Goodbye Tata. Rest In Peace. This Is Logen Here.

I’m emotionally drained. I have gone through bouts of shock, crying and numbness the past few days. I will never hear his voice, see his missing-tooth smile and speak with him again. I’ve lost my opportunity to hear what he wanted to tell me the last time. My granddad is dead.

Since Tuesday, my granddad slept and never woke up. I only learnt of the news on Friday, upon which I closed my bedroom door and cried. My grandmother had informed the entire family to visit him. She knew the inevitable was to happen soon. It was our last chance to see him alive.

Knowing the significance of her warning, I put down my work to visit my granddad on Saturday. The old man was lying on his bed, eyes closed, heaving and breathing heavily. My mother tried to wake him up from his slumber to no avail.

I Wish I Could Go Back In Time

I, too, tapped his shoulder continuously, begging for him to wake up. I know he could hear me saying,

“Tata (Tamil for granddad), wake up. This is Logen here… Tata! wake up!”.

His breathing became faster as if he was struggling to wake up just to see me. But he just couldn’t.

I left the room and headed towards the main door of his house. I ended up crying again, questioning if I was the only one who could feel how weak he was.

After everyone else vacated his room for the living room, I went back in and dragged a stool to his bedside. I held his cold hand, and rested my other palm on his forearm, hoping that the gesture would reassure him that I was there. I watched his chest as it heaved for breath. I resolved to sit there much longer than I normally would because intuition told me it would be my last.

Bending to his ear, I called out loudly to him again. Maybe he didn’t hear me the first time round because of his bad sense of hearing. I could smell his musty breath. And it told me that he was dehydrating from not drinking much water since Tuesday.

Looking about his room, I noticed the picture of Lord Ganesha (the deity who is supposed to remove obstacles from your life). In my desperation, I stared at the image and willed the deity to help my grandfather. But I guess, not even god has the power to reverse the course of life and death. And furthermore, Tata had been praying to die these few years, so that his suffering would end.

Before I left, I touched his face, bent down and said to him, “Tata, I’m Logen. I’m going home now.” Intuition told me that he would not survive the week.

Body Laying At Khoo Teck Puat Hospital

The following day, I was woken up with news that he had passed away. I was tired, I closed my eyes thinking that it must have been a dream. It wasn’t.

We rushed down to Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, attempting to beat the time when they would remove his body for an autopsy. The moment I saw him wrapped in white sheets, there was water in my eyes. There it was, his serene face and mouth slightly open to expose his missing tooth. This time I held his hand, it was completely cold. Death is absolute…

Because of complications, we were unable to fulfill his wish upon death. He wanted all his organs donated. Years ago before HOTA was enacted, he proudly showed me his organ donation card. This card was to inform strangers and medical staff (if his death occurred suddenly) that they had to contact the organ donation organisation immediately upon death. We could not fulfill his wish  because too much time had elapsed and his organs had shut down.

Before he was taken for the autopsy, I grabbed his forearm, telling him goodbye. I had to… I just had to say it to his physical body.

The Funeral At Mandai Crematorium

Although I’m mix-blooded (Indian-chinese), I have never once attended a Hindu funeral before. My Chinese-side grandfather’s funeral was painful enough. But being a child at that time meant that the adults tend to shield you from the unfamiliarity of death customs, rites and rituals.

Hindu Cremation

This time, I don’t know if it was the unfamiliarity of the Hindu funeral rites, the finality of Tata’s death or both. I broke down near the toilet of the crematorium, away from my family, so that they wouldn’t see. Thinking that I had no more tears left, I entered the viewing hall. The moment I saw the large photo of Tata with incense burning in front, I broke down again.

There are many things in a funeral that force you to come to terms with the fact that a person is dead. Reality kept hitting my stubborn disbelief that Tata was dead. And every time reality hit, I felt someone wrenching my heart and I felt fear at the prospect of not seeing him again.

The coffin arrived shortly accompanied with Hindu hymns and music. I ended up guffawing in tears. Reality hit me again.

Removing my slippers, I joined my family to say our goodbyes. At the sight of his face, my lips trembled with grief. The funeral makeup made him look unfamiliar and I kept asking myself where was my granddad. I touched the old man’s hands and face for long, tears streaming down my face.

Throughout the procession, whenever the opportunity arose, I moved towards his coffin to touch his face. I don’t know what I was hoping for. Maybe I felt that physical contact could make me feel as if he was still here.

My Pati (grandmother), who had been so strong throughout, not crying, ended up bawling by his coffin. The terrible wail pulled my heartstrings and everyone in the hall began tearing. Reality was doing a good job of wearing down this stubborn disbelief that my Tata was dead.

My aunt went ballistic and sobbed continuously, desperately begging, “I want Ah Pa. I want Ah Pa…” This was the first time I viewed my aunt as my grandfather’s daughter. I saw the little girl within her who desperately wanted her father but death is absolute.

I realise that in our grief and desperation, we become kids in grown up bodies. We try to control circumstance, plan our lives and trick ourselves into thinking that circumstance is completely within our hands. It actually is not. For a while, things happen the way we want it to. And then, bam! something unexpected happens; something irreversible; something we have no influence over. The desperation drives us to become helpless kids again.

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Life is cruel. Suffering is the norm. People are born and die alone (quote courtesy of Tata). People regret their trespasses when it is too late. I regret my trespasses when it is too late.

I’ll never know what Tata wanted to tell me. This is my regret. If I knew he would meet his quietus, I would have woken him up two weeks ago when I visited. I did not. I regret this. I regret not telling him that I love him when I held his cold hand at his bedroom.

Tell me what comes next…