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Rest in peace, Aunt Catherine!

Today, I will be saying goodbye to my Aunt Catherine. She is scheduled to be buried at a Catholic cemetery in Kuching. One of my mother’s younger half-sister and my favourite aunt, she passed away suddenly in her double-storey terrrace house in Kota Samarahan on Saturday, a day after Chap Goh Mei, the 15th day and last day of the Chinese New Year celebration.

She went to her bedroom to rest after complaining of chest pains at about 6pm last Saturday. Meanwhile, in the kitchen, her husband proceeded to cut the fish they planned to have for dinner. When he went into the bedroom to check on her one and half hours later, he was shocked and horrified to find that she had passed on. According to her identity card, she was 70 years old.

But I think Aunt Catherine was around 65 because in the old days, many villagers did not have birth certificates and their parents forgot the actual years and days of their children’s births.She leaves behind her husband and a son who is already working. I have prayed for many good things to happen this year after welcoming the Chinese New Year. The passing on of a beloved aunt was never on my list.

My niece and I had, in fact, planned to visit Aunt Catherine in Kota Samarahan last Thursday. But I cancelled the plan because of poor weather that day. I did not fancy to go on a long drive in the rain and I did not trust my niece’s driving.

How I wished I had visited her that day! The first person to inform me about Aunt Catherine’s death on Saturday was my younger brother in Bintulu. One of my cousins informed him and he told me to visit my aunt’s house with his son so that we could pay her our last respects together. The second person to inform me was another nephew who was attending a course in Kuala Lumpur.

One of my cousins had informed him of Aunt Catherine’s passing. Subsequently, after completing my night shift in the office on Saturday, I managed to gather all my Liong family members to pay our last respects to her in her house. By then, the house was full of Aunt Catherine’s relatives.Some women, as expected, were busy in the kitchen helping to prepare food and drinks for the continuous flow of visitors and well wishers. Aunt Catherine’s body, meanwhile, lay in a mortuary fridge/cooler in the living room of the house. Through the transparent glass, I could see her body.

Her face was serene but looked different in death. I brought my mother, an Alzheimer’s patient, along. She did not cry and despite promptings from many relatives who meant well, did not recognise Aunt Catherine and insisted she was not her sister. In the end, we let her be. For young boys and girls who have never seen the body of a dead person before, the sight of a motionless human body lying in repose can be quite scary.

The first body lying in repose that I saw belonged to an elderly Hainanese lady who rented a room next to the room that my family rented in Sibu in the late 70s. She was in her early 70s when she suddenly died of stroke.

She passed on just as I visited her in the Sibu Law King Howe Hospital. I was in high school then and I remembered the nurses/doctors working hard to revive her then. The next body lying in repose that I saw belonged to my maternal grandmother and Aunt Catherine’s mother. It happened in the early 80s when I had just begun working. Since then, I have witnessed the burial of my own father, two younger brothers and a few friends.

Aunt Catherine is the latest of my family members to pass on. She was a good and loving person. She had many friends and relatives who loved her and turned up in full force in her house to mourn her passing and give her a grand final send off today.

A colleague who offered me his deepest sympathy consoled me by pointing out that someday, we all had to pass on. In my opinion, even in death, Aunt Catherine was kind and loving to her family. Her sudden and quick death had ensured no burden to her husband and son. Personally, for me, I know she loved me and was always happy to see me. She was also a good cook who made sure all her nieces, nephews and relatives ate well. Aunt Catherine, we all love you and will always remember you. Please rest in peace!

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