She was one of the people I wished would live forever.
In my life, there have been some people who have influenced me so much that I wanted them to live as long as they possibly could, so that I would always be able to benefit from their wisdom.
My father’s aunt was one of them.
My grandaunt (her late husband was my paternal grandmother’s youngest brother) was two weeks shy of her 95th birthday when she gave her last breath in her son’s home and went to be with her Maker.
It was the eve of Singapore’s 52nd National Day, Independence Day, when she made that journey.
And as my parents and I sat through her wake service the next day, I wished she could have lived forever, no matter that she had a full life and 94 years was no mean feat.
She hardly had any major illnesses, and was lucid to the end, even if she was in a wheelchair most of the time.
My grandaunt was a byword for discipline and sacrifice.
Her children, my dad’s cousins, were just 7, 18 months and 3 months old, when her husband died in his sleep from a heart attack.
At the funeral, my father carried his youngest cousin in his arms, while my uncle held the middle child by the hand as they all saw off their father’s final journey.
With three children in tow, the grief-stricken mother had no time to mourn. The Second World War had recently ended in Asia and Singapore was in the transition to being an independent nation, so she had not time for pity parties and feeling sorry for her loss.
Having been a housewife for most of her married life, she still found a job, kept food on the table, got the children educated, and kept her home intact.
Along the way, she tutored and ‘mothered’ the neighbourhood kids and earned a reputation for hospitality and being a strict but fun mother.
My sister and I knew her humour, zest for life, inner strength and that gumption that all women of her generation had in abundance.
At a time when feminism was heretical, and the word was hardly in many dictionaries, my grandaunt was a feminist and proud of it.
She didn’t waste too much time planning. She just did what had to be done — be it rushing home after work to prepare lunch and dinner, scrimping and saving for her children’s school fees and recess money, or later plan her children’s weddings when the times came.
I asked her about that inner strength once, and she told me this — when the stakes were so high, she had no time to think of how bad or unfair life was.
She just put on the elbow grease, and got to work and made the best life she could for her and her brood.
And she had much to be proud of — her sons became a teacher and military officer respectively, and her daughter was well educated.
Her three grand-daughters, my cousins, are all professionals with university degrees and are well settled.
My grand-aunt even lived to see two great grand-children.
Listening to the eulogies at her wake on our National Day, I wondered if people like my grandaunt were a forgotten generation.
One of my aunts told my dad, “With her death, the family is getting smaller.” My father had to nod in agreement.
I thought of my grandaunt’s legacy — the vacuum her passing had left in my life and the people she touched the most.
Despite facing the worst that life had given her, she didn’t complain. She just knew what needed to be done and did it.
Money was not her greatest asset. Discipline, and the stubborn love for her family, were. She was not afraid to use both to their greatest effect.
As I looked around the living room where the wake service was held, I looked at the faces of the younger kids and teenagers who had attended with their parents and friends.
I hated to think that way, but discipline did not seem to be a strong point in many of their lives.
As the service continued, their faces looked blank and some were reaching for handbags or pant pockets.
They felt more affinity for their smartphones than for the woman whose body lay in the coffin in front of them.
Several pursed their lips in silence as the hymns were sung.
I hope that their parents would tell them more about what my grandaunt stood for — the qualities of a quickly fading generation that stood out because of their resilience, discipline, inner strength and resourcefulness.
After the wake, my sister and I told our dad about how glad we were for his eulogy about our grandaunt, and how grateful we were for telling us her story.
My father’s determination, resilience and discipline is almost a mirror image of the same qualities his late aunt had in herself.
No prizes for knowing who his teacher was.
I recalled the morning of that National Day, when I texted my friends that God had blessed our nation with much and that we should be faithful to the legacy our founding fathers left behind when Singapore was formed.
Be faithful — Long before that day, my grandaunt had showed her family, and later us, what that faithfulness was like.
Her rubber-hits-the-road faith and grit spoke volumes.
At the wake service, my father ended his eulogy by saying that all present should “celebrate her life as she is now with her loved ones”.
My grandaunt had given her greatest gifts — determination, discipline, love and feistiness — to her family and those she loved the most.
And she had now received her eternal reward.
My father was right — a celebration was in order.
Thanks for everything Grandaunt, we will always remember you.