When My Grandpa Appeared In My Dreams
One Day After He Passed On
This happened when I was 10, but for some reason what took place is deeply etched in my memory.
Maybe it is because I was really close to my grandfather.
He used to call me the ‘la ji tong’ girl fondly—which, when translated from Mandarin, meant the rubbish bin girl. He’d tease me that I was found as an abandoned baby in the rubbish bin by my dad and mom, because I did not look like any other members of my family. They were all fair skinned and had straight hair, and I on the other hand, was dark skinned (incredibly so) with natural curls that would rival my mom’s neatly permed ones from the salon.
I looked nothing like my Chinese cousins. Nobody could really make out who I looked like. Eventually as I grew older I started resembling my mother, but for the most part I never looked Chinese.
Grandpa had over 10 grandchildren. We all lived under the same roof — Grandpa was rich and had a really big bungalow. My family and my relatives all lived together, and I had over 10 cousins of around the same age to play with everyday. I was, unabashedly, Grandpa’s favorite. He would sit shirtless on the floor at the entrance of the main door daily in the evenings, smoking his pipe, reading the papers or looking out at the big, beautiful garden that housed many different types of flowers that my grandmother would be tending to.
I’d be right beside him, playing with my toys, or listening to his stories. He’d talk of the war, when the Japanese invaded our country, and of his old house, where he and my grandma stayed with their 5 children for many years before he struck it big as a businessman. They used to stay above a shophouse, in a cramped little room. Grandpa was really fierce with his own kids and used to spank them to no end, but he was a softie when it came to his grandchildren.
When I turned 9, Dad bought his own place, a semi detached house that was about 15 minutes’ drive away from Grandpa’s place. We’d still go there every evening for dinner because Grandma believed in eating together as a big (extended) family, and then my parents would stay till 9pm, snacking and chatting with our relatives (I’d be running around and playing with my cousins) before we went home.
I remember waking up one day and looking out my bedroom window. The sky was overcast and the cold breeze blowing in from outside was causing the curtains in my room to flap around. I could hear the rain pattering on the roof and it sounded comforting. I snuggled under my blankets a little bit more.
The door opened and Dad came in with a very serious face. He said, Ling (that was what my family called me) — Grandpa’s gone.
I understood immediately. I sat up and quickly showered and changed. The whole family drove over to Grandpa’s house, the ride was quiet and the mood somber. We reached Grandpa’s house, and all my relatives (extended ones) were already all there. The house was packed with relatives. Many of them were talking in hushed tones, shocked by the sudden passing of my grandfather. Several of the women clustered around my Grandma, trying to comfort her as she sobbed uncontrollably. At that point in time, Grandma and Grandpa were both 60 years old.
Apparently Grandpa had wanted to go to the office as usual, but he said tghat he was feeling a bit under the weather so he asked Grandma to drive him. As she reversed out of the gate, beside her on the passenger seat, he suddenly slumped to one side and the bag that he had been holding slipped from his hands and fell onto the floor of the car. Grandma had hurriedly driven back in, parked, and called for help. The servants and my uncles had come running and brought Grandpa in and laid him on the sofa.
Grandpa had already gone. He had a suffered a heart attack.
My cousins and I, ranging from ages 8 to 11, were all huddled in a room together that night, unable to sleep. The adults had done what needed to be done and Grandpa was in a coffin downstairs in the living room. His 4 sons and 1 daughter were sitting around the coffin, guarding it till daylight, and Dad told me it was to prevent any mishaps from taking place that could cause Grandpa any unrest. The children were discouraged from going downstairs and were told to try to get some sleep in one of the many rooms upstairs.
Eventually late into the night, my cousins and I fell asleep, all of us together, on several big beds and mattresses in one of the larger rooms.
Grandpa appeared three times in my dream.
The first time, he appeared as a caricature, with a word bubble forming at his mouth, giving me 4 numbers. (When I woke up, I’d given the number to my parents who bought some lottery tickets with it saying this was a sign that Grandpa was saying goodbye to us. Whether we won any money with it, I never knew).
The second time, he appeared as himself, sitting beside me, reading his papers, smoking his pipe. He was very quiet, and I was very quiet beside him too, because I knew he was not there, and that he had already died. Eventually I looked again and he had gone.
I woke up and stared into the darkness, listening to my cousins’ deep breathing as they slept. I stirred and immediately my mother’s voice appeared from beside me, asking if I was OK. I felt soothed, and went back to sleep.
Grandpa appeared again, and this time he was dressed in a white tuxedo. He was waving goodbye to me and I was choking on my tears, trying not to cry. He was moving fast, far away. Eventually a cloud appeared, he stepped on it, and the cloud took him away. I felt helpless. In the dream, I was unable to speak, or stop him, and I felt a pain that was so deep, it made it hard to breathe.
My cousins and I were woken up by my mom and aunts, who dressed us hurriedly and pinned a square piece of yellow cloth onto each of our right sleeves, and slid a yellow hand made cloth band on each of our wrists. It was a sign that we were grandchildren of the deceased. We were ushered onto a big lorry and sat at the back in the open, where Grandpa’s coffin laid. All of us sat around it and the lorry began to move, with all the adults walking behind it slowly. This procession took hours, and covered all the places in town that Grandpa had been to or had liked to hang out at. Songs and hymns were sung, and the adults sobbed as they sang and walked.
We reached the church and a priest held the funeral rites. We were asked to bow to the coffin, say a quick prayer, and walk past as final rites. It was an open casket and Grandpa was lying there, looking perfectly normal, his hair slicked back like always, eyes closed, hands on his chest. At this point, pretty much everyone was crying hard, but I could not make myself cry, and I wondered why.
When we reached the cemetery and the coffin was being lowered into the ground, however, the tears came suddenly and would not stop. Without knowing what I was doing, I threw myself onto the coffin, held on and would not let go. I started bawling my eyes out, screaming ‘Gung Gung, Gung Gung (Grandpa)’ nonstop. The adults tried to pry my fingers off but I would clutch at the coffin over and over again, screaming. I think I scared my dad out of his wits. One minute I was there, inexplicably calm, and the other minute I was yelling my head off. I think seeing Grandpa being buried did it for me. He was really gone, my grandfather, who’d carried me since I was but a tiny tot and had always given me special treatment when it came to sweets and candies.
He used to drive me around in his big Mercedes and would send me and pick me up from my tuition classes. He’d secretly let me back into the house after I was locked outside by my dad for making mischief like breaking things and creating messes, and he would shield me when my dad tried caning me for less than stellar examination results.
That night, we slept over at Grandpa’s house again, and this time, I did not dream of him, but he came anyway. I woke up to someone touching my forehead in the darkness, and I smelled his hair oil, that familiar scent I’ve smelled for 10 years. I sat straight up immediately, saw nothing, and started to cry, waking my mom up. Grandpa had come to say goodbye.
My grandma is still alive today, and she is in her 90s. She still stays at Grandpa’s house, with my uncle. The rest have all moved out. Every time I see her, I think of Grandpa. Grandma is a strong and optimistic lady, with a very good memory and a heart of gold. She is more than ready she says, to meet Grandpa. But now, I can’t let her go. I hope she sticks around for another few more years and lives to a hundred.