did influence her cooking especially for the family. She had a total of nine palates to satisfy which include, her husband, the in-law and her children. There was nothing that could deter her in mastering this challenging task to be the domestic goddess in the kitchen. She would start preparing dinner as early as 4:00 in the afternoon to cook up a scrumptious feast for the table. Baba Nyonya are famous for their unique blend of herbs and spices in their cooking of fusion dishes such as stirred fried water chestnut with squid, chicken curry cooked in thick coconut milk, belacan prawns and to name a few others. As for desserts it would be her signature sweet tooth favourites of Bubur Cha-cha and Bi Ko Moi; both rich in sweeten thick coconut milk.
As kids, both generations, her children as well as he grandchildren recalled helping around the kitchen like her mini sous chefs in preparing feasts for festivals or even an everyday meal. Chopping garlic, onions and gathering spices such as star anise, 5-spice powder, curry leaves, cinnamon sticks are the minorly easy task delegated to her little sous chefs. Whenever she needs to cook up a feast for the entire extended household including all daughters and son-in-laws with their kids she will pulled out her signature double-boil pots meant for consumption of twenty and more. In she tosses all the main ingredients and these chopped up spices to leave it over the stove to simmer for hours in order for the flavour to flow.
Since ingredients was largely an influence in her Pernakan Chinese lifestyle, my mother recalled, “You know, the bedak sejuk where Por por (grandmother in Cantonese) would soak rice and change water until they finally become pure pieces of snow white small blocks to add water and apply on our face after washing up at night before bed.” And she continues to describe the comfort of the skin regiment, “It was so cooling and apparently SKII Pitera water works on the same concept!” exclaiming while she reminisce the days when she was still healthy and able to move about on her own.
Indeed she did left an impactful deep footprint in the hearts of five siblings, six children, ten grandchildren, four son-in-laws and two daughter-in-laws devoting herself for the comfort of all till the very last moment before she returned to God’s arm. As the doctor advised it was a decision to make whether to pull the plug on her by midnight because most of her organs had already failed in her system. Knowing it was a tough decision, she peacefully passed on in her sleep after giving everyone in the room a nod signifying she is ready to leave this mortal world to be by God’s side. Though it was a losing battle that she fought but she was one tough survivor according to the doctors to have prolonged the illness for over eight months to witness more than she could.