Thursday, April 19, 2007

Chapter Eight - The Eleventh Hour



“Going home means the oxygen supply would have to be pulled off," I told Father. "And, you would not live very long after that. Do you still want to go home?" He nodded his head once again.

THE WISH of a dying man has always been to meet his own family members for the very last time. Father managed to meet all his relatives on the night before he passed away. He had kept on asking about Friday night of October 9. It was my cousin's wedding.

None of us understood why, until Friday night came and things became very clear to me only the moment Auntie Irene from Tampin stepped into the hospital ward.

“That’s it! This is the very moment that Father has been waiting for,” I thought.

Father knew all along that the wedding was the only best occasion where he could meet his relatives all at the same time. There could not have been any better time for all his relatives to congregate around him.

Immediately after the wedding dinner, his family members rushed to visit him at the hospital. It was already nearly 11pm. They were crowding around his death bed.

The moment Auntie Martina stepped into the hospital room, she immediately held her brother’s hand. “Praise the Lord! Would you like me to pray for you?"

Father nodded his head in silent agreement and held out his hand to Auntie Martina, who started to pray for Father in the midst of all the relatives. He had a serene look in his face.

As soon as that was over, I got each of the Aunties to shake his hands beginning from the eldest, Auntie Kim Lean, followed by Auntie Kim Poh, Auntie Kim Tin, Auntie Kim Tkwee, Auntie Irene, and finally, the youngest, Auntie Martina.

I went through the names of his brothers one by one as I did with his sisters. The eldest, Thye Er, being Auntie Angeline's husband, had passed away a long time ago. Father was the second in his family. The third, Uncle Kim Hye was in Australia and he had just written an email to say that he hoped to visit Malaysia very soon. Uncle Kim Seng, the fourth, was now in California. The fifth, Uncle Kim Hock and the youngest, Uncle Johnny were both in Melbourne and they had also sent their regards. Only Uncle Billy, being the sixth in the family, was present that night. Finally, the in-laws and the nieces and nephews also had the chance to hold his hand for the last time.

Father could hardly utter a word by now. All he could do at this point was to gesture goodbye to all his relatives when they finally left at about 12 midnight.

* * *

THAT NIGHT Uncle Billy and I stayed overnight at the hospital with him. I went to sleep for nearly two hours. When I woke up at 2 o'clock in the morning, I noticed something amiss with Father's condition.

He had by now fallen into a coma. His eyes could hardly move. They were staring straight to his right, as if looking at someone standing by his side. I kept wetting his lips with water, which were already very dry by now. All that he could say was, "Hot!" Occasionally, he could still swallow some water.

I kept ministering to him as I hummed the two songs, "Shepherd of Love" and "What A Friend We Have In Jesus." With my index finger, I continued to reassure him as I wrote on his chest words like "Jesus loves you" and "Joy in Heaven." It was the word "Joy" that he seemed to respond very well. I later repeated it aloud to him minutes before he passed away. He knew that was what he was expecting in the life hereafter.

The Eleventh Hour

By 9 o'clock in the morning, all my family members had arrived at the hospital. Before long, there was a debate over the question of whether to bring him back home or not.

Initially, I objected. "Earlier, I had suggested to bring him back, but you all objected," I said. A friend of mine had volunteered to help look after him right after his examinations.

"Now, with his condition like that, it would only mean sending him off earlier," I continued. "The moment the oxygen supply is taken off, he would not survive even an hour."

"And, the fact that he has heart problem, no one knows if he could even survive a heart attack while being ferried home," I reasoned.

Realising that my family members were adamant about their decision, I finally suggested: "Let us ask him. That's the best. If he wants to go home, he will let us know."

Mother spoke to him. “If you want to go home, raise your hand. We will take you home,” she said.

He was probably too weak by now to even lift up his hand.

Then, I asked Mother to put forward the question again, this time asking him to nod his head. He nodded, in agreement.

Once more, I asked Mother to ask. He nodded his head. Then, I personally explained to him the consequence of going home. "Going home means the oxygen supply would have to be pulled off," I said. "And, you would not live very long after that. Do you still want to go home?"

