It has been four months since my maternal grandmother passed away; and it seemed like yesterday when we saw her lying there on the hospital.
I was never really that close to this grandmother; maybe because we were far away and we only see her like once or twice a year since our childhood.
She had been battling with her rare blood disease for the past three years already, and as most of them are Taoists, they took faith in mediums and deities worships and have been traversing to consulting mediums on grandmother's fate.
The mediums helped in a lot of ways, or perhaps, scientifically it could be the doctors, but I will not choose to comment as I never take a stand to doubt the supernatural and what faith truly can do as I have experienced the power of faith before.
Anyway, I remembered how situation worsened by the year and there was this year (I think it was two or three years back), when grandmother's disease took a critical turn and she was just in so much pain. It took us several trips to the hospital, and for my mum, it was a long journey from KL to come and accompany her mother.
It was almost to a hopeless case, and grandmother did not seem to be getting any better.
All the aunts and uncles were frantically praying and rushing to the temples, and they consulted mediums from all these different temples.
There was this particular temple, which they frequent and I believed the deity was 'Tua Pek' and 'Jee Pek' (Grand Uncle and Second Uncle respectively), who are the guards or protectors of the underworld. They are two deities who are like constables; guarding the underworld and to supervise/control the wandering ghosts.
The appearances of the two deities are apparent; as 'Tua Pek' (Grand Uncle) is wearing a white tall hat; tall and skinny, and with a tongue hanging (it was believed that he died hanging himself) and 'Jee Pek' (Second Uncle) is shorter in appearance and in black.
The deities are trusted assistants of the King of Hades, and 'Tua Pek' is the Chief Inspector of Hades who always carries a fan, while 'Jee Pek' carries a chain.
These deities are sought for the past three years by the aunts and uncles who wanted divine help on grandmother's health condition. This included requests to prolong her lifeline.
I remembered during that time when grandmother was critically ill and there seemed to be no more hope, they rushed to the temple to ask for Tua Pek's help, to prolong the length of grandmother's life.
That included having someone in the family, who was born in the year of the Rabbit, to burn the amulet and rubbed it on grandmother's forehead.
I guess it worked, as grandmother soon recovered and she was alive and kicking for the next two years. (Before that, it was like every year, especially during the Ching Ming month or the Hungry Ghost month, grandmother would be unwell).
Anyway, of course everyone was glad that grandmother was finally fine, but there was just this one thing; grandmother seemed to have develop a few odd habits:
1. She will constantly look at the clock and ask, "What's the time now?"
2. She will always say she sees someone from the corner of her eyes in the quietest place of the house; i.e: kitchen, bathroom
3. She hears someone calling her, or someone is looking at her from her bedroom window
4. She constantly asks for her meals, even though she had just had her meal a few minutes ago.
She was not senile; though as she was fully aware of what was happening around her but her new habits just kind of spooked everyone out; especially the superstitious aunts who seemed to think that the Angel of Death or the guards from Hades are lurking around.
Anyway, the trips to the temple to consult the deities continued, and they were given amulets; one after another for grandmother's protection.
There was also a piece of advice handed out to them, to keep grandmother in the house most of the time, and not let her out especially during Ching Ming month and not at all during the Hungry Ghost month. It was also specific that she should not bump into any funerals whenever she goes out.
It was said that the above practices are due to the presence of the other wandering spirits, and particularly the guards/constables of Hades who would be around to guide the spirits. After all, grandmother was believed to have cheated death when her life was prolonged.
Anyway, all went well for the past two years, with minor admissions due to her blood disease, but never anything serious, until THIS year.
Grandmother was due for her medical check up which was like a routine, every two to three months where she had to go to the hospital per her schedule.
Now, you know how the elders really hate going to the hospital, it's like they sensed death whenever they are there.
My grandmother was no exception, but she did not really have a choice as she needed to obtain medication and also examination from the doctor to ensure that her condition is under control.
