I have been wanting to detail this down for the longest time……….well, in the last few months which now seems like the longest time yet it’s only been 3 months since, but I have still not found the right words to describe her last 20 hours that I spent with my Mother to do any justice to the whole ordeal. It was an ordeal. But a beautiful ordeal. And I needed to share it for the benefit of all my family members who could not make it to her side in her time of departure nor the entire year before that and the weeks after, this is for you.
It started with me being in Kota Bharu (KB), Kelantan. MIL had just passed away a few weeks prior and we were flying in to KB regularly to check up on my Father-in-Law (FIL) in making sure he was OK to live on his own with just a maid in such a big house. In fact, on that very trip, FIL was saying that he wanted to make a trip down to KL just to see my Mom since MIL had gone so suddenly. Just like that. He better come to KL soon. On the day that we were due to fly back to KL after MIL’s prayers, my Mom texted me to say that she wanted to go to the hospital. I replied OK, I will organise.
I immediately called my brother and Sister-in-Law (SIL) to ask them if they could bring Mom to the Hospital. She was so frail and weak that she could not walk. They couldn’t carry her either so had to order an ambulance and had to use the stairs. A whole 2 flights of stairs because Mom’s apartment does not have a lift.
Whilst at the hospital, my brother and SIL accompanied my Mom to get admitted and meanwhile up in Kota Bharu, I was feeling rather apprehensive. Mom never asks to go to the hospital. She hates hospitals like me. And so when she does ask to be in hospital, it must be quite bad. The pain must have been unbearable. She wasn’t ready to go yet, that I know. To her, it was just a bad attack and her strength could no longer withstand the pain so she wanted the Doctors help to get rid of the pain. I kept being in touch continuously with my brother to check on her status still feeling very apprehensive and finally I asked him if I should fly down immediately now instead of later that evening. He said he didn’t know but probably. I couldn’t decide thinking what the Hubs would think if I was going to waste my ticket and buy a brand new ticket just to travel a few hours earlier. So I asked my brother again if he would fly back immediately and he said yes. When he said yes, I immediately got everyone in the Kota Bharu house to book me a ticket online whilst I ran up to pack but nobody could book a ticket online as it was too last minute. The Hubs then rushed me to the airport and I prayed the entire journey whilst we left the kids with FIL to please get me a flight. Any airline, I don’t care. I just want to be with my Mama.
I rushed into the KB airport with my bag whilst the Hubs waited for me just in case I couldn’t get a flight and I went from one airline to the next comparing flight times and took the first flight out. It was the last seat on Air Asia. Thank you, God, for making that seat available to me. I will always be grateful for divine intervention for allowing me to be with my mother in her last 20 hours. Whilst at the airport, I met another guy from KK who had also lost his Dad!!! So coincidental that we were both rushing home to similar circumstances. You know that feeling when it is a race against time? Being at the airport waiting for the plane killed me just about.
When I arrived in KL, the whole time praying for Mom to wait for me, asking the taxi driver to ramp it up yet paying attention to his speeding skills, from KLIA2 to Gleneagles Hospital, I collapsed onto my Mother’s bed and said a big THANK YOU to her for waiting for me. She had received my last text to her which read, wait for me……
Whilst in hospital, we were just trying to get her to be as comfortable as possible. By 6pm (she was admitted at 2pm-ish), she was already in incredible pain. It was so painful that she couldn’t talk, just scream from her throat. Her ENT Doctor refused to give her Morphine as he said she was too weak and morphine would interfere with her lungs. We didn’t know any better so we just listened to him but at some point, she started screaming so much and her eyes were bulging out in excruciating pain and I called the nurse but they didn’t know what to do. So they called the Doctor but he was busy playing golf. Then my Mom suddenly wrote to call Dr Nick, her palliative Doctor which I immediately did. But Dr Nick said he could not just interfere with another Doctor’s patient and until the ENT Doctor handed her over, then only could he take action. It is the medical protocol. Protocol my ass.
Frantically, we tried leaving messages for her ENT Doctor and the nurses at Gleneagles were so lepak that my Aunt went ballistic on them because they just didn’t care that here was a patient suffering worse than in labour and all they did was try to call the ENT? Well, they weren’t trying hard enough. Is there only ONE person to call in an emergency? For goodness sake, what kind of hospital is this? Do they care? Do they care? Do they really care? Of course they care!!!
When they finally got the ENT, he was told to call Dr Nick and he said OK but by 9pm, Dr Nick had still not gotten his call. Mind you, this Dr Nick was on leave in Seremban when we contacted him on emergency. He was kind enough to pick up my call despite it being so late and on a Public Holiday night as well. And at the end of it all, despite sounding very sleepy over the phone, he stayed awake waiting for the ENT Doctor to call him. He kept calling us to make sure the ENT was going to call him and it was just one big mess and merry go around between us, Dr Nick, the ENT and the nurses. I could have killed the nurses, really I could have. As I think back about it now, I wish I had done so. Some nurses really have such bad attitudes and for the one particular nurse who helped, she was a tall Singh girl and I will always remember her. At the road side when we saw her, we thanked her again profusely. Meanwhile, my Mom was sweating and exhausted from clenching her entire body from the pain passing out a few times but kept getting revived.
