Remembering 5 chek

As I left the M80 and started along the Hume, I thought again of the weekend I’d had. It was one of the most event filled weekends since I started work in Canberra in May.

I’d had a long meeting on Friday arvo, with the external lawyers advising us on the new arrangements with the Red Cross Blood Service. So when I left the office to drive down to Melbourne, my mind was still on some of the issues we discussed, trying to process and digest the elements and what needed to be done in the coming week(s).

When I made a toilet stop at the Gundagai Maccas, the restaurant was empty. The long meeting at the office meant the lunch I had planned with some colleagues didn’t happen and I’d only had a cup noodle. The Gundagai Maccas usually has a biggish crowd. With no crowd there, I decided to grab a quick bite. As I sat down to have the meal, I read some WhatsApp messages saying 5 chek – an uncle, Tiat Been – had been admitted to the ICU for severe lung infection. He had had a fall earlier and his blood pressure was critically low.

By the time I made my next toilet stop soon after Euroa/near Seymour some 3 hours later, the WhatsApp messages showed 5 chek had passed away.

My memory of him was shared by my brother in a family event not long ago, I forget the context or when it was exactly. My brother retold a scene in the Kampung Jawa home, where everyone was on their knees praying and many were crying. 5 chek who was in Perth after qualifying as an Engineer in the then Western Australian Institute of Technology (“WAIT”), had been involved in a serious motor accident. I remember seeing a picture of him in a wheelchair as he left Perth with my late grandfather, to return to Malaysia. He was bald, and looked very ill. Ever since that accident, 5 chek has had a range of disabilities. He had severe brain damage from the accident and the result was he couldn’t walk normally and generally his motor coordination skills were severely impaired. His speech was also affected but he was otherwise generally independent.

For many years, 5 chek faced tremendous challenges reconciling himself with his condition and often thought he stood a much better chance of better/complete recovery had he remained in Perth. I believe he was right. I also believe grandfather didn’t necessarily do the wrong thing. He wanted his son to be at home and he wanted to care for his son at home. I don’t know if he knew, appreciated or thought Perth would have been a better option for 5 chek in so many ways but there was a good chance his paternal instincts swayed him – overwhelmingly – to do what he did. The fathers of today may well have reached a different conclusion to grandfather but at that time (mid 1970’s) and given the circumstances then I think I get why grandfather did what he did.

I guess it’s one of those conundrums in life which would remain richly entangled for as long as I remember 5 chek.

Having said that, I believe 5 chek had a wonderful life. I believe his experiences – the immense physical, psychological and emotional challenges he must have faced, probably on a daily basis – gave him a life and experiences which helped shape his relationship with God and shaped how he touched others around him which only he and his enduring circumstances could have made possible. The usual discussions about what constitutes a good life – the definition of good – would no doubt be relevant, i.e good not as in whether, for example, he could have had a family of his own, worked or had a career, provided material things to himself and to his family, and generally live a good life as many would define a good life to be. The usual challenge to this notion of “good” applies. What if a good life means a journey with the Lord which made one see the Lord and His work in ways which made one think in completely different terms? What if he journeyed every single day trusting the Lord for every single action and thought and thinking about what the Lord is doing at large and doing through him, in a way which many/most of us cannot, because we live the “normal” or “good” life? What if that journey touched others around him in ways which his otherwise “normal” or “good” life would never have been able to do? What if that journey provided an alternate benchmark of what constitute a good – wonderful – life?

5 chek always made me think of grandfather. He made me think of what grandfather did for his children and grandchildren. 5 chek helped me think what it means to have a stab at making someone’s life better. Whenever I thought of him I thought about what it means to help someone, what it means to make someone’s life better – not necessarily on our terms alone but also on that person’s terms. The person we think about has his/her own journey and how that journey can be better and what that means. When help is needed, it is often about that journey that person has to make. It isn’t about the helper’s journey – it’s about that person’s. Maybe the helper is right and that person’s journey can be shaped by the helper’s thoughts, actions and contributions but it is about that person’s journey, not the helper’s. As long as that journey is one where the Lord is God, that can be – is – a good and wonderful life.

My last interaction with 5 chek was in February this year, when Tress and I returned to Klang for a short holiday. Tib organised a bah kut teh and tuah kor, 3 chek, mum, and several others were there. 5 chek sat near me. He had lost so much of his motor coordination by then and had tremendous challenge serving himself at that meal. Yet he persisted at being independent, was extremely courteous and polite when I tried to help him with his food and tea and he was having a red hot go at enjoying a good meal with the family.

Soon after I moved to Canberra, I was back in Melbourne for a weekend (end of May) and spent a day with Ruth, Jonathan, Micah and 6 chek and 6 chim. We talked about 5 chek’s care and wellbeing. Driving back from Maribyrnong to Forest Hill that night, I wished I could see 5 chek again, to tell him what his life had taught me.

5 chek was probably 67 years old. If he was, he would be at the same age as my late father when he passed on. Dad was a few weeks shy of his 68th birthday. I imagined 5 chek being greeted by our Lord with dad, grandfather, grandmother, kor tiu, chek kong, chim poh and others – all as part of the welcoming party – as he walked through the pearly gates. He is free now from his disabilities. Someone said as a younger fellow 5 chek was agile and moved quickly with taut muscled limbs. I imagine him moving freely again as he walked past those pearly gates. May you find the Lord’s rest as He promised. Goodbye 5 chek.

PS (thanks to Liza and Tuar Kor):

  1. 5 chek was 68 years old, 2 months shy of his 69th birthday.
  2. Grandfather was unwell and couldn’t stay to accompany 5 chek on his return from Perth to Malaysia. A Dr Lee and his Aussie wife later accompanied 5 chek on that return journey.