Earlier this evening (28th Oct) I shared a devotion from Luke 4:22–30 which includes the following verses (vv. 22–30):
All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way. (NIV)
The people in the synagogue wanted to kill Jesus but they couldn’t. It wasn’t His time. I have long believed that it is the Lord who decides when we exit this life, just as He is the one who decides when we enter this life. I believed it of my mum when she transited from this life to the next last Wed (Oct 20th), one day after her 94th birthday. It was a privilege to be by her side when she made the transition.
The previous time I saw mum was a year ago. It was in the midst of the Covid pandemic. I had not seen mum for seven months. Mum was 92 and I didn’t know if I would see her again. I wondered if I would receive that phone call in the middle of the night to let you know that a loved one had passed away. At that point in time, when we inquired at the Malaysian High Commission (I live in Singapore), I was told that I could go back to Malaysia, stay as long as I wanted and then return to Singapore. But if I were to go to Malaysia again, I would not be allowed to leave the country.
So, a year ago I came to Penang, did two weeks quarantine in a government-designated hotel and spent a very special four weeks with mum, seeing her every day. What was special was that I could celebrate her 93rd birthday with her. Son Andrew was in Kuala Lumpur and he came up to Penang to spend time with his dad and grandma. My sister Sandy and family also came up for the birthday celebrations. When I got back to Singapore I wondered if I would see mum again. Calls through channels like WhatsApp didn’t quite work because of mum’s advanced dementia and her poor hearing. I began to pray that I would see mum at least one more time before she went home to the Lord.
Time passed and one day we thought we’d go to the Malaysian High Commission again to ask if the rules had changed. Maybe we shouldn’t have been surprised that the information about the change in the rules had not been posted anywhere, but we were told that I could travel in and out of Malaysia as often as I wanted. However, returning to Malaysia meant I still needed to do my two-week quarantine. Good thing was I could apply to do my quarantine in my own residence if it fulfilled certain requirements.
So, I found myself back in Penang and able to see mum again! But there were new rules to protect the health of the patients in her dementia centre. Mum sat in her wheelchair at the doorway while I sat some distance away, practising safe distancing. And I had to wear a face mask and a face shield. Later, when she was bed-bound I had to wear full PPE at times to go visit her.
Mum was weaker than a year ago. She was sleeping most of the time now and only looked up briefly when I talked to her or when I sang hymns for her. When asked by the staff, she seemed to remember that I was Chye Chye, her son, sometimes. I settled into my routine of visiting her every day. But the day before her 94th birthday her oxygen levels began to drop dangerously, and her heartbeat slowed significantly. I was told to prepare for the worst. There were a number of such crisis moments before she finally passed on.
I am gripped by mixed feelings and it will take me awhile to sort them out and to process my grief. But what is clear to me is that God was in full control of the time of mum’s passing.
1. I was in Penang when she passed on. If she had passed on when I was in Singapore, I wonder how I would get back for the funeral. If she had passed on during my two-week quarantine I wonder what I would have had to do to participate in the funeral. But she passed on when I was in Penang and had cleared my two-week quarantine and could be free to be with her when she passed on and could be free to make all the arrangements for her wake and funeral.
2. Interstate travel in Peninsular Malaysia had just re-opened the previous week and so my sister and her family could come up to Penang to say goodbye before she passed on and to be part of the wake and the funeral. It also meant I wasn’t alone in this tumultuous time. (Darling Bernice wanted so much to be here but couldn’t under present immigration rules.)
3. Then there was the matter of the funeral home. Because of Covid restrictions, we couldn’t have any services at home or in the church’s premises. The funeral home of choice was the one at a place called Bukit Gantong. The funeral halls were separate from each other so there would have been less distraction from the services at the other halls. Some local religious traditions have services that can be rather loud. We respect the beliefs of other religions but we would want a more quiet and reflective atmosphere. The second choice was the funeral home at Mt. Erskine. When we moved mum’s body over, there were three Taoist services going on in the adjacent halls though we were relieved to get a corner hall. The undertaker told us not to worry as the volume of the other services were higher because it was the last day of their ceremonies and all three of the other services would end by the following day. Indeed, the following two days, one for the wake, and one for the funeral service, were days when we were the only ones at the funeral home. There was no way we could have engineered this. But God was in control and we had very meaningful services.
You could say that this set of events was purely circumstantial. I think that would take more faith. I believe God had mercy and arranged everything so we could focus on saying goodbye to mum.
There was one more blessing. We were wondering if I had to do two weeks of quarantine when I got back to Singapore, and in a government-approved facility at our own cost. We were prepared that this might be the case though we were hoping and praying that we could do the quarantine in our own home. I would be tired and I suffer from some degree of claustrophobia. Last weekend, we heard that those who are coming from Malaysia need only do a ten-day quarantine in their own residence. God had arranged everything.
I am sure in the days ahead I will have to confront and grieve the fact that mum is no longer in this world. But she awaits in the next. And God assured me He was in control by how He arranged everything.