At 8pm, some Muslim strangers entered the suite and I was shocked wondering who they were. It turned out that they were my Muslim friend’s sisters! They had come to pray for my Mom. Bless them forever after. My Aunt was distraught watching my Mom in agony but I was calm, holding it all together.
It was so painful for me to watch the woman who gave me life, the woman who raised me to become who I am today, the one who was always on my side teaching me how to always be one up on men, the woman who led by her shining example in the act of giving selflessly; she was suffering like a group of rebels had slayed her with huge open wounds bleeding and left for death.
Her legacy of treating people kindly lives within me. We have so many memories and I will cherish them forever. And at that moment, I asked God, please take her. Please let her die. My Aunt was crying. By that time, my brothers were there and the Hubs had just arrived from Kota Bharu with the kids. We were all just there. Helpless.
Just before the stroke of midnight, that darn call happened and instructions were given to the nurses to administer the Morphine via drip. They loaded her up increasing every hour. Dr Nick stayed up that night till 2am waiting for Mom to be comfortable before he went to bed and said he would be in in the morning to see her. Now that is the sign of a true Doctor, one that does his work hand on his heart.
It was a night of surrealism. Those who needed sleep had left. All was left behind in the suite was silence and a few tudung ladies in black praying continuously for my Mother. The lights were dimmed and it looked kind of spooky but there was nothing, absolutely nothing to be afraid of. The entire suite was blessed, I could feel it merely by the love from these ladies who had brought their children along and stayed with me all night and eventually, not even all night but right up to the next evening. Can you just imagine? A complete stranger whom I’ve never met in my life, nor has my Mom, stayed with us by her Death Bed praying for a whole 23 hours without sleep. She just stayed with me throughout the entire ordeal and taught me what to do.
That night, I could not sleep. Mom was trying to sleep, heavily drugged and I could tell it wasn’t long more before God took her. She had to be given Oxygen via the tubes because her lungs were giving way and she was so weak that she needed a bed pan. Throughout this whole time, she would communicate with me via a note pad because she could no longer speak. Her writing was barely legible and towards the end got worse and worse till I could no longer understand what she was trying to write. One of it was asking my SIL to boil her some green bean soup for tomorrow. You see? She wasn’t ready to die!!! Or she would not have made that request. That night, from 3-6am, I sat beside her watching her alone with one other tudung lady (who kept praying) and all I could feel was love. Her right hand was full of tubes and was at 90 degrees from the horizontal bed. It was so strange but I remember that image very clearly and even took a picture of it. It was a bit like her hand had rigor mortis.
Knock! Knock! Dr Nick had arrived at 7.30am exactly after Mom had just fallen asleep not long ago. She had to be woken up because he needed to talk to her. I cannot believe he had come in so early and it wasn’t even his day at Gleneagles, yet he came all the way just to see her. He had left Seremban at 5am. And we all knew what time he went to bed. Bless him indeed. So at 7.30am, he told Mom that he was going to give her more Oxygen as her one lung had collapsed with pneumonia and her breathing sound resembled church bells on a Sunday. And THAT was the point when I knew Mom had given up because she said no. No Oxygen…….
After which the Doctor pulled us aside and told us to expect the worse today. If she pulls through, she’d only last another 1-2 weeks. If she didn’t, she’d go today. I didn’t cry. I wanted her to go. I then went back to her bed side and told her, please go, Mom. I cannot stand seeing you like this anymore. It’s been 14 years. Let us end this suffering.
I then got a text from an amazing Muslim friend telling me to recite the Quran to her, so I did and the tudung lady helped me. I had to memorise the verse La Ilallah Ilahi something something obviously all forgotten now! And I kept repeating it aloud non-stop whilst holding her bony hand that still wore a diamond encrusted ring in the alphabet M. On her death bed, she was still wearing rings and bracelets and even earrings! That was Mom for you.
When the sun rose, Mom gave me the thumbs up when she saw how I was reciting the verses of the Quran. I kissed her and kept asking her if there was anyone I should call to inform them that she was here. She only named 2 friends (both of whom were abroad) and no family. I kept asking her if she was sure and she kept nodding gently. She looked content. In fact she looked very happy. Soon after, my brother arrived with the kids and they played outside whilst I continued to stay by my beloved mother’s side. The tudung lady there the entire time praying……
Just before noon, the ENT Doctor showed up and I had to restrain myself from punching him. He came in to check her out for about 5 seconds and left. At noon, Mom started looking at the ceiling behind me with her eyeballs roaming just behind me towards the ceiling. It was bizarre. I looked up and behind to see what she was looking at but there was nothing. I asked her what she was looking at? She closed her eyes and with one deep breathe, which looked like she was choking for a split second, she released her last breathe. The weight on my shoulders lifted with the angels as they took her soul. I did not cry. I had wished for this and my wish was granted. I did not even panic. I just stayed with her listless body having a moment before I walked outside to call my brother but he had gone downstairs to get some food for the girls. I didn’t call anyone. It was just……I was just………numb. I hadn’t slept for a whole 36 hours by then. I hadn’t eaten either as I did not want to leave her side. When my brother arrived back, he was upset that I hadn’t called him. When my other brother arrived later, he broke down. I am sure that the moment she died, every one who had something to do with her who was close to her would have felt it. Felt something. As for me, I had the most beautiful experience. I was happy. God had finally taken her.