You know how it works at government hospitals, where the appointments are scheduled by the hospital and not by yourself. It does not matter when you are free, because you have to make yourself available or the date will just be rescheduled to a few months later ( a few weeks, if you are lucky).
Anyway, this year, she went for her check ups and then the next check up was towards the end of July; which coincided with the Hungry Ghost month (or the seventh month in the Chinese Lunar Calendar).
It was supposed to be a routine check up really, and when they found that her blood levels were low, they proceeded to do the routine blood transfer.
She needed three packets, and by the second packet, grandmother did not seem to be taking it too well and collapsed, in a seizure where the doctors and nurses had to rush her to the ICU immediately to resuscitate her.
She was placed in the unit for observation, and she remained in a coma. However, she suddenly woke up one day and was all well and healthy. She even mentioned that she wanted to go home already and that she was missing all her favorite food.
By the third day, everyone was looking forward to having her home, but she went into an arrest again, and was rushed to the CCU (for the cardio patients). It was there that she went into a coma and never woke up anymore for the next two weeks.
When I arrived at the hospital, I remembered seeing her in the ICU where she was being resuscitated for an arrest for the second time. That was the last time I saw her awake.
For the next week I went to the hospital every single day with my mother, as they were rotating in shifts to take care of the mother. My grandmother was widowed at a young age, and my mother only had her left since her father passed away.
I observed that grandmother was barely awake, but I saw her moving her hands and legs occasionally; which was brushed off as reflex. She constantly want to touch the tubes attached to her face, but we tried to keep her hands down. Mum frowned at all her actions, and it was only later that she told me why.
It seemed that my mum saw the same scenario when my great grandmother and grandfather passed away in the hospital.
The movements of the limbs; especially kicking of the legs are signs of the approaching Angel of Death who is probably nearby and they are just trying to get away from being taken by the Angel of Death.
Do you believe in being able to sense the presence of someone?
Honestly, I didn't, really, but I could tell you that I could sense, during that time in the hospital. The aunts and uncles were all drama kings and queens and they were all telling us about things they sensed, see and hear and most of it, to me, sounded like it was directly taken from the movies.
I am not being a skeptic, but trust me, when you have dealt with them long enough, everything, to them is a big deal and you just kind of get over everything to do with them.
Anyway, as I was saying, I just remembered feeling how grandmother was like, still struggling for her dear life, and I could just sense that she was just around the ward for a few days. Suddenly, there was this one day, I just couldn't sense her anymore, and it was also the day where I didn't see much movement from her anymore.
Maybe you could associate it to what I had seen; from her movement, but no, it had nothing to do with the obvious; it was really the sense.
Then we found out from the aunt who went to consult the medium, that grandmother's condition is getting critical and the medium predicted that the 14th and 15th of the Hungry Ghost Month was probably the most dangerous for her life. When they tried to beg the deities for more information and help to heal her, the deities (medium in trance) waved them away and told them that they were busy during that month.
The medium handed them only a gold-plated pendant this time, and told them there were no more amulets for them; there was just nothing much they can do this round as they can only leave it to fate.
I asked my mum, the meaning of the gold pendant; versus the amulet, and my mother shook her head sadly, telling me that an amulet means there is still protection against the underworld, and that the deities could still deter her from being taken away. When they don't give you an amulet, it means that there is nothing they can do.
How about the pendant, I ask?
The pendant is the highest honor given by the deity, and it is a form of prayer and blessing provided to reduce the suffering and to be on their way.
It was then I prayed; yes, grandmother may be a Taoist and I may be a Catholic, but that didn't stop me from praying so that she will not suffer from so much pain.
She survived on the 14th and 15th, although she did not wake up at all, but the machine still showed her pulse and heartbeat. However, the doctors have already given their opinions and told everyone to be prepared for the worst as there is nothing they could do if she does not wake up.
On Monday, which was the 16th of Hungry Ghost month and the 15th of August, grandmother was transferred to the normal ward in the late evening.
