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  • Writer's pictureOw Yeong Wai Kit

In Memoriam: Dad

My dad passed away peacefully last month from bile duct cancer — he was 78. On the day of his passing, it was raining gently outside, so it was calm and tranquil in the hospital, and my father was under a strong dose of painkillers. At least he’s free from pain now.

The past few weeks before that were difficult for the family — shuttling back and forth from the hospital, and taking turns to keep Dad company. But over the previous few weeks, we had some of our deepest conversations with Dad—about his memories, our family history, and about the meaning of life and death itself.

Dad was part of a pioneer generation that lived life to the fullest. He was a lively and enthusiastic geography teacher for decades, even travelling to Japan and representing the Ministry of Education as part of a delegation of teachers. Also he served as a volunteer police officer during the Konfrontasi. Most of all, he was a loving, devoted father: when I was little, we played badminton together; he attended the plays I performed in; he was always ready to share lines of poetry, articles, stories, or just everyday advice and encouragement. For years, he always enjoyed driving me and the family around on weekend foodie trips — he always said to me, with a hale and hearty laugh, “Be adventurous, son!”

For the obituary, my mum chose the photograph of dad as a young man, taken when he had just met my mum. (At the wake, many remarked how handsome dad was — the neighbour auntie said, “like a Korean oppa!”)

Dad had been posted to a primary school by mistake, due to an administrative error. In any case, early in the morning, my mum (also a teacher) had been tasked by the principal to look for him. Dad’s first words to my mum were, “Do you know who I am? I’m Mr Ow Yeong, you know?” My mum was thinking to herself, “Who is this arrogant man!” But he proved to be the opposite — humble, patient, and generous. The rest is history, and theirs was a marriage of 56 years.

On the afternoon of my dad’s passing, my family and I also had a “Showers of Love” ceremony, during which we had the opportunity to clean and dress my dad for the last time. It was both sacrament and blessing — a final act of service to convey our gratitude to him, and bid him farewell. Just as when I was little, dad would help me wear my socks and put on my tie, so likewise I helped dad to wear his socks and tie too. Together with my mum and sister, I helped my dad to put on his favourite suit before we laid him in the casket. As I said in my eulogy for him at the crematorium, it’s just like the words of Shakespeare — “the wheel is come full circle”. The whole service was personal, heartfelt, and deeply meaningful.

Dad specifically said to thank the medical team at National University Hospital - NUH who supported us closely over the past few months. That’s exactly what we did: we personally delivered appreciation cards and a gift basket to the hospital staff today. We were especially touched by how they had arranged for cataract operations and dentistry visits for him, which he appreciated very much because then he could finally see and smile at us again. Such gestures brought him much-needed comfort during his final days.

My family would also like to thank The Life Celebrant team, who bestowed a meaningful and dignified farewell for dad. It was striking when the TLC team all lined up and bowed in unison to pay respects during the service. And when they directed traffic as the hearse was leaving the wake venue, it felt like it was during Mr LKY’s funeral when it was the army directing traffic.

Also, thank you, family and friends, especially those who attended the wake, or sent condolence messages or donations — my family and I are heartened and grateful for your support.

“I buried my father in my heart. Now he grows in me, my strange son, my little root who won’t drink milk, little pale foot sunk in unheard-of night, little clock spring newly wet in the fire, little grape, parent to the future wine, a son the fruit of his own son, little father I ransom with my life.” — Li-Young Lee

𝘐𝘯 𝘭𝘰𝘷𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘮𝘦𝘮𝘰𝘳𝘺 𝘰𝘧 𝘖𝘸 𝘠𝘦𝘰𝘯𝘨 𝘏𝘰𝘩 𝘒𝘦𝘰𝘯𝘨 (1945—2023)

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