He nodded his head once again. Assured of his response, I gave the greenlight to my eldest sister, Su Lin who immediately arranged for an ambulance to ferry Father back to the family home in Kepong. The rest of the family members and relatives were contacted to prepare everything at home before the arrival of the ambulance. A bed was prepared in advance to welcome Father. By now, the burial clothes were already bought for him, according to Chinese traditional rites. Su Lin had earlier gone to buy them in the morning, realising that Father was not going to live very long.

My final words of comfort to Father caused a little stir in the family.

“Yes, you will get a new body in Heaven,” I told him in the presence of Auntie Yin, who was with us in the ward. “Don’t worry. You only need to continue to trust in Jesus. Do wait for me in Heaven when you get there.”

“Remember that you asked earlier in your pain, whether Jesus will hold your hands for three days. He has. Indeed, even more than three days. He is faithful,” I continued to reassure him.

Deciding on Funeral Rites

I made it clear to my relatives by now that Father had accepted Christ as his personal Saviour. I did not choose to reveal it earlier on so as not to create a stir in the family. I had wanted for Father to reveal it himself to the rest of the family.

One thing was however clear to me by now: Father had made his own decision to take Jesus as his personal Saviour. It was not a coerced decision. I wanted him to make his own public confession. He did just that when he said his last words to his family members: "You all must love Jesus." There was also evidence that he had felt the power of love when he confessed and brought healing to my mother, through those magical words : "I LOVE (YOU)". A confession of love that was never uttered all through their married life together.

Meanwhile, my family members were debating whether to proceed with their funeral rites since they learnt that he had become a Christian. I had to be very direct, since they had decided they would follow their own funeral rites: "If you agree, being the only son, I am prepared to take up the funeral. My church pastor is willing to conduct the funeral service since he was satisfied that Father has truly believed in Jesus as his personal Saviour. But, if you wish to proceed with your funeral rites, know this fact that what is left behind is only the shell. The soul is already in heaven, once he is gone. You can do whatever you want to the body. But, do not force me to follow your rites. And, if I refuse to follow your rites, no one has the right to ostracize. You know I love my father. You know I respect him and I have taken care of him all the while."

All these two weeks, I had been taking care of Father practically every night. My family members knew for a fact that it was my love for my father that had been clearly demonstrated. It is the power of love that silenced every mouth at the end of the day. Even those who tried to dissuade others from believing in the Gospel of Jesus Christ could not utter a word of contempt or accused me of not being filial. They knew the extent of my love for my father. God loved my father. And, I loved him, too.

Ticking by the Minutes

1.30pm – we were already wheeling him down to the ambulance room. Before going into the ambulance, I called out to Mother: "See, his eyes are moving right now!"

I was supposed to lead the ambulance, but instead, I was caught in the traffic jam. The ambulance, weaving through the traffic jam, arrived a few minutes earlier than me. By the time I parked the car in front of the house, Father was already in the house by 2.15pm.

By now, most of the relatives had arrived. Some of the aunties had stayed on after my cousin, Agnes' wedding, because they knew that Father did not have very long to live. They were all waiting in my family home. A little commotion began when the ambulance attendants wanted to leave. We were left without an option: the oxygen supply had to be removed.

“Can’t we just give him a bit more time to settle down?” I protested. “Or, at least, to wait till my youngest sister, Su Li is back home.” She was caught in a massive traffic jam along Jalan Kuching caused by some public demonstrations in the city.

“We can’t wait too long,” the attendants told us. “We have to go back to the hospital. We have other jobs to attend to.”

I had no choice but, being the only son, I reluctantly removed his oxygen supply. I kept reminding Father that, when he goes, he would be given a completely new body.

“Continue to trust in the Lord and not worry about this old body of yours. You will have a new body in Heaven. There is joy in Heaven,” I reminded him again. “Will you wait for me there?”

Father was slowly losing his ability to breathe normally by the time the oxygen supply was removed at about 2.30pm.

“Quick! You have to change over to the burial clothes,” a relative immediately instructed the family members. Father had earlier put on a light blue pyjamas, as part of the traditional Chinese belief that a dying man must not go naked. When I later searched the Scriptures, I found this passage, which spoke of a different kind of nakedness:-

"Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come." (2 CORINTHIANS 5:1-5)

His Last Breath

We had to move Father side ways to change his clothes. His immediate family members, including my brother-in-law, Victor, helped to change the clothes. In the process, at 2.45pm, he inhaled his last breath. He went away peacefully, knowing the greatest miracle of all – the miracle of the blood of the Lamb that was shed on the Cross of Calvary – which provides the only Cure for the curse of sin.

