Category Archives: family

Like a Thief in the Stillness of the Night

When the truly unexpected occurs

On 27 December 2016, I received a telephone call at about 11.30am from an old friend who I have known for more than fifty years. David ( not his real name ) seemed to be very emotional and had some difficulty speaking coherently on the phone and I had trouble understanding him. Sensing his difficulty, his wife, Rosemary (not her real name ) took over the phone and informed me in a matter of fact manner that their eldest son, aged 38, had unexpectedly passed away that morning! It took a while for the devastating news to register.

No one ever prepares you to receive such unexpected, shocking and distressing news.

It is my belief, and that of many others too I am sure, that no parent anywhere in the world, should suffer the cruel and heartbreaking fate of having to bury a child. It is not in the natural order of things.

A Loving and Successful Family

This is a loving and successful family in every sense of the word. The father is a Malaysian Indian and was a prominent trade union official. He used to work for a well-known British plantation company in Kuala Lumpur and rose over the years to a senior administrative position.

He was also a respected union official both within the union as well as by the company itself. He had travelled to many countries on union business during his active years. He was also a responsible family man and a truly filial son to his parents. One of his uncles served as a parish priest in Penang for over 60 years and a nephew of his is a priest in Tamil Nadu, India.

The mother, a Malaysian Chinese originally from Malacca, was a secretary with a Malaysian bank for many years. Even after retirement, she continued to work for a law firm and is still very active in voluntary work.

She is a convert to Catholicism and today serves on a number of church committees.

Rosemary takes her faith seriously and regularly attends retreats locally as well as in India and the Philippines. She too comes from a big and close family.

Three Professionals Emerged

They have three children, two sons and a daughter. They provided a loving, conducive and nurturing environment and encouraged their children to excel. In the process, they made many personal sacrifices so that their children could succeed in school and university.

To their great credit, all three children rose to the occasion and became fully fledged professionals. The eldest son became an engineer, the second child, the daughter became a doctor and the youngest also graduated as an engineer. Both sons worked abroad… one in Newcastle, England and the eldest one ( the individual who passed away suddenly ) was based in Dubai. The daughter works in Kuala Lumpur.

What Actually Happened

The eldest son had gone out with a few friends to catch up on old times and to have a jolly good session at a restaurant in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur. He returned home in the wee hours of the morning, at roughly 2.00 am, informed his French wife that he was tired and that he was going to hit the sack. Those were his last words.

The next morning, the family understandingly let him sleep for some time. At about 10.00 am, his wife went to wake him up. She tried her best but he did not respond. She thought his body felt cold and then immediately gave him CPR. At the same time, she shouted out for her mother in law. When the mother in law arrived, the wife simply said: He is gone! The mother in law retorted: What do you mean, he is gone?  It then dawned on them that sometime during the night, her son / her husband had tragically passed away.

It is not how long we get to live but more importantly how we choose to live that matters in the end.

They then went about calling for assistance. A number of the son’s close friends responded promptly and stepped forward to render assistance to the grieving family. First, the doctor daughter/sister had to come and ascertain the nature of the problem and to confirm the matter. Next, someone had to make a police report on the sudden demise of this relatively young man. Once the police officers came, they took the body away to the hospital for a post mortem. This is a standard procedure in such cases. It was all happening much too fast and the family was still in a state of disbelief and shock.

Some Incredible & Intriguing Facts

  1. The eldest son had not been back to his parents’ home for Christmas for four years. I believe he had some sort of premonition, desire or urge to return to his roots. He had initially worked in the United Kingdom before being posted to the Dubai office of an MNC. He chose to return last Christmas to be with his family. That surely is a blessing.
  2. He passed away in the family home where he grew up, was nurtured and was given the right values in life. He was back in familiar surroundings and when he did pass away, it was in the family home. He did not pass away alone in some foreign, distant land.
  3. His two close friends and his Scottish boss who flew down to Kuala Lumpur for the funeral service gave heart-warming eulogies extolling his fine qualities as an individual, as a friend and as a professional. His younger brother gave a eulogy describing him as a brother who truly cared. These eulogies spoke volumes about the man and the son/brother he was.
  4. The church service was packed with relatives, friends and colleagues. More than four hundred people were present. That, in itself, says a lot about the young man and the family.
  5. The funeral service was con-celebrated by five religious personalities: three priests, an archbishop emeritus and Malaysia’s recently ordained cardinal. That was indeed a high honour.

Where Do We Go From Here?

It is never easy to bear such a heavy cross! It is doubly hard for aged parents to have to deal with the loss of a child, especially a brilliant one with a most promising career. We have, however, been repeatedly told that death sometimes comes like ‘a thief in the stillness of the night’. And it was decidedly so in this case.

I believe we have to live our lives with this admonition always in mind. It is not how long we get to live but more importantly how we choose to live that matters in the end.

Have we kept the faith?  Have we been true to family and friends? Have we set aside time for our families? Not just immediate families but also extended families.

