The lady nurse behind the counter punched a hole through Gong Gong’s* Identity Card. She handed it over to my father, whose face was blank and devoid of emotion, together with an information card containing the contact details of casket agencies, and mortuaries.
Even though it was slightly after 6pm in the evening (the time of Gong Gong’s departure to which his doctor-in-charge said to my parents and me: “Is it OK?” and I thought, Did we have a choice about when we wanted him to go?), there was still a plenty of visitors and relatives of patients hustling and bustling around the Intensive Care Unit. My father and I had to cross paths with many of them to walk over to the cleverly-named “Last Room” where the metal box in which lay Gong Gong’s body was and where my mother was waiting for us to get the paperwork done.
I huddled closely to my father as my teeth clattered, trembling in my crumpled tear-stained blouse and pinafore, my school uniform.
“Cold?” My father whispered to us.
“No, I have my scarf. Hug her instead,” my mother replied.
When they say your memories flash by your eyes during critical moments of your life, I know they mean it because it’s happened to me.
As tears clouded my eyes, there was thunder. Then a flash of lightning appeared. It came in the wrong order, but it didn’t matter to me because I saw Gong Gong’s outstretched arms and bent body in an attempt to lessen the height difference between us.
A moment later I was rushing into his arms, and the next my head was on his lap, and we were on a travelling car. He coaxed me to sleep with his special lullaby, added with his own affectionate touches: his gong-sounding special effects, which I loved at that time, but mocked later as I grew older and stopped needing and wanting to hear it (little did I know I would sing it myself at his funeral, albeit minus his special effects because that was his job). His ammonia-scented pants were my best pillow.
We got off and we walked at the side of the multi-storey carpark. We stopped in front of his all-time favourite parking lot, number 244, as if we’d made a pact to stop there at the same time together.
“GG^, why you always park here one,” a young voice uttered. Probably mine.
“Easy to remember mah!” Gong Gong said with a smile.
I remember wondering whether it would be that easy to remember Gong Gong, for some reason.
The door to the cold room opened all of a sudden, causing all of us to jump. All of us, excluding Gong Gong, of course.
Another lady, different from the one at the counter, told us it was time. Time to say goodbye to Gong Gong for the second time that night, as workers transported his body to a van that would bring him to the casket agency.
I never thought I would be able to let go of Gong Gong, but in the end all that mattered was the time and memories we shared. Late that night of Gong Gong’s passing, as I walked into my bedroom to finally sleep, I thought to myself, this has actually, really happened. But I know that I couldn’t hold on to things or people that would surely, eventually go away. I knew I had to cherish my relationships, be them good or bad, and I had to live and let go, and then leave one day, because I would never know when people would just leave.
On the day of Gong Gong’s cremation, when I had to choose what to put on Gong Gong’s memorial tablet with my parents, I was given a choice of “Always remembered by family and loved ones” and “Always cherished by family and loved ones”. The person who asked what option we preferred asked as if I had to answer instantaneously.
It wasn’t that easy.
“Remembered” means what was after his passing, but “cherished” means what was before.
“Remembered” means bringing something from the past to the present but “cherished” means holding something in that present moment dear to me.
“Remembered” didn’t really apply at that moment, because there hadn’t been enough time for me to decide whether I would remember him easily, or perhaps willingly, or not. “Cherished” was certain because I knew I treasured every moment that he and I shared and that I knew how great the possibility was that every ticking second could have or be his last.
In the end, I chose “cherished”, because I knew I had to let him go. He had to leave, and I had to leave my grievances behind to move on. I had to live in the moment, and leave the rest behind in my memory.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master, as long as what is lost is remembered and what is lost was cherished.
*Gong Gong （公公） is an affectionate term, Chinese for "grandfather"
^I called Gong Gong "GG" too, as I was young and loved all things acronymized.