I always thought I was tough. Externally I looked tough, fit and strong. On the inside, I have always kept my emotions in check. Even when facing difficulties, I will grimace, smile, and keep going.
But I am glad I am not as strong, or heartless, as I thought. I cried so many times over the past week that I could feel my eyes ache. I cried as I was walking to work, I cried when I was taking the train, I cried when I looked at my Dad slowly slipping away in his final hours.
My last weekend literally changed my life. I received the call that he was warded in ICU. My brother said he was close to the end and if I want to see him, I had better come. I decided to go to the hospital, to meet my Dad whom I had not visited for almost a decade.
Standing outside the glass doors in the ICU, my tears flowed uncontrollably. The last time I cried for someone, it was for my mum who had left 12 years ago. Dad had been around then and he had managed my mum’s wake while I grieve. But after that, things in the family went downhill as we quarreled, and later broke apart. I moved out and stop contacting him.
But I knew of his life. The letters came from the hospital of his medical bills, for I had bought him hospitalization insurance. The family court letters also came, asking for maintenance. My brother’s messages filled in some gaps of my Dad’s life. I lived my own, knowing that I had family, but behaving like I didn’t.
He looked frail on the hospital bed, different from the image I had of him when he was younger and stronger. Like me, he had also been a tough person, working with his hands in labor intensive contracting jobs. But 6 rounds of chemotherapy to treat his cancer had reduced him to a shadow of his former self. I hadn’t seen him for so long, and it took some courage for me to step into the ward to call to him. He opened his eyes, saw me, and weeped.
Over the next 3 days, I kept calling out to him. He responded but I could not understand him as he had lost his ability of speech. Nearer to the end, he could only nod when I asked if he understood. At the very last, he could only teared as I held his hands.
It was raining outside the bedside windows when he finally left. Surrounded by all his loved ones, we all cried. There were his many siblings, his children and grandchildren. We all managed to be there in time for his last journey. Suddenly, rain has a totally new meaning for me.
I could not manage the wake, for I had been gone too long. But my family stepped in and helped in all possible ways. I needed to perform my duties as the eldest son and I was glad to do so. For through the rites, I was given the time and space to say my goodbyes.
In his last days, we finally reconciled. I could say at last, all the words I wanted to tell him, all the feelings I wanted to express and resolve all the misunderstandings we had. There were still much I wanted to say, all the apologies and all the regrets, but in the end, it was enough.
For in the departure, there is really no misunderstanding or quarrel that is so bad that it can’t be resolved. In my Dad’s leaving, I finally let everything go.
Dad was rich when I was very young. He engaged in all sorts of vices, even joining gangs and collecting protection money. But he lost everything and I grew up with financial hardships. Mum was always controlling Dad’s money and that lead to many disputes at home.
There were so many times we nagged at Dad to stop wasting his money on cigarettes or gambling. Mum tried, I tried, we all did. I gave it up for a lost cause years ago.
But in his last 4 years, Dad gave up smoking and drinking. He also regretted not saving more when he was younger for that had forced him to look for employment even when he was old and could not work. He even shared that he was grateful Mum had controlled him the way she did, even when he was angry with her then. In the end, he came to terms with his life.
So financially, Dad made it and lost it all. He left nothing much behind for his children except memories and tears. But at his wake, his wealth was obvious. His family came together, his friends of decades appeared and helped. His wake was full every evening and my uncles and aunties spoke of his many kind and valorous deeds.
And he taught me his last lesson, to make peace with myself. I could not understand many of his past actions for he was not a man of many words to explain to his eldest son. But in the words of others, I could finally understand why he did certain things that I did not approve of. I have many regrets but I can allow myself to move on, because in the end, my life-hardened Dad allowed me to forgive myself.
So I am really not so tough after all, as I see my tears falling on the keyboard when I write this. But I know tears can heal and as I weep and grieve, it is not for any physical pain but of my joy and loss at being my father’s son.