But the next thing was knowing what to do next. Suddenly, praise be to God for my sister, and I tell you all these blessings are thrown at me for a reason! She advised us diligently that Petronas had a complimentary funeral service for Directors and so immediately, we got onto Tok-Tok’s PA to get her to organise it. By 1-2pm, the suite was filled with people. There was the immediate family, Tok-Tok included, with 2 of my bestest friends, the PA, the Petronas coordinator, the nurses who were doing the last medical procedures, and my aunt. It was chaotic!!! My Aunt had lost it as she had arrived 5 minutes just after Mom passed away. I was the most calm one of all. My girls were a bit lost. Probably in shock.
Mom’s body was cleaned in the hospital and wrapped in a white cloth. Brought down to the morgue to wait for the funeral transport which went to the wrong hospital! Petronas. Haha. Anyway, everyone else arrived at the KLCC mosque before we did. Only me and the tudung lady travelled with Mom in the white timber coffin draped with a black and green velvet runner with gold inscriptions. Oh, T1 came with us too and she was crying non-stop the entire journey. Not only did the funeral car go to the wrong hospital, the driver took an extra long route as well to the mosque!!!! Anyway, at the mosque, we arrived in style whilst everyone was already seated. More people had arrived as news passed although I didn’t really tell anyone as I was to exhausted and too busy making decisions and such.
We had some drama at the hospital prior because they had wanted to put my Mom’s body at some obscure cemetery located near Batu Caves. I said NO!! Absolutely not. Mom had told me several times already every time we passed by the Bukit Kiara Cemetery that she had wanted to be buried there because she knew that if she was buried anywhere else, none of us would come to visit her. She was right!!! In accordance to her death wish, I fought hard and insisted that we got a plot at the Bukit Kiara Cemetery and again by the grace of God, we managed to get it. THAT was when I cried. It was THAT important to me, and to Mom……
At the mosque, they had asked for her immediate family and children to enter the surau where they took a whole hour to bathe her body. It was my first time experiencing anything like this and I was wondering why the heck they would allow my brothers to watch Mom being bathed! But the 2 ladies in there who did the very meticulous cleaning of the body were professional. They covered her body at all times with several pieces of batik. And they were SO THOROUGH that they even cleaned her fingernails, her ears, the back of her ears, her nostrils, EVERYWHERE!!!!! That’s why it was a one hour shower!!! When they were finally done, it was already about 6pm when we had to put her back into the coffin and go into the mosque for more prayers before departing for the cemetery.
There, the hole in the ground was ready and immediately, she was lifted by Tok-Tok and my brothers with some help from the funeral car straight into the hole in the ground laid side ways facing Mekah. Prayers were recited and we had to pour water and flowers on top of the grave. I had not changed since I had left Kota Bharu and had not slept for close to 48 hours by then. Completely zombified. It took a few days to recover from that out of body state but Mom was in peace. I knew it and felt it in my bones.
The weeks after that were painful because we had to go back to her room to see to her belongings and it took us weeks. No, months, to finally clear everything. I’m not quite sure which part exactly is defined as grieving but I don’t feel as though I have grieved. In fact, people have been saying why am I posting on facebook when I should be grieving. Maybe Mom doesn’t WANT me to grieve. She has always wanted us to be happy. Like seriously happy. Not a second to be wasted on the stupidity of the world. And she loved her grandchildren so, SO MUCH. It was felt. It was shown. In magnanimous ways. And of course her love for her entire family shone in everyone of us. She was Mom. The matriarch of our family. The Gabriel family.
This was Mom’s last Birthday celebration in 2014 where she barely managed to get out of the house. It was just this once to celebrate her birthday and only for an hour. Yet she could manage a smile despite already being very sick.
This was a week before Mom left us. All skin and bones. I remember that day clearly as her old class teacher from Taiping had come to visit her. And Mom told me, this is the teacher who helped me get away from the abuse of Grandma. I was truly impressed that this teacher (her name is Sister Claire) had taken a bus to come see my Mom and had raised an adopted girl with Cerebral Palsy. It is people like these, whom I bow down to. People like the Children of Myanmar, who bring these blessings into my life. I have not done much but still, they flow in. Perhaps my Mother’s karma carries on within me……
Mom. She gave us EVERYTHING.