February 22, 2016

Sungei Merah Stories : Death of My Paternal Great Grandmother

15th Day of the First Lunar Month.

Today at lunch on the 15th Day of the first month of the Lunar Calendar, my aunt, mother and sisters got together for a meal. We paid tribute to our loving great grandmother by swapping stories about this very refine matriarch.

Aunt Carrie came back from Hong Kong and we were delighted she could join us at our simple lunch and there were only 6 of us. All ladies. We had a good time sharing stories and telling jokes.

One of our first thoughts was with our late great grandmother who was with my mum for the first few years of my mother's married life in Hua Hong Ice Factory. My aunt Carrie was also her "helper" towards the last few years of dear Great Grandmother's life. In those days when the flush toilet was not yet a part of any household, old parents and grandparents needed some one to clear and clean the spittoon, and tampoi. It was even more important because Great Grandmother had bound feet.

Aunt Carrie related to us at the table, what Great Grandmother's last day was like.

That morning, Great Grandmother took her bath with Aunt Carrie's help, as usual just before lunch.

At lunch time, Great Grandmother sat on her stool for her lunch. Aunt Carrie was getting another dish ready for the meal, when she heard a loud crash. When Aunt Carrie turned around, Great Grandma was already blue black in her face.

Great Grandma, who had had a weak heart, must have suffered a massive heart attack. She breathed her last. And Aunt Carrie was asked to run to the car workshop near Kwong Ang Primary School where the nearest telephone was available to call up her sister, Aunt Pearl, my father and Uncle Siew King.

When every one was rounded up, Grand Father was almost speechless. The funeral was planned and many relatives came to help.

the house on top of the hill was a hive of busyness with a mournful silence when everyone spoke in low tones. The coffin was brought over from Hua Hong Ice Factory, where it had been kept. Her funeral clothes had already been ordered some time ago. This was a kind of preparation the family would have done for an elder.

Great Grandmother was to be buried with the traditional Foochow layers of funeral clothes.

Soon relatives brought all the yellow and blue materials, the belaju mourning cloth...Gunny sacks were trimmed to make hoods.The sewing machine was brought out and most of the ladies started to sew the mourning clothes.

The coffin was brought into the house and candles lit. Great Grandmother was laid on some planks and Aunt Carrie made sure that the family cat was kept hidden in a cage. It was a belief then (and perhaps even now) that if a cat was to jump over a dead body, the corpse would rise up and start jumping around.

 All the young children and aunts and uncles knelt around the coffin to pay respecrts throughout the wake.

Grandfather did an important ritual to welcome Great Grandmother's relatives to the wake. Old as he was, he knelt on the concrete steps in front of the main door when Great GRandma's relatives arrived. This was important for the closing of the coffin. If her family members were not happy, in Foochow style, they could say a lot of nasty words on her behalf.

A great matriarch had passed on.

(Grand Aunt Yuk Ging, her only daughtger, who came back from medical treatment in Singapore one day after the funeral,was inconsolable.)


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