Today is a commemorative day to our family. It is the hundredth-day mourn that we are in grief to our Aunt Lian who had crossed over to another realm on 17th of May 2013.
I had a short chat on the net with my older sister several days ago, and I found out that she and her family would make a trip back to the hometown in Teluk Intan. They have planned to attend and assist my father to carry out the tradition ritual of offering a salvation prayer to Aunt Lian.
Aunt Lian was firstly admitted to the council hospital in the hometown when I was still travelling in Sri Lanka. I took a flight home with a throb of suspense after hearing the news. Looking back four months ago before she was admitted to the hospital, though Aunt Lian was already getting weak of old age and only serving on soft diet due to lack of competency in swallowing, it has never given rise to our mind that bronchopneumonia, an aspiration pneumonia was in attack. It was to cost Aunt Lian her life soon later.
In the council hospital, the physician after having done up with his medical diagnosis, he had no choice but to treat Aunt Lian on a high dose antibiotic therapy to counter the chemical pneumonitis caused by the entrance of oral contents aspirated into the bronchial tree of the lungs. Bacterial pathogens had added to the inflammation. Aunt Lian was advised to feed on Ryles tube then onwards. Feeding solids was no more a choice. Sixteen days later, Aunt Lian was discharged from the council hospital for home. We were relieved. But our relief did not last long to alleviate our series of apprehension. It was only a temporary relief.
That morning, Grace Lai with a breath of anxiety arrived at the hospital searching for the ICU ward after receiving an anxious telephone call from my sister. She, a joined at the hip to my sister had hurriedly rushed to Assunta Hospital in Petaling Jaya wanting to visit Aunt Lian and hoping that, in the way she always could, to alleviate some anxiety from bouldering our minds. At that time, Aunt Lian was already equipped completely on a life support. We did not relinquish every single chance to revive Aunt Lian from coma. But survival rate was not optimistic.
In the afternoon at 5.15 pm, the team of nurses was summoned by the emergency unit to the ICU ward where Aunt Lian was ridden. Aunt Lian was seemingly a body without soul by then. The nurses were hastened into the ward to rescue and had tried to resuscitate Aunt Lian. All they have done, they had done beyond they were able. Aunt Lian made a cross over that afternoon very peacefully. It was a deep grief to us. The dark day was only four weeks apart after Aunt Lian was given a green light from the council hospital in our home town to allow her a discharge.
Looking at the medical record, Aunt Lian was 74. She had neither suffered from major sickness nor ailments in her younger days. She was adamantly healthy and dreadfully resisted to be treated with western medicines for any illness that inflicted on her. It was a belief to her, very adamantly that – slight illness, naturally the body will recuperate by itself. And for major sickness, she’ll remedy on herbs and having relied on the rumpled pieces of herbal prescriptions written by the olden day sages. Those herbal prescriptions were believed to be efficacious.
When I was a child, I always heard her making a claim sort of an invocation that, “Otherwise after the herbal remedy, our lives aren’t after all ceded down to the ‘Sky Kingdom’ in the heaven?” And she had an index finger pointing upward to the sky. She had lived through the brutality of the era of wars that disastrously ruined the lives of many. Hers was not spared. She had also lived under the circumscription of a maltreating childhood and a never easy harsh adulthood. Having we understood what she had gone through in her life, we are not able to deny but passionately to cede with her that she had every right to preserve her own perception and way of thought.
In due course at home in the hometown, the funeral caretaker arrived with two white lanterns waiting to be suspended on the entrance of the mourning hall. The hako shaped paper lanterns were inscribed with a brush calligraphy written in black ink made of soot. The syllables in Chinese were written, read as such – “70-Blossoms-With-9”.
Literally it is taken as seventy plus nine, or in other words, it means seventy nine years old. In the tradition of our community, a deceased who had died of an old age, old enough to be recognized as a good death would be honoured on the mourning lanterns with the inscription of a blossom on it. The older a person crosses over, it is perceived that an abundance of wisdom the deceased has experienced in his or her life. It is an honour to the deceased.
Hock Boon, a close acquaintance of mine, came to me after seeing the mourning lanterns, whispered to me by my ear with his propensity trusting that he may not have heard appropriately of what I had shared with him in the hospital earlier. He muttered below his breath, “Isn’t Aunt Lian 74 years old?” Having asked his words, Hock Boon began to feel a little uneasy himself, assuming that he could have gone too far to have uttered his words as such in a mourning funeral though it was out of a concern.
