My grandma’s stories: Of births and deaths of little ones

(This is the seventh part of an ongoing series recounting my grandma’s stories about her life and the old days in Singapore. Click here for the first, second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth part of this series)Grandma complained to me recently it has been increasingly difficult to cook dinner ever since my siblings and I grew older and ate in less often than before.

My heart squeezed a little when I heard her say that because I could imagine cooking for one or two should be quite a challenge, particularly when Ah Ma has been used to whipping up dishes for a big family.

As a child bride, she cooked for her adopted family of eight. After she got married at 20, she kept up with the big family tradition by having five children, though not all of them turned out well.

Her first daughter passed away barely three days old.

“She refused to drink any milk and I had to pry open her mouth to force feed her some milk,” grandma recounted. “She probably died from an unknown seizure. Slipped away just like that.”

As a first time mother, it was probably a harrowing experience yet the damage was not comparable to the loss of her third child.
He was Ah Ma’s first son, born in the year of the dragon (1952) and passed away nine years later due a post-operation infection to remove a growth on his feet.

Even after 50 years since he moved on, Ah Ma still refuses to talk much about him, insisting she has already ‘forgotten his name.’ She was close to tears when telling me about him.

“He died only after we watched him grow up for so many years,” grandma said bitterly. “All those years and effort. It was a tragedy, really.”

The immediate period after his death, grandma said she went berserk, refusing to go to work and chose to stay at home all day moaning and weeping. During which, she even swore that she ran out of the village’s common bathroom without wearing any clothes on top.

To hear from granny first-hand about her loss was a moving experience because she rarely mentions about her lost children. Perhaps the pain still remains or maybe it is just too much to bear.

Out of her five children, three still survive today, namely my dad, his eldest and youngest sister.While having to cope with births and deaths, grandma was also juggling her roles as a working mother, matriarch and care giver for her adopted family. Grandpa on the other hand did not lift a finger to help.

“All he did was work seven days a week as a sweeper at government offices,” Ah Ma said coolly. “He just came back to eat and sleep.”

Ah Ma’s sheer grit and resilience despite such adversities were impressive and admirable.

In the end, I was glad to have known about relatives that I never knew existed before she becomes irrevocably absentminded or old age ripping inner soul. I was glad to not have waited till I said “If only…” I was glad that I acted upon my impulse and recorded all of these down as evidences of a life that my grandma once lived.

The next post will be more about child birth and grandma’s other children. Stay tuned!

You can catch up on previous posts below:
The sixth part is about Ah Ma being a child bride.
The half-way post is an update about the difficulties I faced when writing this series
The fifth part is about Ah Ma’s job after war
The fourth part is about daily life during the Japanese occupation.
The third part is about the early years of the Japanese occupation.
The second part is about Ah Ma’s family.
The first part is about Ah Ma’s early childhood.
The introduction gives some background information about “My grandma’s stories”

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6 thoughts on “My grandma’s stories: Of births and deaths of little ones

  1. Singapore is so modern, which is nice. But its sad that old Singapore is gone. I went from India ten years ago, and there a few, very few bits of it left, in a few picturesque old houses. I guess it all must be gone now. In your way, you’re keeping it alive.

    1. I guess people are still trying to preserve physically the old bits in Singapore but it’s increasingly difficult in a very tiny nation like ours, which is a great pity. What I’m doing here is hopefully, record down a wee bit of our oral history for remembrance sake. Thanks so much for dropping by!

  2. It’s wonderful that you’ve got such a special relationship with your grandma and you can share this with us. I think what you’re doing is really wonderful, and I’m truly touched. I’m definitely going back to the beginning of the series now, because your grandma’s story and your writing are both amazing.

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