He wanted to die at home and now he had gone home to be with the Lord in paradise, as a fourteen-day old born-again believer. One who had only learnt the meaning of God's love and His forgiveness, which is given freely to all mankind on the basis of what Jesus had done on the Cross. The night before he passed away, I wrote on his chest the title of the book that I promised him that I would write in his honour.

The demise of my father happened so suddenly, but we had all the while anticipated it as we saw that his condition was deteriorating fast. I believe he finally came to know about his condition, when on the final Saturday morning, I had freely discussed with the doctor about his lung and possibly colon cancer, which we suspected had also spread to the brain as well. He was in a coma, but like most cases in a coma, I believe he must have overheard the conversation taking place right beside his hospital bed. By now, I believe, he had also anticipated that he would be dying soon.

Father passed away at 2.45pm on October 10, 1998.

THE FUNERAL went on the traditional Taoist way. Pastor Law who was convinced that Father had truly accepted Christ had offered to standby should we choose to carry out the funeral in the church. However, he assured me that what was left behind was only an empty shell -- basically a lifeless corpse.

“Let your family follow their own customs since they insist on it,” Pastor Law had supported my decision. “The most important is that on the basis of his confession of faith in Christ, your father is now saved and in Heaven with the Lord.”

When Pastor Law Chee Wah and Mrs Law paid their last respect the following day, Pastor Law remarked: "He went away peacefully." The same was echoed by Koo-poh, an old lady who had earlier witnessed to him in the hospital. Mother's own observation: "He appeared like he has just gone to sleep." His left eye was opened slightly, as if he was looking a distance into the future. Part of his lower lip was dry. His lips were partially separated, showing slightly the lower part of his front teeth. That gave him the look of a smiling gentleman. Father had the look of a perfect gentleman from China.

Father was to be cremated on Monday morning of October 12. On Sunday night, the monks came and started the all-night chanting. My sisters followed through the rites. My cousin brother, Vincent, represented me in the ceremony, while I was sitting around with my relatives and friends.

There were some backmouthing around, as friends and relatives judged my actions as being disrespectful of the dead. I had earlier said that there were things that I would follow, and there were things that knowingly, I would refuse to follow. I had put on my white T-shirt and a pair of black trousers. I was wearing a little sackcloth on my left arm. Those were clearly my sincere sign of mourning and deep respect for my father’s demise.

In my heart, I felt the peace of God knowing that Father was now in Heaven. He did not have to be prayed to. He did not have to receive all those paper houses and cars and servants. In Heaven, he now has everything that he needs.

“There is nothing lacking in Heaven,” I reassured my relatives.

Some relatives were trying to advise me to follow through the religious rites. I firmly refused on the basis that the rituals were not honouring to God.

“Sorry,” I said. “I cannot partake of your rituals. I love my father and he knows that I love him. That’s more important! Not what I show to people.”

Thankfully, there were no quarrels that resulted from all these pressures as I had firmly told my family members that I would not bow to pressures. Mother was right when she later said: "When the person is still alive, love and respect is meaningful. Once he is gone, whatever you want to do is meaningless. It's all done for others to see. That's all!"

She was left with a hefty bill of some RM15,000 after that! The bills were all taken care of by the gifts of condolence from friends and relatives and I believe some part of it was also borne by my sister, who had paid for the medical bill.

The Testimony
Relatives and friends came over to pay their last respect. I had a copy of the "Path to Victory" New Testament, which I gave to Father, while he was still in the hospital. On it, I wrote, from the bottom of my heart:

You would have read this New Testament yourself had you become better. Nevertheless, it was not God's will, as I explained to you that He has a different plan for different people.
Some He heals; others, He gives a completely new body. You yourself know this when you said in your pain, "How long do I have to wait?"
When the doctor first told me that you have only a short time to go, I asked God, "WHY?" Why should this happen to you? His reply was very clear: "For His sake and for my sake."
For His sake - to show the greatness of His power. For my sake - so that I may get closer to you, to touch you, to show you once again my love for you that has always been in my heart.
Now, that you have gone to be with the Lord in paradise on this chosen day of October 10, 1998, I thank you for leaving behind your last words which I still find hard to believe my ears:

The New Testament was placed on the coffin. It was only removed on the morning of the funeral before the coffin was placed into the hearse. I did not want to burn the New Testament away, but kept it aside as a memorial of my father. Godwilling, it will be kept away nicely for a long time.

