I’ve been on a roller-coaster ride of family emergencies. Locations I have been in 6 days include: London Heathrow, Kuala Lumpur International Airport, Pullman Hotel Bangsar, University Hospital Petaling Jaya, and various outlets on the hunt for vegetarian food. The purpose was two fold. One – care for my dying grandmother. Two – pass on a message to my dead wife via dying grandmother. Yes, nuts it was and bonkers I am.
Despite being there just two months ago, I had to go back in Malaysia all of a sudden, where my eighty-four year old grandmother (Poh Poh) was on the brink of death in intensive care. At times on this trip, I’ve felt totally out of my depth and desperately wished I was a child with no responsibility. Now, I recognise I’m a damn strong adult and am being British Airwayed home as I write, feeling satisfied that I have also been a good granddaughter.
I wasn’t expecting any of this because my Poh Poh is so fighting fit. I have a funeral flights fund, but that was created with my grandfather in mind. Poh Poh lives alone, cleans the house, walks up and down to the market and leads prayer meetings at church. This is a woman who is feisty as fuck, and shouts at the telly when Manchester United aren’t doing well in a match. She loves Jesus and says she doesn’t mind being alone because she has the Lord for company (and lots of old copies of Readers’ Digest). I love her.
When I was little, Poh Poh would make me French toast for breakfast and cover it in ridiculous amounts of sugar. Malaysians have no concept of low-sugar recipes. She’d sing Jesus Loves Me to me in Cantonese even though I don’t understand the language. She’d bring packages of clothes over to the UK which once included my favourite headband in the whole world – a hideous pink and white one with gold bits and faux pearls. It was epic and I’m pretty sure the street cred stopped me getting bullied for at least a month. She’s the one who got me into wearing lycra, even though I was an obese little mini elephant, often wearing tap shoes. She was always ‘resting her eyes’ (aka sleeping), or possibly getting lost in a trance like state of prayer.
In my mind, I’m about five and she is in her sixties. Logically, my grandmother is going to die soon. I knew that. Every time I say goodbye to my grandparents, I make sure to say it as if it is the last time I’ll see them alive so when I heard the news of how ill she is, I felt at peace with the goodbye bit and said to myself mine and widow bestie’s favourite phrase, ‘it is what it is’.
But my subsequent thought was, ‘Fuck! I need to go and give her messages to pass onto my wife in heaven, just in case all the signs I get from wife are all in my head and she’s not actually watching or hearing me.’ This probably sounds totally insane, but I have total faith in an afterlife where I will see my loved ones again. So off I went on a plane to get to Poh Poh on time. I used my late wife’s air miles to get a free ticket (thanks sweetheart!).
‘Fuck! I need to go and give her messages to pass onto my wife in heaven, just in case all the signs I get from wife are all in my head and she’s not actually watching or hearing me.’
It’s been emotionally tough. Really tough. I was alone for the first few days or so as the main blood relative who was entitled to ask questions and make decisions. Malaysian healthcare isn’t the best, so I had to quickly establish myself as someone not to be ignored, by blagging my way through asking technical medical questions, provided by my intensive care nurse American auntie, and taking notes in a serious looking way. On the plus side, I also discovered a non verbal method of asserting myself in that having my boobs on display was a great way of making the doctors come and see my Poh Poh more frequently, and convincing the very diligent guards, including one lesbian, to let me in outside visiting hours.
For the first few days, she just wasn’t with it. To pass the time, I’d gently wash her face, cleanse and moisturise and put lip balm in her. It pissed off the nurses because the plasters wouldn’t stick to bits of her face but heck, I firmly maintain that if you can’t feel good, you might as well look good. Widow lesson number 1. I’m certain no other patients were getting Clarins anti-wrinkle cream lovingly rubbed into their faces while they were unconscious. I also did physio with her every day to compensate for her being flat on her back for over a week.
I had no idea if she could hear me at that particular time, but I did tell her all the things I want her to pass on in heaven to my wife. I told her to tell her I love her. That I miss her. That I forgive her. That I think of her every single day – multiple times. I said to let her know that I’m happy, that I’m living a full life, that I’m going to fall in love again, but that I wish she didn’t have to leave me.
Unlike my wife, who killed herself with very little warning, I was on time for my Poh Poh. I was in plenty time. Because, despite being in intensive care with an extremely poor prognosis when I first arrived, it turns out that it’s not Poh Poh’s turn to go and meet Jesus yet. She’s recovering. Prayer works. My grandfather was the minister of Malaysia’s largest Baptist church so there are literally hundreds of people praying for her (and visiting by the car full) and my family because we’re effectively evangelical celebs Malaysian style. I think Poh Poh is a bit pissed off that God got her hopes up about reaching eternal bliss, but she’s making do complaining about the fact that the hospital gown is a vile shade of Barbie pink and worrying that everyone else is worrying about her.
For that, I am grateful. I said my goodbyes, and I passed the messages on. I’m covered for both eventualities. Now, back in London I am with a fucker of a boss and a shit load of work to catch up on. Does this ever get easier? Yes, it does, but my jetlag prevents me from seeing it at the moment.
Catch up post-Vegas posts to follow shortly. They’ll be far more upbeat – promise!