Whilst during our careers we naturally strive for success, let us remember that once we have passed that stage, it is time for us to move on to the next and better stage… the stage of significance.

Have we willingly and regularly shared some of our blessings with the less fortunate? Have we been big enough to forgive those who have hurt us, intentionally or otherwise?  These are some questions that we have to wrestle with honestly and in all sincerity.

Be a Blessing to Others

If we do answer these questions, then when the time comes for us to leave this world, we will not have any misgivings. We can go quietly and peacefully in the stillness of the night, knowing that we had tried to do our very best.

Whilst during our careers we naturally strive for success, let us remember that once we have passed that stage, it is time for us to move on to the next and better stage… the stage of significance.

This is that golden time and that phase in our lives to use our experience, knowledge, skills and expertise if any, to help others. We should carry out this assistance in a quiet manner, without fanfare and in all sincerity. In doing so, like best-selling author Bob Buford says, we become a blessing to others. This is the real source of that elusive significance.

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You Must Be Very Rich : First Impression of Tyler, My Only Granddaughter

About two months ago, while having afternoon tea and goreng pisang ( fried bananas ) in the dining room of our semi detached bungalow in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia, Tyler, my only granddaughter suddenly exclaimed: ‘ Grandpa, you and Grandma must be very rich! ‘

I was pleasantly surprised and at the same time perplexed by this statement coming out of the mouth of a smart, perceptive five year old and asked her why she thought we were very rich.

Variety of Goodies

Tyler’s answer pleased me and my wife greatly. She replied that every time she and her two brothers, Carlos, ten and Finn, two, came over to our house for the weekly, day long Sunday visit, we had something nice for them.

She said that our fridge and cupboards seemed to be full of chocolates, Snickers, Mars bars, fruit cheese from Australia, biscuits, mangoes, oranges, bananas, peaches in cans, watermelons etc.

That led her to the inescapable conclusion that we must be very rich to always have a fully stocked fridge and cupboard filled with a variety of goodies for our dear grandchildren.

Love Them Very Much

I took pains to inform Tyler that we are certainly not rich people. I informed her and her brothers that because we only get to see them once a week and also because we love them very much, we want to make their visits to our home an enjoyable and unforgettable experience.

The important distinction here is our unconditional love for the grandchildren. In addition, we also want to surprise them with a variety of food items that they like because this is one way of showing our love for them as only grandparents can!

An Enjoyable Visit

Very often when they come over, one or two of them will make ‘ an unannounced inspection ‘ of our fridge and cupboards. This is to quickly survey what is in the storehouse.

Later during the visit, one of them will nonchalantly approach me or grandma with a request. They will ask for a bar of chocolate, a fruit or for a drink of freshly squeezed orange juice. All such requests are duly met and with much satisfaction.

Lavish Love and Affection

Grandparents, in our case, usually get to see the grandchildren once a week. We now have the time, the energy and the opportunity to lavish some love and affection on them.

When we were just parents, we were busy with our careers as teachers, with extra curricula activities and the hum drum of daily living. Also as parents we were fairly strict with our children. We could not shower them with many toys and gifts partly because we did not have the financial means to do. Raising a family on two teachers’ salaries was a tough enough proposition but we did our best.

Now that we have moved on to this golden phase, we have the time, the means and the inclination to indulge in this activity and to do so with unabashed enthusiasm. Often there is too much noise and bedlam in the house during the visit and we just have to grin and bear it.

Our five grandchildren have much energy and derive great joy when they meet their cousins. Our eldest daughter, Rowena, has three children and our second daughter, Ramona, has two sons. Oftentimes, cushions are thrown on the floor and the chairs and furniture are re-arranged to suit their fancies.

Looking Back

When I look back, from time to time, I realise that I did not have the joy and luxury of knowing my grandparents. My paternal grandparents passed away before I could meet them. As for my maternal grandparents, I only got to know and interact with them for a little over a year! I was around seven years old at that time. They lived in Kerala, India. They also did not have a telephone at home.

During that time, I remember my grandmother taking great pains to make very interesting breakfasts and afternoon tea and cookies for me and my brothers and sisters. It was an all too brief but nevertheless enriching experience.

Little Things Mean A Lot

In the case of our grandchildren, my wife and I deliberately invest considerable effort and time during the weekly visits. My wife always makes it a point to cook a great and enjoyable meal. This includes making something special for the young ones.

This is a good time for bonding and all too soon this time will pass. The grandchildren will soon become teenagers, embark on other interests and spend more time with their friends and on facebook!

On looking back on their early, formative years, I do hope they will remember the unconditional love that we showered on them not just during their weekly visits but also on many other family occasions. Parents are there for a reason but grandparents are there to offer the extras… stories, outings, lunches, dinners, holidays, love, care, affection and the warm embrace of a loving, extended family.

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This post here is the original submission to an international Huff/post50 call for submissions in line with Grandparents Day on September 13. My post was one of the posts accepted for publication and an edited version was published on 11 September 2015.