The eulogy I couldn’t give

This is the post I’ve been wanting to write but also never wanted to write.

I suppose it’s fitting that I should be typing this on my shiny new rose gold MacBook, the last gift from my father.

Some months ago, as he lay in hospital in unending pain, waiting for meaningless days to pass, waiting for the cancer to go away, I sat by him, sometimes in helpless silence, other times with useless chatter.

That day, I told him I was thinking of buying a new MacBook because I thought it would be nice to sit in my new garden to write when I eventually got back to the business of writing.

This was in September 2017 and Piers and I had just moved to the countryside in England, into a pretty English cottage with a pretty garden. Or, more accurately, Piers had moved to the countryside in England all by himself because I was at the time in Singapore to be with my dad.

“Let me buy you the MacBook,” dad said.

“Oh, no, don’t worry about it,” I said, “I haven’t even decided.”

“I want to buy you one,” he said.

Then he made me promise I would go home that night and use his credit card to buy it.

Six weeks after that, he left us.

 

I was never able to completely appreciate the grief that one goes through after the loss of a loved one, even though my mum had passed away when I was 11. Then, I just felt a little lost and a bit mad, but I got over it pretty quickly.

Now, I know.

My dad’s passing has been a completely different monster. Trauma has weaved its tendrils all over me and sunk its hooks right into my soul. The pain flares up during the most innocent moments. I would be doing something inconsequential, like maybe drinking a glass of water, and I’d suddenly remember that I would never see my dad again. Never hear him laugh, never listen to his passionate discourses on the finer points of political propaganda, never taste another meal he has cooked with love.

It is frightful.

Saying goodbye is frightful.

The biggest fear in my life had always been to lose my dad because he became my everything when I lost my mum as a child. I suppose in compensation he tried to give me and my brother everything he had and everything we wanted. He was the kind of father who would give the best parts of a chicken to his children and eat the parts nobody else wanted. He was miserly to himself but overly generous with us. He would not spend a single cent more than he needed to on himself so that he had more to give us.

I carry a lifelong scar of guilt over being frivolous with money at my dad’s expense.

Financials aside, he was also my fount of wisdom and safe haven. He could answer every question, solve every problem and cure every ill, from my perspective. He was my Google and Wikipedia before Google and Wikipedia existed. Every time something broke in the house, I just had to holler for him and it would be magically fixed before you knew it. When I got lost driving (this was in the days before GPS or sat nav), it didn’t matter where I was, I only had to call him and he would immediately know how to direct me home.

Once, I got his Mercedes scratched really badly and thought the world had surely ended, but he didn’t scream at me or ground me for two years. Instead, he bought me my own car. When I got my own car scratched really badly, he just sighed quietly and got it fixed.

He spoilt me beyond rotten, but I think I still turned out to be a good person (albeit quite helpless at times) because he never stopped lecturing us on the values he deemed important: Honesty, punctuality, gratitude, kindness, education, reliability, hard work and perseverance. He slipped these lessons into our lives every opportunity he had without being naggy. In fact, he never once nagged. He just trusted us to always do the right thing.

Even when we didn’t always make the right choices, he was always supportive. For example, he would give me lectures but he never stopped me from pursuing what to some may be considered frivolous pursuits: acting, modelling, blogging. He revelled in my triumphs and soothed my failures (often with more lectures in the art of perseverance).

The knowledge that he is gone forever is horrifying beyond words.

But what haunts me the worst is the knowledge that he really wanted to live. For two years, he fought multiple myeloma, a type of bone marrow cancer, never once giving up, even when the pain was unending and unbearable, largely due to his refusal to take his pain meds for fear of damaging his kidneys.

My dad loved life and fought very hard to keep it, so it’s all the more heartbreaking that, in the end, after enduring all that suffering, he still lost the one thing he really wanted: To live a long life all the better to enjoy the family that he’d worked so hard all his life to provide for.