The normal ward was filled with patients, but grandmother was the only one in coma as the rest were just resting patients.
The ward seemed to be in pretty bad shape, and the power sockets located at grandmother's spot were not even working. She was placed in front of the medical/nurses counter, just like all the other ICU and CCU wards she was in the last few weeks.
However, things were not looking that good to me, and everyone in the ward seemed to be looking at my grandmother with such fear and anxiety in their eyes.
We went home that night, and in the middle of the night, mum and me were just finding it so hard to fall asleep, and we even had difficulties in breathing. Mum was practically having a lump in her chest that she was struggling with it and she kept telling me that she was just not feeling so well.
Just as I was sinking into deep sleep, my phone woke me up at 5a.m and I jumped up to pick up the phone.
I heard aunt's voice, telling us to rush to the hospital as the doctor informed that grandmother may not make it any longer. We rushed to the hospital and arrived at about 5.40a.m, and I noticed that her pulse and heartbeat were slowing down. The machine kept going off, getting on everyone's nerves and then when almost everyone is here except for one more aunt and uncle, grandmother's pulse seemed to have almost halted.
When that aunt arrived, grandmother's pulse totally stopped.
However, everyone screamed and told her that there is one more uncle.
I will not believe this if I did not see it with my own eyes, but it was like a miracle when there was a faint pulse detected although it was already a flat line for a few seconds!
When the uncle arrived and called her "Mother", the pulse was dead and it was at this time, the doctor arrived and they pulled the curtains around her bed while we waited.
We heard sounds and it was shortly after when I heard the doctor saying, "Record the time at 6.40a.m", it was then that we knew, she was gone, forever.
It was my first time, really, to be there on the spot and watch a close loved one pronounced dead. Although I was not really close to this grandmother, I was just filled with grief and sorrow to hear someone had just left the world.
My mum was holding it very well, and I guessed it was due to her own health as well.
We proceeded to all the necessary procedures; death certificate, transportation from the mortuary to the funeral parlor, and the funeral proceedings.
My mum then told me that she already had a very bad feeling that moment when grandmother was transferred to the normal ward, and I told her the same thing.
Mum further revealed that the patient next to grandmother's bed already told her that there was another patient who had just passed away that same morning before grandmother came and asked why was grandmother sent to the normal ward when she was in such a serious condition.
A lot of stories were slowly revealed as well, during the wake, about how grandmother may have met the Angel of Death.
An aunt mentioned that she brought grandmother out on the weekend, and she did not realize it was the first of the Hungry Ghost Month. The worse was that they stopped at a traffic light, and there was a wake/funeral going on at the adjacent house. They could not move the car away but they told grandmother to look away.
Another aunt mentioned that when grandmother was first admitted to the hospital and was well, there was another serious accident case which was sent to the same ICU ward and the young man was just a few beds away from grandmother's. Grandmother was very afraid and told the aunt to draw the curtains close. In a few minutes, the doctors pronounced the young man died; due to the serious brain hemorrhage.
Another aunt also mentioned that there was a death in all the wards grandmother was transferred to, and when grandmother was battling with dear life, they were relived that she was transferred to a different ward as that would 'confuse' the Angel of Death when they could not locate her.
Then there was one who mentioned that they smelt an odor when they were taking care of her in her comatose state, and that odor was confirmed by most aunts (including mum) that it was only found on the corpses. It was like the Corpse's Odor. Mum told me that whenever you smelt something weird in a hospital, never say a word or it could follow you for the rest of your lives.
There were all sorts of stories associated to the supernatural incidents or deductions they had when she was nearing her deathbed.
To me, I believe in God being the ultimate decision maker in our lives.
No matter how you hide, you can never run away from fate.
Life and death is something we can never control, honestly, and that we should just let it be.
If she was meant to live, she will live.
Furthermore, we should pray for her that she had gone to a better place, even if we mourn for her, for she is finally without pain and suffering and I am sure she would prefer that.
Rest in Peace, my grandmother... (16th August 2011)