I am glad that I have gone to see him before it was too late.
My 80-year-old eldest brother passed on the next day after I visited him the evening before.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, I have been unable to visit him for the last three months as he languished in the ward due to his delusional state of mind caused by dementia.
I have heard from his daughter that he put up a struggle being confined to the bed as he was uncooperative. No matter how state of the art the facilities are at the hospital, there was no way to pacify him. Medicine dulled his aggression and senses and it was also for his safety. Nobody could understand how the mind works.
Dementia is a terrible disease, causing an alteration in his perception of events and deterioration in his good nature. I felt pain for him as he was an active man all his life and generally positive. Not being able to visit him pained me further beyond words.
3 months later, on August 13th, I was informed that he was transferred to a long stay ward and I could be nominated to visit him. I decided to go straight to the hospital.
I had deliberated upon whether I should visit him after my niece told me that he had been uncommunicative and generally asleep as if in a semi-coma. My real fear was the reality of facing a dying man who was my beloved brother whom I had got to know better for the last ten years after his forced retirement. I have come to understand, love, and cherished him. Yet, I was torn by the fact that if I missed this opportunity, I would forever be a coward unable to face my mortality. So the decision to go immediately.
Ten years ago, the government took away his license to teach as a driving instructor citing that he was too old. My brother was still fit mentally and physically and he was quite distraught with the loss of purpose and financial independence.
All his life, he had worked hard though he never made much money. But his passion and principles of doing his job well left him with many friends who respected his work ethics.
In his earlier years, he had gone through lean times with my parents back in the forties and fifties when Singapore was an island. I heard from my older sister that they have gone to pick up many used milk cans and sold the tins for a few cents each to gain some allowance.
He worked briefly in a media company as a young man after finishing school, entered into a business partnership that failed, and finally settled to teach driving which became his passion. All this while, the vicissitudes of life which I am sure were many never got him down at least that was my experience with him talking to him.
When he lost his job and he was visibly lost, I made it my mission to make life different and happy for him. We started to travel with my other siblings as well.
As I approached the bed, I saw my brother curled up on the bed, breathing through a respirator, his eyes were partially shut. The creases on his suntanned skin were gone, his facial muscles relaxed. I believed he could still hear me although his motor responses were impaired.
At one point, he showed some alertness. That was when I quickly held my brother’s hand and said a prayer for him asking him to communicate with God in his heart and to seek his peace with God.
I also asked him to think of all the wonderful times we had as siblings traveling together often since his retirement, watching movies regularly, and having frequent lovely meals together.
That was what I wanted to him to focus on — good times and memories. Who has room and time for any more negativity? Only wonderful thoughts should prevail.
The innumerable photos attested to all the great times we had. He was a nice person to travel with — no complaints, easy on food and lodging and always watching out for us. He was considerate and caring. One time, I was late for boarding, he had waited for me at the boarding gate although my other sibling had boarded the plane. He said he would not leave without me.
We had covered more than 10 destinations, mostly in Asia and Australia. The last trip to Shenzhen and Hong Kong when he was almost 80 was evident that traveling was getting too cumbersome for him but he still enjoyed to the best of his ability. He was such a good sport.
My brother ended his journey the following day after my first and last visit to the hospital and I always suspected that he had waited for me. It was time to let go. He had a serious bout of illness before which he overcame many years ago with determination and discipline but this time, Death was certain.
But Death did not triumph. My brother had triumphed. Because in living longer, he had shown me how he overcame more adversities that one could count and I had witnessed him savor life every day even when his work was taken away.
‘The song is ended but the melody lingers on’ — -Irving Berlin
Each day was a purposeful one. He continued to keep himself fit though his sports went from active badminton to jogging to slow walk in his final year.
He continued to visit his friends as they departed one by one.
He continued to smile and laugh at the smallest thing and always expressed gratitude for the enjoyment he could have.
Death was certain and necessary for this world to move forward as it always has been and will be ever-present. His departure was a renewal for us, a reminder that Life is precious, a reminder to live it fully and with purpose no matter the circumstances. Everything is temporal but live it meaningfully.
As the quote goes, “ Death smiles at us and we can only smile back”. We learn that this is not the best that we can do. We can smile back if we find peace within ourselves with God and with a positive attitude.
There is so much to do in our lives that we not only smile but laugh when the time comes.
We learn that we must make good memories by being our best selves and treasure the lovely times so that all these will fill our minds and spirits and still leave the rest something to reminisce about.