As she breathed her last

There is only this feeling of sacredness as you watch another human (with whom you have blood ties) breathe her last. While the academics are still debating over when life begins for the embryo, there is no room for dispute (at all) when someone expels the last breath.

The fleeting seconds when you hear the last drawn and expelled breath, and watch the line on the heartbeat monitor go flat are humbling. Immediate thoughts were drawn to the circumstances when she was brought from the watery surroundings of her mother’s womb to an environment where she had to draw air to her lungs. What was her first cry like? What expressions were worn on the faces of those who were by her mother’s bedside? Or when she was presented to other blood relatives who, perhaps, might be waiting anxiously?

The stories of her life may never be told in their entirety. I’ve only heard bits and pieces of them through the visits to the nursing home where she spent the rest of her days. The accounts were sketchy too, as it became tedious for her to recall and then express due to her incoherence. I would have loved to listen to her accounts of the journey by boat to this island, her childhood that was spent in the fields of her village in the Motherland, how she fell in love with my grandfather, how she felt when she married him as his No.2, how she brought up her kids during the Occupation, and what my mother was like as a child (I only knew how close she was to being sold due to the family’s poverty).

There was relief as she called my name thrice during the last two days of her life. There was this tinge of sadness when I recalled how she asked if I had eaten (as most elderly would do usually) even in her suffering and pain – with tubes on her faces and her hands. And in spite of how she was thirsty and hungry most of the time because she was put on dextrose drips due to her condition. Her hands were tied and covered in a pair of mittens because she tried pulling the tubes from her nose.

At times, I would watch (sometimes helplessly) as she gratefully sucked hard (mustering all of her remaining strength) at the sponge which I used to wet her mouth (since she wasn’t allowed to drink). Then, there were her repeated pleas, asking for help so that she could sit up.

Yet, nothing beats having her hands clasped tightly around mine whenever I would reach out to her. The touch of another human, during moments like these, as a response is precious and priceless.

“She may not survive this hospitalisation episode.”

The words of the doctor rang clear. It didn’t quite register at first because we humans tend to cling on to the faintest of hopes; in this case, the word “may” offered just that.

[He was the urologist and first apologised for not being in proper attire (he was in berms and a polo T-shirt). Wanting to find out more about her condition, I told him it was okay since it was a Sunday and whether or not he was in a white coat with a stethoscope slung across his neck was of no consequence.]

A day later, she slipped back into semi-consciousness and could no longer respond when we spoke (slowly at times) to her. The night before she passed on, she called my name just once in between long bouts of her being unconscious.

So, on that fateful morning, I was the only one by her bedside. Unforeseen circumstances meant that the rest couldn’t make it there or thought there was still time.

As the nurse gently pulled out the tubes and relieved her of being a prisoner to her bed, I said a silent prayer for her. She took with her the stories I would never hear about and a voice I would, through time, slowly forget.

This is where regrets (albeit few) and reminiscence of memories begin.

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Expecting journalistic integrity in a country with rags that don’t practise it muchly is akin
to begging to be disappointed. Cue the collective gnashing of teeth and the
Moans about injustice.

On one hand, I’m heartened by how a few more people may have a better idea of this
terrible mental condition. On the other, I’m still numbed by how the
misinformation continues to breed pseudo-wrong perceptions, resulting in speech
and actions that may be well-meaning but not helpful at all.

The stats are bleak. Behind each statistic is a sad story. No one is closer to getting to
the bottom of this, bringing relief to thousands who suffer from it. A second
attempt will precede a third. The higher the number, the more successful the
attempts can be.

What they did was commendable, but the nagging suspicion remains about the thoughts (and
attitudes) of the silent majority. Apathy and lack of empathy are increasingly
commonplace in our society, one that promises instant gratification and encourages
people to shoot-off-the-hip in 140 (or fewer) characters.

My offer of help too has evolved. It’s not so much about picking the right battles, but
more of offering help only when asked. It’s no longer thrusting and straining my
hand forward as much as I can when it is deemed an unwanted luxury and not a
need.

===

The weekend was spent sitting in two seminar rooms consecutively, both separated by a wall.
The first was a 90-minute presentation (of sorts) about writing a novel. The
other was a three-hour lecture about scriptwriting. Together, they made me S$49
poorer.

Perhaps it was due to how this was a festival, which meant that the events would have to
be held over a short period of time. I would have liked something more
intensive and wouldn’t mind spending a few hours (each day of the festival) attending
the lectures and presentations. Just so that I wouldn’t be just thrown a morsel
of appetiser and that’s it.

For both sessions, there were more females than males. The prettiest lass in the room
declared herself as a Japanese scholar. I couldn’t see if there was a ring on
her finger from where I was seated. But she rattled off two Japanese authors
(one of them was the recent nominee for the Nobel Prize for Literature). The
rest were quiet, their heads drooping and brows furrowing in concentration as
the five rules for writing were flashed on the screen. I’d imagine that amongst
them was the next Sylvia Plath or Catherine Lim or Virginia Woolf.

The other session was livelier. We had fun writing dialogues. The speaker was more
animated (then again, this was scriptwriting for theatre and not about writing
a tome in a gazebo).

The young woman who sat in front of me caught my eye (technically, her side view). I
thought she looked like the younger version of the Poetess. She doodled and
wrote stuff on a big A3-sized hardcover notebook. Except for having to read the
dialogue written by the guy who sat next to her, she was quiet throughout the
session.

When both sessions ended, the sky, which stayed overcast the whole afternoon, burst as I
made my way out of the campus. Both women were nowhere to be seen. I thought of
the Poetess. I was reminded of the women in my life whom I knew and loved the
Japanese author.

Then again, this wasn’t some singles event. They could turn out to be interesting friends
(if not probable romantic interests).

===