I worked with Lien Foundation to produce Legacy Albums for 4 terminally ill patients and their families in 2008. The aim was to help the families say their last goodbyes. The narration here speaks mostly of my observations and experience with the patients and their family. 2 years after the project ended, I did a multimedia piece with Pauline. To let her speak of her experience gave me closure for the project.
The late Mr Ng Wai Mun suffered from throat and nose cancer. When I first met him, he had a feeding tube running down his nose and was too weak to walk without the aid of the walking stand.
Despite of his condition, he was cheery fatherly figure with a cheeky grin. I called him “Ah Pak” which means uncle in Cantonese.
About 3 months into the project, while doing translation for an interview for Mr Ng, I had to ask him, “Are you afraid of dying?”. “Yes, I’m scared.” he said. The honesty of the answer struck me. I was not prepared to face death.
Over Chinese New Year, I went to play mahjong with Mr Ng and his family. He was looking alert over his favorite game. I thought he was getting better. The chicken soup that Mrs Ng was pouring down his feeding tube must be working wonders.
One month later, I received news that Mr Ng had passed away. Not of his cancer but of pneumonia. Death hits you when you least expect it.
The Late Mdm Mariam had cancer in the womb. Rose, her only daughter borne from her second marriage, has a growth in her liver and was the sole breadwinner in the family. Elvis, Rose’s son suffers from muscular dystrophy which is causing his muscles to slowly waste away.
Mdm Mariam had undergone chemotherapy for the cancer in her womb but the doctors have discovered another tumor in her bladder.
I was taken back when she candidly admitted that she was in a secret society back in the 50’s. She did what she had to do to survive and protect her family. In the same self-sacrificial manner, her daughter Rose wishes that Allah would take her life instead of her mother’s.
The seemingly impossible state of the family members makes the little acts in their daily life stand out: The simple pleasure of flipping through the wedding pages in Berita Harian on a Saturday morning; watching her great-granddaughter, Siti, who is always up to some mischief, play and prance around their flat; looking forward to her daughter Rose walk home from work every afternoon to join her for lunch.
When I met the late Mr Phua Hock Seng, he was in the advanced stage of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) or also known Lou Gehring’s Disease. ALS is a progressive neuro-degenerative disease that occurs when the nerve cells that control voluntary muscle movement start to degenerate.
As part of the legacy album, I offered to take a family portrait for the Phuas. The family portrait had to be done at home as it was impossible to bring Mr Phua to a studio. Mrs Phua had gathered all her children and grandchildren for the shoot. “Smile everyone”, I said. Reviewing my photos after my shoot, I noticed that Mr Phua had difficulty smiling. I felt bad for asking him to smile.
Mrs Phua offered me comfort. She said, ”Deanna, even though he is confined to his bed, he can’t talk anymore, I’m thankful that he is well taken care of and we had the time that we had together.” If she can face adversity and still be thankful about life, who am I to complain about mine?