3rd Aunt is in red jacket, in front.
What is it about death that so preoccupies us? I think about death or dying often. It is morbid. But our gurus tell us to practice dying. So often, I think, about how I want to die – peacefully of course, and in my sleep. Hopefully my death will not cause much grief. Hopefully by then I would have gained enough merits so that I will have a good rebirth. That’s a simple wish. For now, I wish to live a long and healthy life!
My third aunty died about a month ago. I call her Koo-Ma in Cantonese. Sam Koo-Ma, to be exact. That’s how I will always remember her.
I will always remember how she loves to put curly fringes on my hair. She thinks my hair too straight. Everytime we go to her home-based hair saloon, she would put little curlers around my fringe to make them curl. How I hated those curly fringes. Out of politeness, I always told her they looked good (how can anything which shimmers in front of your head like little black earthworms look good?). For the first 14 years of my life, I reckon, I had my hair done by my Sam Koo Ma. Her fashion was to be my hair style.
The last time we had a big ball was when Sam Koo Ma came with other aunts to visit me in Auckland. So in Auckland I heard, for the first time, my Sam Koo Ma’s vocal prowess. She was a fa tan (principal female voice) in the Cantonese opera troupe she sang in. She tells me then, she practices daily, even into her 70s. She sang at my friend’s house – and she gave me a sense of her real accomplishments. How I wish I had asked her more about her love of Cantonese opera, how it came about; what she sang of; and whose stories she was singing.
We visited Queenstown – she marvelled at every shop in Arrowtown, fussed over buying the choicest bit of greenstone but didn’t end up with a piece. She loved the Warehouse, going through bits of cheap Chinese imports there. She loved the WinterGarden at the Domain, and marvelled at the plants -- their vibrancy. She loved the feijoas in our garden and helped sweep my back deck – putting me to shame. There she was, with my other aunty, cleaning my house while on holiday. That’s their nature…never sitting still. Working, working every minute.
She ran a hair saloon, cooked, cleaned, raise 4 children. I know her to be strongly independent and fiercely outspoken, never once to mince her words. What amazes me most is her having her last child, at 40. My cousin, the most beautiful baby ever, was born when my aunt was 40 and my mom looked after her baby for a while, while my aunty ran her saloon at home. She didn't stop her work even when a new baby arrived. She just kept on and on.
When I think of her, I also think of someone who just gets on doing what she does best. She is full of her own brand of wisdom, telling me once to always wash my dishes with a clean little towel so the detergent doesn’t linger; to always eat without too much salt; to not eat too much fried food. I must confess, her food is a little bland to me but she makes a mean Hainanese-style curry chicken. She practices her own brand of compassion: when my step grandmother died, Sam Koo-Ma helped take her ashes to be spread out in the sea at dusk, weeping for my step-grandmother, sharing in my mother's step sister's grief.
She was never one to raise her voice. But you can feel her anger or disapproval. Her eyes, they told you everything. Her face is pretty much an open book. She was a pretty black and white person.
The last time I saw her was in Klang, in July 2010. I made an attempt to drop by her house – by then she was in a wheelchair, unable to speak due to a muscular degenerative disease (I was told). She tried to give me back a little money I gave her…generous to the end, that’s how she was. She couldn’t speak – but through her eyes I could see defeat, frustration. I see disappointment too, a sense of “what has become of me”. I soothed her hand for while, letting know all is well with us in Auckland. Princess is fine. I told her to take care. Inside, I wept for her loneliness which she shares alone, for her inability to do anything for herself. Inside, I wish she had a peaceful death. May you have a good rebirth my beloved aunt. You will always have a special place in my heart. Till we meet again.