I’d never known what deep grief could actually feel like.
At least not until last week, when I lost my Aunty Catherine – possibly the strongest woman I’ve ever known – in her long battle against cancer.
It’s been slightly over a week since Aunty Catherine passed away last Monday, on the 17th of August 2015, and in the past 10 days or so, I still find it hard to imagine that she won’t be around the next time I visit Singapore.
A lump forms in my throat when I think of her passing, tears start to fall and I don’t bother to hold them back, even as I type out this messy train of thoughts that I’ve had running around my mind in the last one week.
Aunty Catherine was the one who cradled me and let me fall asleep on her chest when I was a newborn infant, as she helped my mum to look after me after my mum’s C-section operation. In Aunty Catherine’s words, I was “as tiny as a little rabbit” and she didn’t dare move as I slept for fear of waking me up or crushing me.
As I grew older and developed a fascination with DIY home decoration, I’d accompany Aunty Catherine to The Concourse shopping center where we’d scour through the huge discount bins at decoration stores and return home laden with bags filled with Christmas decorations. Aunty Catherine used to live in Malaysia, where her husband and my cousins live, and whenever she crossed the causeway to visit us in Singapore, she’d often stay at my place, and many nights were spent with me listening to the numerous stories that she had to tell.
When I returned home to Singapore from Buenos Aires this March for a short three-week vacation, the first thing I saw when I entered my house was my mum, Aunty Catherine, and my domestic helper Miriam, all busy cooking in the kitchen to prepare for my homecoming dinner.
I remember observing Aunty Catherine’s frame, so much thinner than the last time I’d seen her two years ago – due to the side effects of the chemotherapy pills she’d been taking. But still, despite her fight with cancer, she was always smiling, optimistic and full of joy and energy. She invited me to high tea at a hotel along Orchard Road one Tuesday, and we had lunch with Aunty Adeline at Paragon the next day.
On the day before she left for a trip to Australia, I hugged Aunty Catherine tightly as we said our goodbyes, thinking that it could possibly be the last time I saw her (and desperately hoping I was wrong).
When my mum called a few weeks back to tell me that Aunty Catherine’s condition had taken a turn for the worse, and that she had to be warded in the Singapore General Hospital (SGH) because the water accumulated in her lungs was simply too much for her to breathe without the help of an oxygen tube, my heart sank.
Still, I stubbornly clung on to the hope that Aunty Catherine would be able to pull through and defeat this horrid cancer, as she had previously done so once in 1989, and a second time in 2009.