It had been pouring non-stop the entire day, the house was warm and there were leftovers from the days before.
It only made sense then that I stayed home, eating a bit here and there, writing a little, editing photos and curling up under the big blue fleece blanket on the living room couch.
I also spent a large part of this rainy afternoon on the phone with Aunty Adeline, and as we spoke about life in DC and Singapore, our three-hour long conversation eventually veered towards Aunty Catherine, or more accurately, the absence of her.
In between tears and laughter and moments of silence, over a VOIP connection that stretched from the East to the West, we tried to hold onto the woman we both love so much.
I often used to wonder how long grief could hold onto a hurting heart, and now, three months since her passing, it still feels impossible to believe that a woman as strong and as full of life as Aunty Catherine is no longer around: her once active body has been reduced to mere ashes stored in an urn, and the only thing that we can still cling onto is our memories of her, and the presents she’d once bestowed us.
I knew that Aunty Catherine had rocked me to sleep countless times when my mum had just given birth to me and was still in confinement, and that she’d cradle me in her chest, afraid to move for fear of waking me up.
I remembered the time when Aunty Catherine would stay over at my house whenever she visited from Kuantan, and the stories she’d regale me with as we stayed up chatting late into the night.
I recalled the times that we’d go shopping for Christmas decorations at the Concourse, and how we’d sift through baskets of decorative items and choose the prettiest, after which we’d take the bus back to my house, laden with bags full of purchases.
In all these memories, and so many more, Aunty Catherine is always smiling and laughing, her face filled with light and happiness.
When tears run down my face, fresh and salty, I sometimes struggle to understand why life can be so tough to comprehend.
It is infinitely difficult to understand how a woman so wonderful and god-loving had to suffer through years of cancer and finally be defeated at the young age of 64, and I don’t pretend to understand why God took her away from us so soon.
I also don’t pretend not to still feel the loss and emptiness of not having been able to say my final goodbyes face-to-face. I remember the last time I saw her back in March, when I hugged her small cancer-struck frame, and thought with a deep sense of sadness that it might very well be the last time I saw her.
That Tuesday evening, she lifted her shirt and showed me the scars on her body, souvenirs from different bouts of cancer that she’d defeated before through surgery and chemotherapy; yet in no moment did I ever see a streak of self-pity.
In fact, Aunty Catherine looked me straight in the eye that day with a calmness and peace, and said firmly, “Always hold on to God.”
Aunty Catherine was a woman who was always giving, sometimes being very frugal with herself in other to buy others gifts and brighten up their day. She was always thinking about others, even till just before she passed, when she wrote thank you cards and gave butter cookies to the nurses who’d taken care of her at Singapore General Hospital.
She may no longer be physically present with us, but her kind and generous spirit will always be in our hearts. Aunty Catherine was constantly giving; of her time, her energy and presents, despite all she had to go through.
I am so proud to be her niece; immensely proud of my Aunty Catherine who was so beautiful and strong and generous. As thanksgiving draws near, I give thanks for the privilege of having her in my life, even if I would love to hold on longer to her.
Aunty Catherine loved to cook and entertain; she was always cooking and sharing her food.
Today’s cranberry and walnut tart is something I believe she would have loved.
A buttery gluten-free tart shell with a delicious filling of crunchy walnuts and fresh cranberries. The sweetness of the filling is balanced out by the tartness of the cranberries, and with a store-bought tart shell, this is a dessert that’s quick to put together and perfect for the holidays.
- 1 store-bought gluten-free tart shell
- 3 large eggs
- ½ cup brown sugar
- ⅔ cup maple syrup
- ½ stick unsalted butter, melted
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1¼ cup chopped fresh cranberries
- 1 cup chopped walnuts
- Pre-heat oven to 425 deg. Fahrenheit (210 deg. Celsius)
- Use a fork to prick holes onto the base of the tart shell
- Bake tart shell for 15 minutes or until rims are golden brown
- Meanwhile, mix eggs, brown sugar, maple syrup, melted butter and salt together until you get a homogeneous mixture
- Add in fresh cranberries and chopped walnuts and stir until evenly distributed
- Reduce oven temperature to 350 deg. Fahrenheit (175 deg. Celsius)
- Pour tart filling mixture into tart shell
- Bake tart for 40 to 45 minutes or until filling is set
- Allow tart to fully cool before slicing