As a matter of fact, Aunt Lian’s biological age was 74 years old and it is also decently correct to have said, she was 79 according to her lunar age. How does it find to sum an extra 5 years that was added on to her biological age?
To describe this, Aunt Lian was born on 21st January 1939. The Gregorian year 1939 according to Lunar calendar was a rabbit year but it has a spilt over of Tiger zodiac during the beginning months of 1939. It also means that the ending of the Lunar year of Tiger had fallen on the beginning of the Gregorian year of 1939. My aunt whom was born on January 21 was a zodiac of Tiger though 1939 was in fact a Rabbit year. In the Chinese astrology, a person who leaps through another zodiac symbol in one year gains a year older. So, Aunt Lian was honoured to keep one extra year here.
The tradition believes that once when a baby is conceived, the embryo in the womb is as real as alive. There is already a life in the embryo. Otherwise the embryo in the mother’s womb would cease to have grown big. A live baby that sits in the womb of the mother is a baby of soul. The conceive of the soulful baby for 9 months in the womb is counted as if he has gained one year of life before he is brought forth by birth. Like anyone who uses Lunar calendar for age counting, Aunt Lian was honoured to keep another year here.
When one crosses over to another realm upon his or her demise, the tradition honours the deceased with a three-deferential-respect. First, it is an oblation offer to the sky kingdom. Secondly, it is an esteem lauded to the earth and the third, it is a respect given to the deceased own self. With three respects, the deceased is honoured with three years added on to their biological age.
On the mourning day till the funeral, sables were worn. We may not have observed the deep old traditional convention of wearing sables in black and fastening a piece of black gauze on the arm but we had put on white trousers and white top in return. My father as the patriarch of the family has opined that Aunt Lian, the eldest sister to my father, whom was having no blood kinship in a way to the four of us as her nephews and nieces, white sables were appropriate. It was one of the ways we thought we were able to show our heartfelt gratitude to her.
We did not observe the usual way of our tradition in burning paper replica money, but we burnt a paper replica house for Aunt Lian instead. Old traditions die hard. We know that it appears ludicrous to expect a deceased person to receive the paper replicas in a physical form in their realm, but it is mere a symbol of our affection we found on her.
On the funeral day, the remains of our Aunt Lian were cremated in Temoh, a small out-of-town village situated not far from Ayer Kuning. If you travel further on the same old federal road to the north, you’ll arrive at Ipoh, the state capital of Perak. The urn of ashes of our Aunt Lian was placed in the temple of the crematorium of Temoh.
In sorrow and grief, my father had expressed his lament that Aunt Lian was a woman of no kinship descendant. She was not a married woman. “But never mind”, we told our father. “She has her nephews and nieces, the four of us as her children.” In fact, she was already a grand aunt to the children of my brother and sisters.
Aunt Lian is a surrogate mother to us, as deeply she showered on us her affection like a mother when we were still toddlers. She raised us like her own when our mother died at young age. Losing her is like losing a piece of our souls. We hold grief to be departed with her. We know we have to continue living our lives to the fullest but grieving is inevitable. Grief is like a drawer that one opens, takes a look and, stows it back away. In the afterlife, soul never dies. She lives.
In the Yogiram Ashram this morning, on this 100th-Day mourning day, I prayed to Lord Shiva hoping that the soul of our Aunt Lian is placed together with the souls of the virtuous. Om Nama Shiva Ya, I prayed.
I have a notion to search for an Indian sweets shop in the town later. I solemnly wanted to purchase several packets of Indian sweets hoping to serve the ashram aspirants who would come to dine at the ashram in the evening today. Gulab Jamun or Pak or Bal Mithai will make me delighted – as a form of thanks giving and a mindful appreciation for everyone who had kept Aunt Lian in prayers and remembrance.
Lastly, do you know how old are you according to Lunar calendar? Of course you have to completely ignore the 3-year honour that adds on to your age. I bet you know what I mean. It is a taboo that you have to be alert of.
(Having stayed in Tiruvannamalai for a month, it’s time to leave India again before I am caught in trouble with the immigration office here. I would be leaving India from Chennai International Airport for Sri Lanka tomorrow. See you in Sri Lanka!)
January 1939 Calendar
January 1930 Calendar