A Hong Kong drama was playing on our old television set in the living room where my great grandmother spent most of her days. I recalled how undeniably captivated she was by movies of this sort and how she would complain on and on about the unsatisfactory endings.
My gaze drifted to the shabby sofa seat she would sit in for hours on end. Images of my great grandmother clouded my thoughts. My eyes stung. It was all I could do to keep from crying for it had been a week since my family and I had lost her to old age.
I made my way out of the once cheerful living room and headed towards the backyard. A worn out swing set hung from the branch of a tree. I sat down.
The swing creaked unsteadily from my weight, but I knew it would hold me. This was my favourite place to think, to put my scrambled thoughts in order and a place to escape from reality. It was peaceful here and somehow, it helped to soothe my nerves. Nature had a way of calming even the fiercest of storms.
My great grandmother's passing came as a shock to us all as she had always been so healthy and full of life. She was a unique character who brought much joy into our lives and I just couldn't accept the fact that she was......gone.
How I regretted not spending more time with her for I missed her worldweary face, her hazel eyes that always gleamed with happiness and her stubborness to move around without the aid of a wheelchair eventhough it was clear that she was indeed, struggling. I guess you never know how much you love someone until they're gone.. I had never truly understood the meaning of those words until that very moment.
I could still remember clearly, as though it were yesterday, the time my great grandmother, or Lau Ma as I addressed her in Teochew, told me stories of her childhood. She reminisced a time when the air was fresher than ever, when there was still an abundance of forestry and lush greenery -tales of a tiny village in China, long ago demolished by tyrants to satisfy their thirst for wealth. She used to describe animatedly her perilous journey to Malaysia, eloping with her dear husband. Indeed, her life was one of adventure but of course, along with adventure came the inevitable hardships, for by the time she reached Malaysia, the Japanese were in reign. The Japanese, a spiteful bunch, invaded their home and it was a wonder that she survived to tell the tale. I was fascinated by her wonderful tales, each one more suspenseful than the last.
Lau Ma was the one whom first cultivated my immense love for reading. How so, you might ask? Well, she had never received education for only men were prioritised back then. She would let out exasperated sighs whenever books were to be seen as she could not read nor write. Thus, I came up with the idea of reading to her. I would stay up till the dead of night reading and translating books into Teochew, the only language she could understand, for I enjoyed pleasing her, loved seeing a smile upon her wrinkled face. Reading eventually turned into habit and since then, never a day was let to pass without the presence of a book by my side.
Recalling all these fond memories, it wasn't long before I found tears streaming down my face in rivulets. The accumulated grief and sorrow that consumed me for these past few days would stay hidden no longer. Sitting there, I cried. I cried and cried to my heart's content, till I could cry no more.
It was funny how everything around me seemed so normal. Birds were chirping nonchalantly in the canopy of leaves above me, squirrels were scurrying up and down the tree trunk and the scorching sun was shining brightly through the foliage, providing light and warmth with its intense rays. The normalcy of it all infuriated me. Didn't they know I had lost a significant member of my family? Didn't they care?
At that very moment, a tiny butterfy fluttered into sight and landed gracefully on my fingers. I was struck by its vibrant colours. Its wings consisted of every last colour of the rainbow, creating a dazzling contrast of reds and greens, purples and blues, a breathtaking sight.
We Chinese believed in reincarnation. We believed that, if you were to die, you would soon come back to this earth, not as a human, but rather as an animal or even an insect, particularly......a butterfly. I stared hopefully at the gorgeous little creature, hoping it might give a sign, any sign, of recognition. "Is it you, Lau Ma?", I felt stupid for putting all my faith in such an ignorant act. Just then, I could have sworn it gave the slightest hint of acknowledgement as it fluttered away. A refreshing breeze swept over me, as though it were whispering: Move on.
The encounter gave me profound hope. It made me come to my senses and realise that it was too late to regret now, I just had to...move on. Moving on didn't simply mean to forget, no, it meant to embrace every single moment that I had spent with my great grandmother, to etch them in my memories forever, and to continue on with life. What is done, is done, for time cannot be reversed. If there's one thing that I've learned from Lau Ma, it's that you only live once, and you, are the navigator of your own story, so Write It Well. Losing someone can virtually tear you apart, but only if YOU let it. Instead, Turn the pain into power and soldier on. Although my great grandmother had passed on, she still lives in the hearts, in the memories of those who hold her dear. With that happy thought, I smiled. And it was the first smile I managed in what seemed like an eternity.