He was looking so much forward to coming to England for a long holiday because he loved gardens and gardening and was so thrilled when Piers and I bought our new home. I would have liked to have written this in the garden like I’d talked to him about, but it’s the middle of winter and rainy all the time. Everything is grey and drab outside, which I guess is fitting for the mood.

My dad reluctantly succumbed to cancer on 3rd November 2017. I was given the opportunity to speak at his funeral but I didn’t take it because speeches are not my thing. In an alternate world where I am not the scaredy cat that I am here, I would have done it.

In this world, though, I’m a writer, so all I have is a written eulogy.

Goodbye, dad. If I could be half as brilliant as you, half as successful as you, and half as selfless as you, I would want for nothing more, except to have you be around again. I wish you didn’t have to go so soon, I really do. Thank you for everything and I’m sorry.

 

Family

 

 

Not the last post ever

Ok, let’s try this again.

As I have done many times in the last few years of intermittent blogging, I considered quitting altogether because, nowadays, it’s just very, very difficult for me to sit down and write.

Besides genuine lack of time and also genuine inertia, I think I’ve got writephobia.

I mean, there’s an actual scientific word for that (graphophobia) but I’m sure it’s very obscure and people would probably understand me better if I made up my own word.

Obviously, I don’t have the condition for reals since I have gone and written this, haven’t I? It’s just whenever I think to sit down and write, I instead want to cry, sleep, eat something unhealthy, stab myself with something sharp or puke all my insides out.

Of course, I don’t usually do any of these things because they’re counterproductive. So I give in to the old survival instinct and run far, far away from my computer. I do sometimes end up running to the snack cupboard.

But today I succeeded in scaring myself with the possibility that the previous post I published six months ago would be the last ever post on my blog. It’s a stupid post and will stay in prime position on my blog FOREVER, or until the internet dies.

It is certainly not ideal, so I thought I would fix it by writing a really good post to end things. Except this isn’t at all a good post so maybe I can’t end things just yet.

We’ll see.

Thing is, although I have stopped publishing posts for yonks, my mind has kept on writing. It won’t stop, the stupid noodle. My mind makes words all the time, so I’ll be thinking, why don’t I move my stupid ass to my keyboard and transfer all these lovely mind words to the screen because how hard can that be?

Then the mind will be, like, yeah, maybe, hmm, naaaah, OH I feel a vomit coming.

Even now, I’ve got a Jekyll and Hyde situation going on. Half my mind is spitting this nonsense out while the other half is thinking RUN FOR YOUR LIFE.

Now, you think I’ve gone mad. But I can assure you that I’ve always been like that.

You’d perhaps want to quietly unfriend me on Facebook. I would never find out because I have 1,646 friends, of whom probably 95% are strangers. Damn social media games. My Facebook newsfeed has become a cesspit of horror and it is now a bit scary to visit.

Anyway, I have digressed so much from the main point I wanted to make that I can’t even remember what the point was.

Oh, I think I just wanted to say hello, peace and sanity to all.

Also, happy 8th day of 2018.

I will write more. Unless Hyde wins again.

 

 

 

I can’t win

I’ve been struggling lately. It feels like the universe is either testing me or being mean just for the fun of it.

After months of trying to keep on top of a healthy, productive lifestyle and being confronted by medical conditions one after another, I finally got the spirit beaten out of me.

In my last post, I talked about rebellion week being like a vacation to recharge in. I thought that was going to be the end of it and I was going to rise like a phoenix from the ashes and soar to literary success (not by writing clichéd idioms in blogposts).

Alas, I thought wrong. What happened, instead, was the universe wasn’t quite done with me. I think I got hit by seasonal affective disorder (because I don’t know how else to explain it). In case you live in a tropical country and have not heard of this disorder, here’s a definition:

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons — SAD begins and ends at about the same times every year. If you’re like most people with SAD, your symptoms start in the fall and continue into the winter months, sapping your energy and making you feel moody. Less often, SAD causes depression in the spring or early summer. (Source)

Yes, I’m one of those rare people who are averse to light and sunshine. I keep all my curtains drawn and blinds closed 24/7. At least, that’s how it would go if Piers didn’t keep opening them back up again. In fact, I actually come alive in the winter when it’s cold and gloomy. Come summer, I get overwhelmed and antsy and feel drained just looking out the window which Piers would have exasperatingly left open.

