the love of sisters

May 30, 2010

Opah’s sister passed away yesterday.

She was 93 years old, 4 years older than Opah.

Writing it in black and white makes it seem so final, a fact that most of my relatives are still trying to process.

She has been calling out Opah’s name for weeks before her passing, and Opah has been tossing and turning in her bed for these past few days. The power of sisterhood; somehow they both knew it was coming.

We were supposed to go back to Ipoh to visit her yesterday (Saturday). On Friday, Opah couldn’t stop talking about it because she was so excited to see her sister. She knew her sister was very ill and she just wanted to cheer her up. She had many stories to tell and couldn’t wait to hear her sister’s stories.

Saturday morning, we all woke up early ready to balik kampung to visit my grandaunt. I heard she was very ill, but I knew she never fails to smile when see sees us. As soon as I woke up, I knew Opah was already ready downstairs. That’s my Opah. You tell her we’re leaving at 8, she will be ready at 6.30.

Suddenly, Mom buzzed me.

“Pahwe passed away this morning. I don’t know how to tell Opah.”

I can’t describe how I felt. I just couldn’t believe it. We were 2 hours from seeing her!! Of course I knew these things are all in God’s hands and God has a reason for everything. Maybe it wouldn’t be good for Opah to see her sister at the last hours of her life for fear of the gloomy memories of her sister. Maybe Opah wouldn’t be able to stomach the pain and it would deteriorate her health.

Whatever the reason, Opah has accepted it.

But it was the moment leading up to telling her that was just painful for me.

Mom and I discussed how to deliver the news to her. If we tell her now, she will be devastated and she might not be able to go through the 2 hour car journey. If we tell her when we arrive, she might be too shocked seeing so many people and she might faint. And plus, we’d be in guilt the whole journey there. Opah would be all excited talking about her sister, and we just sit there and gulp? How heartless. In the end, we knew she deserved to know. Right now. It’s painful news when someone close dies, but that’s life isn’t it?

We knew that if we told her, she wouldn’t want to eat. So we waited for her to finish her breakfast first. We knew that if we told her in the house, she wouldn’t be able to get up to the car. So we waited for her to be carried to the car first. If any emergency happened, we could drive her straight to the hospital.

The driver and maid gave us some privacy and waited outside. Inside the car, it was just me, Opah and Mom. Mom gave a speech about how everything happens for a reason and we have to accept God’s will. She slowly eased into the bad news and finally, “Mak….She’s no longer here.”

There was a huge lump in my throat and I wiped a tear. I cannot imagine if I had to hear the news that my sister passed away and she has been wishing to see me before her death. Now that we’re about to go, it was just too late.

I couldn’t look at Opah’s face because it would hurt me so much. But to my surprise, she was calm.

“When?” was all she asked.

“Early this morning, Mak…” Mom answered to her mom.

“I had a feeling,” Opah said.

And that was it. She was so strong and calm. The last time she met her sister, she had asked for forgiveness and I think she was ready for this moment because her sister was very ill. But still, the way she handled the news was commendable.

As soon as we got to the house, Opah was anxious to get on the wheelchair and into the house. There were many many people there and my grandaunt’s body was being cleaned, before being wrapped in white cloth.

When she was put onto the floor to be wrapped, that was when Opah saw her. I never left Opah’s side and I held her hand. I wanted to cry seeing my grandaunt looking so small and lifeless, and I just cannot imagine how Opah felt. Right there and then, Opah let out a tear. She asked for tissue and without a word, I handed it to her.

Before her eyes, her sister was being wrapped. Before her eyes, her sister’s eyes were closed. Before her eyes, her sister was dead.

It was a one-way street now. Opah could tell her things, Opah could smile at her, Opah could hold her hand. But Opah wouldn’t get anything back from her. That was her only sister left, the closest thing to blood to her, and she has left leaving Opah behind.

It was now time for the relatives to take turn to sprinkle rose water on the body. Opah, being the closest and most senior, was the first to do so. “I want to kiss her cheek,” Opah said to me. Three of us carried her up from the wheelchair and she was just inches away from her sister’s cheek, trying hard to get her lips there. But Opah couldn’t bend anymore. Her knees were weak so there was no way she could kneel on the floor. She couldn’t sit on the floor either because her knees couldn’t bend that way.

The only way was to raise my grandaunt from the floor so Opah could reach her, which couldn’t be done.

She didn’t get to kiss her sister one last time.

“It’s OK,” Opah said. She just took the rose water, sprinkled it on her sister’s body and we carried her back to the wheelchair where she kept on wiping her eyes.

After that, everything went by quite fast. The children and grandchildren paid their respects and kissed the body, including me. It was cold, her cheek. She was laid in the living room and prayers were performed. She was then put into the coffin, carried into the van to the grave where she would be laid to rest forever.

One by one, relatives said goodbye and when the atmosphere quieted down, Opah lied down on her sister’s bed in her sister’s room. She looked helpless, but relatives kept coming in to sit with her and chat with her so she was never alone. My niece and nephew arrived and turned the house into a circus and that made Opah laugh. It got better for her and I was so relieved to see her normal again.

Of course the pain of losing a sibling will never go away, but Opah knows she has to accept it and that her sister is in a better place right now. Opah’s only request was to sleep in Ipoh for a few days because if my grandaunt’s spirit comes to visit the house, she would see that her younger sister is there for her.

“I’ll see her in my dreams,Opah smiled at me, before we left.

I was worried to leave her there, but my aunts and cousins were there too so I know she would be alright.

The house is really quiet now. I can’t wait for Opah to come home.

To my grandaunt, I will always remember all the advice you have given me. You will be greatly missed by all of us. I pray to God that you will be taken care of in heaven. Just please don’t recommend Opah up too soon ok? 😉

I told you that my grandaunt never fails to smile whenever we come, and she still didn’t fail us on her deathbed. She was still smiling.

Al-Fatihah.