The coffin was opened for the last time in order that family members could pay their last respect. I stood there, weeping aloud. I had been crying every now and then, whenever the thought of missing my father crossed my mind. It was hard to contain the tears. For a long time, I had never cried as loud as that. It was painful to lose my father here on earth, although I knew that he was already in paradise with his God. While the rest of the family members felt it was a taboo, I took the opportunity to touch his cheek for the last time. He looked so peaceful.

Rest In Peace

Before the coffin was placed into the hearse, my family members had to follow through the rites again. I stood by the side to have my last look at the coffin. I volunteered to carry the coffin. When the hearse moved forward, we followed closely. It may be another taboo again, but my right hand was on the coffin all the time as the hearse moved forward. I could not control myself emotionally. I cried very loud, calling him: "Father!" Deep down in my heart, I knew I would miss him very much. He would not be there anymore. He was gone - forever, - until the day we meet face to face in Heaven.

I placed my niece, Lilian's hand on the coffin as well, alongside with mine. She was also crying. My sister, Su Lin was also crying very loudly. All of us, including the other two sisters, Susie and Su Li were unable to control our tears.

The moment the hearse reached the main entrance of Taman Kepong, we were all asked to turn on our back to let the hearse move forward. I chose not to turn mine, but with tears in my eyes, I waved goodbye to my father. I knew I had loved him while taking care of him.

It was a quiet, beautiful Monday morning, when the funeral took place. It had poured heavily on Saturday past midnight, but the weather was good throughout Sunday and Monday. The moment the hearse arrived at the City Hall crematorium at Jalan Kuari in Cheras, we lifted down the coffin and placed it at the centre stage. The rites went on as usual, while I was seated down with my relatives, after feeling exhausted from crying. The coffin was mechanically lowered down, where it was to be placed into the furnace.

We went downstairs to see the coffin moving towards the furnace. The gate of the furnace was opened and the coffin was pushed in. Just at that moment, I read from 1 Thessalonians 4: 13-18:

"Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord's own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words."

Auntie Martina and Auntie Susan stood by me, while the rest of the family members and relatives had moved on to the hall. After I had completed reading that passage, Auntie Martina immediately prayed:

"Dear Lord, I commit my brother into your bosom. Thank you for saving him during his last moments. We thank you for welcoming him into the kingdom of Heaven. Amen."

She later shared that she had some doubts about my father's destiny. That Monday night, after attending the funeral and going back to school to teach, she still made it to her church despite feeling exhausted. The speaker for the night spoke about the destiny of souls who died. When she approached the speaker after the message to ask about her brother, the pastor replied: "As long as the person has prayed the sinner's prayer, he will not be lost in hell. God will keep his soul in His bosom." Father had knowingly prayed the sinner’s prayer on September 27 and later, in one of his night visions, invited Jesus into his heart. There were several other people who talked to him, and they confirmed my conclusion: Father knew what he had done when he prayed to accept Jesus as his personal Saviour.

ON TUESDAY morning, we went back to the crematorium to collect the ashes to be placed in an urn. A slightly shiny jaded urn was picked to contain the ashes.

By 9.30am, we were already on our way to Semenyih, where Father's ashes were to be placed there. My youngest sister, Su Li had the chance to carry the urn all the way on the trip there.

By 10.40am, the urn was placed into a little pigeon-hole, built after the concept of a condominium or an apartment for the dead. It was bought for RM7,000. Mother had only bought the pigeon hole two days earlier to keep the urn. She had bought another one for herself just beside his. When the rest of the family members had paid their last respect with joss sticks and offerings, I paid my last respect to Father with a moment of silence as his ashes were laid to rest in peace.

No comments: