when i die, if you have a memory of me, would you take some time, reach into your heart to retrieve it, hold it in your hands and sit with it awhile? my wake could be in a garden, picnic mats and open mics; you could sing me a song, or recount a memory. i will permit sarah sharing about our childhood sleepovers, sumay sharing about the time i drove her around on her birthday and got us lost for two hours (and dropped her cupcakes), wei liang recalling my half-awake council camp mumbling, james telling everyone about the first time i tried to make indomie. but also, if there was a time i helped you through a thing, or provided comfort and support, or prayed with you, or sowed a good seed in you, would you remember that, too, and allow my death to renew your strength. if i sinned against you, as i have done to many, would you forgive me and cover the hurt with peace.
tuesday afternoon, i rush to scribble Psalm 23 on my notepad as we make our way to the ward. dad tells me to keep my paper, but i'm not done; they'll understand when they receive it.
"you aren't scared, seeing her like that?" her mum asks. why would i be? she smiles, slightly surprised, and nods. as i leave she is opening my letter.
that night i am scheduled to lead a worship meeting in school. once i reach back, though, i head first to the hammock. give my heart space to check itself, give it room to breathe, feed it a few hymns, re-center. it is well, it is well with my soul. at that moment something in my heart clicks. but i know that whatever awaits her is far greater than what this earth could ever hold for her.
wednesday: i wake up to the news that she was struggling to breathe, and then breathed no longer.
friday at the wake, her mum says "thank you for the psalm. it was her favourite."
joel is at the table and my family is engaging him in a conversation about - of all things - army rifles and career prospects in pharmacy. my skin crawls with impatience. as soon as there is a break in the conversation i whisper can i pray for you? an awkward silence at the table. the two of us shuffle towards the front, near the coffin. i curl up in my seat. i breathe, and i pray, at peace, holding the hand of God.
"how are you?" i ask. he pauses. "actually, i'm quite okay." he chuckles. "God has been preparing me for this. It's just that now it's a different season. First it was without the cancer, then with the cancer, and now without Joanna." we talk about our families and campus ministry (turns out he leads NUS Nav?? how did i not know this before) and about God and what it means to shine for Him. he motions to Joanna from time to time.
It's good that I'm more level-headed now, someone's got to be the rational one in the family. It used to be Joanna. Joanna was the one who brought our family close together.
I think it makes a difference when you're able to be that beacon of light for your family. See Joanna, she always made an effort to interact with the older ones. She was always talking to the aunties. And if she didn't make that effort she wouldn't be able to speak into their lives. I think you can do more as a beacon of light where you are, too.
saturday, again, a table of peanuts and smartphones and mindless chatter. jonathan takes a seat, alone, a table away. i am the first one over.
"how are you?"
he says that before the service, his mum was just busy, busy, busy rushing around and doing things. he forcibly took her away from the hall, led her down a path into the woods, and made her have her dinner there. she needed that space, he says. both joel and jonathan echo concern for their mum.
today, just before they put the coffin in the hearse, the family stands by it one more time. joanna's mum is bent over, her fingers tracing the glass, her husband struggling to hold her together.
at the viewing hall her mum is crying. someone says "it's okay, it's okay." but it isn't. it will be okay, but it is not now, and that's okay.
as we leave with hugs i give her mum psalm 91:1. he who dwells in the shelter of the Most High shall rest in the shadow of the Almighty. "Yes," she nods. "You're right. You're very good at memorizing verses eh. When I was a teenager I used to do that. It helps, you know. Comes back to you from time to time, when you don't realise. But it's okay to grieve also, because Jesus wept."