August 19

My father would have turned 55 years old on this day. It would have been an important milestone for him, a year when society’s expectations and his own would allow him to finally start letting go of a lifetime of hard work and begin enjoying the rewards of eveything he had laboured so hard to build.

He used to talk about retirement all the time, wondering what he would do, which kopitiams he would go to with Doggie, and what kind of small car he should buy so that he could move easily in and out of traffic. Several years ago I considered briefly what kind of party we would throw him on his 55th birthday to celebrate. Would we go to Ozeki, his favourite Japanese restaurant where he would order “sashumi” and his favourite grilled salmon fish head? Or would we do a house party in our garden that he loved so much, filled with his friends and cold Carlsberg beer, two other things he also loved very much? It did not occur to me then that we would not ever have to plan for his birthday, even as I used to check in on him late at night to see if he was sleeping well and still breathing.

I don’t really like to talk about what happened to my dad. But I figure today is a good day to start being open about it. He died of a heart attack in March 2015, in our home, on his favourite couch which he had been resting on all day from nausea and back pains. It was late in the evening, and minutes ago he had just told us he was going to skip dinner because he wasn’t feeling well. I had sat down next to him and put my hand on his and said, “Not feeling well ah? You rest more lah. We tapau for you.” He muttered, “Ok.”

I was in my room when my mom came running up the stairs screaming that my dad could not breathe. Everything after that was like a whirlwind, the details of which I still remember with piercing granularity. The dog was barking and running in circles. My dad’s favourite MAS in-flight blanket was at his feet and the tempur pillow I bought him at his head. I remember his clothes. I remember my brother arriving home from futsal and shouting at my dad to wake up. I remember the CPR, the effort of which to this day I feel eternal gratitude for even though it not work. I remember all the words I used while screaming at the person on the other end of the emergency hotline to please hurry and running to the guardhouse to wait for the ambulance. Above all of that I remember how I knew the entire time that my father was merely unconscious, and as long as the ambulance came to bring some oxygen he would be fine. Of course it was true, I just knew it was.

But there is nothing quite like having extreme optimism and finding out later how very wrong you were. There have been many difficult things to confront about my dad’s passing, like the regret that he didn’t live long enough to retire and enjoy all of his savings and buy his small car, or how the most inhumane thing that you could make anyone do is identify the body of a loved one. And yet beyond all of that, the hardest thing of all is to think about how lonely and scared he must have been when the heart attack hit. Did he feel pain? Was he frightened? Why didn’t I stay downstairs just a few minutes more so that he wouldn’t have been alone?

Which leads into questions like, why didn’t I recognise the signs of an impending heart attack that he had been exhibiting for days? Why did school make me commit to memory stupid things like useless nilai-nilai moral instead of the visible symptoms of fatal afflictions like heart attacks? Why didn’t I force him to see a doctor? Why did he go to that stupid physiotherapist who did not recognise that his pain was not a muscular problem but a cardiac one? And so on and so forth.

Since my dad’s passing I’ve wanted to learn emergency resuscitation because of how much it meant to me that he was getting help in his final moments. And so when the office recently organised a CPR course for all of the team, I was grateful. Up until then I hadn’t felt truly ready to go through the motions of March ’15 again, and on the morning of the course I was dizzy with anxiety. But the course went very well after I got over myself. I now know CPR and I’m glad I do, because even if it doesn’t bring my father back, it might for someone else. So if you find yourself with the opportunity to learn, do it. Perhaps another day I’ll share the CPR story and why it meant the world to me.

Life for the past two and a half years hasn’t been easy. There have been many low periods as my family and I continue to pick up the pieces of something that broke very unexpectedly. I still cry at every film or book where there is a heart attack or morgue scene, and my friends still have to check all escape rooms we play for props of graveyards or dead bodies. Fathers Days continue to be awful. People say this all gets better with time. I have not found that to be true. People also say that he would have wanted us all to be happy. I suppose that is true but I wish I could ask him myself.

In remembrance of my dad, my family and I went to Ozeki on his birthday. We ordered a lot of ‘sashumi’ and had a really nice time just being with each other. Happy birthday, Pa. Wish you were here and miss you lots. Brain also really likes Ozeki but he’s not old enough to eat all the “leng yeh” yet. You would have liked taking him out in a small car.

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