Sunday, December 28, 2014

A Different Kind of Christmas

Christmas had come darting around the corner this year. Somehow there wasn't enough time (as always) for gift exchange shopping for the office as well as the annual family reunion. It's a pity when these tasks which were meant to be joyous becomes a chore and a headache. The spirit of Christmas is lost, albeit the celebration has become very much secular.

circular box gift wrapping
Gift exchange for office - amazing that I could keep to the budget

I had pre-planned my annual leave, taking off the 26th for a long weekend to run some errands after Christmas. Everything was scripted and planned out to optimise my time off. However, plans are just plans and are not foresight into the future. The realisation of plans is always a bonus.

Who would have expected that just a day after we had our winter solstice / 'kong kong' memorial reunion dinner, we got news that our Aunty Nancy had passed away. It really was a shock as we were actually in the midst of last minute Christmas shopping.

When I hear of the death of someone I knew personally, in one part of my mind I accept it as the reality of life but another part would think that it is far-fetched and he/she is only asleep. It is silly for this internal conflict to occur but it is as it is.

Nobody plans for death. And it is quite startling that the rituals performed after death occurs so fast leaving the living with a numb feeling, like "did it really happen or was that all a dream?"

With the sad news, our Christmas reunion had been cancelled in default. We spent the eve, Christmas day and Boxing day sending off Aunty Nancy. We attended the two nights wake at a funeral parlour in Cheras and her funeral and cremation thereafter.

I remember Aunty Nancy as a very capable woman in her younger days and I would say that she was the leader in her family. I never really talked to her as we had a language barrier but she would always be dressed in bright colours during Chinese New Year. And from the limited Cantonese that I could understand, she was very much into her direct selling business, with testimonies on health supplements and such. This was all prior to the stroke she experienced some years ago (I think this was around 9 years back), which totally transformed the woman we knew. After her stroke, we rarely saw her at family gatherings and a couple of years back our family made it a point to visit her and Uncle Harry every Chinese New Year at their apartment in Ampang.

We learned from our cousin that she didn't attend functions often because she didn't want to be a hassle with her wheelchair and sometimes she didn't feel well enough to go out. So it was a delight that she attended LK's wedding last year in Cyberjaya.

This was the first time I had stepped into a crematory and it was quite a shock at how rapid the order of service was lined up. The wake and funeral service at the funeral parlour were done and organised well, giving people enough time to bid farewell to the deceased. But the atmosphere in the DBKL crematory was a little chaotic - so many cremations lined up with a few "halls" to conduct the last farewells and in each a different type of funeral service - Buddhist, Hindu, Christian etc. The air was thick with the smell of burning and outside was polluted with the exhaust fumes of cars and buses. Perhaps the light drizzle made the atmosphere even more humid, preventing the ashy air from dissipating.

Somehow, it was when the coffin was lowered into the hole in the middle of the room, to the level below (before being wheeled off to the furnace) that the emotion of the moment caught up with me and I couldn't help shedding tears. It was the last time that I would see Aunty Nancy in the physical, although I know that she is already with the Lord and someday we would meet again.

After that, we were literally shoo-ed off to make way for the next funeral procession - a 50-something year old Taoist man (his funeral was in the next hall in the funeral parlour) - with the monks and funeral music band.

It all happened so fast. I must say the funeral parlour people were really efficient in their event organising, even to the extent of arranging lunch in a nearby restaurant after the cremation.

It was a time where family stuck together and ties mended. This was how we spent Christmas this year.

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