 

So, after floundering for a while, I reread my journal entries and realised I had started losing sleep and feeling anxious and frustrated around the beginning of summer, which is why I diagnosed myself with summer SAD.

I would have a restless sleep each night and get woken up at 5 am by neighbourhood seagulls having a sell-out concert and it would be bright and hot and I would just wither and die.

I started hating morning yoga because it made me feel sweaty and awful instead of calm and peaceful. Somehow, my body felt heavy and sluggish. My mind refused to be still during meditation, which puzzled me for a while because I never had any problems with it even as a beginner. Without satisfying yoga and meditation sessions in the morning to ground me, I fell apart.

 

One day, I gave up trying and let myself go. I started playing iPad games again and reading novels all day long. I ate junk food, which only made everything worse. I got depressed, moody, mopey, angry, fearful, defeated, numb.

I started wanting to play MMORPGs again, those games that had taken over my life in the past. I have very treasured memories of playing with friends, enjoying hilarious adventures together, and needed to feel that again.

But I resisted because I knew I needed to be working on my novel instead of wasting time playing games.

Except I couldn’t make myself do anything. I wasn’t even enjoying the junk food I was allowing myself to eat.

 

After languishing for more than a week, each day getting closer and closer to giving in and going to Amazon where I could so easily one-click-buy a game and receive it the next day, a good idea suddenly came to me.

How about listening to podcasts for writers to help motivate me and distract me from the lure of video games?! I was in a funk so couldn’t make myself read motivational books, but podcasts were different. I could just put them on while doing mindless things like chores.

So I googled “podcasts for writers” and picked one among the top ranking ones with the most awesome name: Dead Robots’ Society. To date, they have released 454 episodes. I decided to listen to the very first episode made in 2007 because I like starting at the beginning.

 

I felt hopeful. I envisioned getting all inspired and then I would sit down and write something good and be back on track and happy again.

I pressed play.

Five aspiring authors were having a chat and the first order of business was introductions.

It went something like this:

“Hi, my name is so-and-so. Right now, I’m working on the third edit of my third novel, blah blah blah how it’s working out, blah blah, and in between all that, I’m playing All-Pro Football 2K8 on the Xbox.”

Huh?

 

And then, the next person:

“Hey, I’m so-and-thus, and I’m still plugging away at my novel and also playing Baldur’s Gate.”

“The first Baldur’s Gate?”

“Yes, the first one.”

“Oh, god, that was sooooo good.”

“Oh, I know, right? It kicks ass.”

“Have you played the Icewind Dale games?”

Then 10 minutes of everyone talking about games.

 

Woah?

Had I accidentally fallen into an invisible portal and been magically whisked into an alternate universe where an alternate me was listening to a gaming podcast?

Or was this mean universe playing more tricks on me?

I laughed at the perverseness of life (you know, like an insane person laughing out of the blue for no apparent reason) and then I went into Amazon and one-click-bought a game.

To be continued.

 

 

Sheylara

 

 

Rebellion week

In the three weeks since my last update, I must have written and deleted about 10,000 words because I haven’t been able to write anything that passed the Sheylara OCD Edit.

The Sheylara OCD Edit is a stringent editing process in which I read through my draft the next day and if, at any point, I feel like gagging or develop the urge to hurl myself off a very tall building or simply fall asleep, I destroy all the words, hide in the cupboard and contemplate an alternative career in, say, grocery picking or lion taming.

I’ve contemplated alternative non-writing careers a bajillion times over the years. And, still, my blog sits there, year after year, taunting me with its unupdatedness, sending me bills every month to pay for its privilege to sit there and taunt me with its unupdatedness.

I need chocolate.

