This post is for my dearest cousin – who in 6 months would have turned 25.
On Sunday morning, she passed away in her own bed. She had been in critical condition since Friday, but she insisted on leaving the gloomy hospital. Her lungs were no longer working and she could not move on her own.
When I went to visit her, she was attached to two clumsy oxygen concentrators and a morphine drip. The oxygen mask over her face was too big for her and it made her nose itch. She was literally gasping for every breath and the morphine made her hallucinate. The first time she was on morphine, she told us she saw Freddy Krueger in her ward. This time, it just made her very agitated. Partly because of her failing lungs, she could not even talk properly anymore and could only utter a few words at a time.
The doctor gave her 2 days. He even doubted if she could make it out of the ambulance.
That night, I sat down next to her and held her hand. My sister took her other hand and we just watched her as we sobbed quietly. She would fall asleep for a bit, and then startle herself awake. She would then turn her head to look at my sister, and then turn to me, before falling back to sleep. It was as if she was checking to make sure we were still there with her. It was as if she knew it was about time for her to leave us, but she was so afraid to go on her own she would rather hang on to our clammy hands. It pains me to think about how scary it must have been for her.
She was first diagnosed with leukaemia 5 years ago. Since then, she has had a slew of relapses, chemotherapy sessions, injections, medications and a few bone marrow transplants. She would get better for a while, fall sick again, go back to hospital and restart treatment. But the cancer would always find some way to one-up her the next time.
2 months ago – was her last relapse. It was probably the most serious one. There was a risk that she might not be able to make it through even with chemotherapy. If she did survive, she would still have to endure maintenance. So that was when she told her mother: no more. She had enough. It was time to live the life that she wanted. To do only the things that she wanted. Naturally, hospital beds and drips were banned from her bucket list.
She would return once every week to get a blood transfusion should her blood counts drop. She became susceptible to all sorts of infections, and something as insignificant as the common cold could kill her. But it gave her freedom to make the best of her remaining days. Not surprisingly, only a few of us supported her decision. Some challenged her faith. Some hounded her about why she could not just get chemo again. But then again, if she could just stay free of infections, there was a possibility that she could continue to live long and prosper.
Of course, that didn’t happen.
While we sat there watching her gasp for air, we asked her if she wanted us to read to her our eulogies. She had a very interesting perspective about that. Fuck the case that eulogies are usually read only at a person’s funeral. The person who died would not even be able to hear it, innit. So she wanted us to write our eulogies before her passing, so that she could hear our last words for her. Adorable request, but very morbid. I personally found it difficult to write something like that when all I wanted was for her to live long and prosper.
Anyway, it was all too late by then. She was drugged out and the room was spinning and she couldn’t concentrate. We couldn’t tell if she even understood us anymore. But at one point, she started to nod slowly, so my sister asked me to go first. I bawled like a baby throughout as I read, so I could hardly see her face. My sister told us later though that she saw her smile during my last paragraph.
I’m sitting on Peiyi’s balcony now. Looking out at the rain. Thinking of you. Writing the eulogy that I always wanted to write for you but I just could never really do it. I think I cannot put it off anymore.
I guess this is how I have been coping with the news of your cancer all along. I try not to think about it because I know I am weak and I would only cry. I never want to cry in front of you because I feel that doesn’t help you at all. So I try to laugh it off and lighten the mood. Acting like a lame clown. It makes me happy to see you laugh and giggle at the smallest things. I love gossiping and bitching with you about our everyday lives.
You’re such a strong girl – you have no idea. You have been battling cancer for the past few years, but never once did I ever see you cry. You never complained about being sick. You never whined about being tired. Or maybe you did to your mum but not to us because you didn’t want us to worry. You always were so happy and optimistic whenever you were with us. Joking about the stars on your hands that were actually mad itchy rashes from the meds. Laughing about naggy nurses and EQ-impaired doctors.
You have been through a lot. The news of your recent relapse was a huge blow. I couldn’t imagine how it made you feel. You must be so tired. Tired of having to put on a smile so that we wouldn’t worry about you.
You don’t have to anymore.
And yet, a selfish part of me wishes strength for you so that you can keep on fighting with us. So that we can still have you here with us.
My dearest cousin, I have always been some sort of a loner. Growing up, you were my first real friend. And you will always be. Those times when we were still kids and we begged our parents together to let you stay over. We made imaginary tents with mattresses and blankets and we would just talk about nothing. In the morning, we would go for McDonald’s breakfasts and your parents would come take you home. Sometimes, me and Peiyi would stay at your place. I remember one time when your mum brought us for roti prata. Those were such simple times – almost insignificant. It didn’t make us rich. It didn’t make us famous. And yet these are the things that I will remember for life.
As I write this, I’m really torn because I wish this is all in vain because you would get better again and we could still realise all those dreams we had. Of staycations and holiday travel plans. I hate that I was down with the flu that day, and I didn’t get to go to the beach with you and Peiyi. I hate that I just never had enough time with you, and I want so badly to make it up. With dainty Sunday brunches and lovely scrapbooks. I want you to stay.
But because I love you, I rather you go. To wherever you want. To do whatever you want. To be free. To be happy. This is not a surrender. It’s moving on in peace. I want you to know that you have never lost. Perhaps this was never even a battle at all. You’re a damn smart girl. A strong fighter. You always knew what you wanted in life. And you would never give up. You would never give in. Even if you were to leave us, it’s only because you chose this path. And you have the balls to stick with your decision.
Huixin, your life – has always belonged to you. And that’s something you should be very proud of. Because not many people can do that.
If you’re tired, go to sleep. I just want you to know that I’m fucking proud of you. And I will always love you, my dearest cousin. My dear sister. I am here for you. I will always be. No matter where you go. I’m sure you will live the best life. Your life.