Which is another way of saying that I’ve gone off my 30-day reset diet.

I’d written about 2,000 words explaining why — it was a bit of a rant — but it didn’t pass the Sheylara OCD Edit so it’s all gone. No one wants to read 2,000 words of someone ranting about going off a diet, anyway.

So, here’s a one-line summary: My supposedly acid-reflux healing diet gave me acid reflux on Day 7 because I’m intolerant to coconut products and curry powder, so I got angry and staged a rebellion.

Well, I haven’t completely gone off the diet. I’ve merely postponed it for several reasons which no one will bother to read so I won’t bother to write.

The diet did work to a good extent since it’s basically a diet that avoids foods known to induce adverse reactions. But I’m just one of those people who’s allergic to everything and safe from nothing so, eventually, something always gets me.

I mean, the whole reason I started getting severe acid reflux was because I decided to introduce some “healthy” habits — drinking camomile and green tea instead of Earl Grey, drinking more water throughout the day, doing HIIT workouts, etc, all of which I found out the hard way are acid reflux triggers for health-resistant people like me.

So, like I said, I got angry and rebelled. I went on a strike. Kind of against myself. Because it makes perfect sense for people to rail against themselves when something bad happens to them that isn’t their fault.

For a whole week, I woke up whenever I wanted, slept whenever I wanted, ate whatever I wanted and did whatever I wanted.

It was kind of nice. Like a vacation. But like one of those vacations where your stomach doesn’t like the local food so it spends half your vacation complaining about it to the toilet in your hotel room.

Still, it was a good vacation. While I did suffer myriad digestive problems from eating whatever the damn I felt like, the chocolates and biscuits (which I’d lain off for like four months previously) drowned my brain in endorphins and drove the anger away.

I’m ready to start clawing my way back to good health again.

And I’m back staring at this WordPress editor full of words I might decide to completely obliterate at the next reading.

Or maybe I will just post it.

Sheylara

For my grandmother

My grandmother passed away last week at age 98. She was my paternal grandmother, my last surviving grandparent.

I wasn’t going to write about it because I felt it was a bit morbid, and also pretentious, since I had failed to appreciate her adequately in the last decade or so.

But I didn’t get to say goodbye to her officially (wasn’t able to attend the funeral in Singapore) and continued thinking about her through the weekend, so I thought I’d say a few words as a goodbye.

 

I didn’t have a particularly close relationship with my grandmother because we never lived together and, for a large part of my life, I only saw her once a year during Chinese New Year.

Also, we didn’t speak the same language. I could speak a bit of her language (Teochew, a Chinese dialect) but at a laughable child’s level. We communicated sometimes in Mandarin but we were both rubbish at it. My relatives used to laugh at me (affectionately) when I was little, saying I sounded like a Caucasian trying to speak Mandarin.

Still, I remember my grandmother as a caring and hardworking woman with a sense of humour. I don’t have any specifics, but I do remember moments when she would tease her grandchildren and laugh at our cute foibles.

 

My main memory of her is of the time when I was 21 and in hospital for surgery to remove a bone tumour. I was only in there for about a week, but she came to see me every day and brought me tonics she’d lovingly boiled.

After I was discharged, she came to stay so she could look after me while I recuperated. She cooked me nutritious, healing meals and helped with chores around the house until I was well again.

I didn’t know that was typical of the care she showed all her children and grandchildren until I read stories about her from my cousins in Facebook. I mean, I never really thought about what she was doing with her life since I was all wrapped up in my own world. I guess she went around a lot, helping whomever needed help. And it was probably a lot of going around because she had 10 children and 28 grandchildren.

 

I’m guilty of not having ever made the effort to spend time with her and get to know her. I didn’t know how to, not just because of the language barrier but because I grew up not having the ability to have a conversation with anyone (Asperger Syndrome).

All the same, I’m thankful that she loved me unconditionally, anyway.

Thank you, ah ma. I’m sorry I could never have told you this in person, but I appreciate everything you did for your family. May you rest in peace now.