Stories from the Heart: Ah Ma

My paternal grandmother, Ah Ma, left this world on September 11, 2010. Yes, I know that it is one of the infamous days, but it just so happened to be that day. It happened, just slightly into dinner time. My aunt, dad, sis and her husband had just left for dinner. Dad asked me to go but I just didn’t feel like it. So I stayed. I just sat there, with another aunt and cousin.

It had been days that we were like that. Waiting. I sat there, read a book, talked to my cousin, slept at the hospital, and then waited some more. I stared at the life monitor for countless times. I was reading the numbers as if I know what it means. I just tell myself random theories from the movement of the numbers. I know there is a heartbeat. I also know it was too slow for a normal person and that heartbeat has been my source of interest. Slight movement up, my heart jumps. Slight movement down, my heart steeled.

Then it happened. The crazy beeps. It happened before and we have all rushed back to the hospital, only to find that she was back again to her initial state after a heart resuscitation. But this time it beep, we let it for a while then we panic and we all rushed to the bedside. Then the dreaded long beep came on. I stood at the foot of her bed, crying. I couldn’t help it. Tears flow, I just cried silently, tears flowing in gushes. It is the sudden realization that she is gone. The sudden feeling of something missing. The deep pit in the stomach full of butterflies that flutter up to the chest engulfing the heart. The tears continue to flow, people started making calls, my aunt, dad, sis and her husband rushed back, only to find all of us crying by the bedside. It was too late. Those who just flew back from Australia was still on the way from the airport to Taiping.

It had been painful initially, to see her hooked up to so many tubes and with a huge one down her throat, and so many lines to machines. It was so painful to see her just lying there lifeless. I tried to tell her my adventures in the Philippines. I thought I saw movement. I convinced myself that I am entertaining her.

That was the moment the thought came back to me. The thought that I had always told myself I should spend more time with her. I should extract her life stories out and write a book. I should do this and do that. But I never did. Now she is gone. But I should not regret it. Life is too short for regrets. My Ah Ma’s passing itself taught me that – life is short. And so now I shall write the stories that I should have written, do what I should have done and pursue what I was set out to pursue. I shall live the life.

Ah Ma and her great-grandson

Ah Ma and her great-grandson


“I always love to play at my grandmother’s place. It was a huge plantation, a place where there are fields of greens and flowing river. It was always fun. When it was school break, I always beg my mum to let me go and stay there. It was always full of activities. We would chase chickens and run around the field. It was a really lovely farm. I still remember I use to run all over the place.”

My Ah Ma’s eyes sparkled as she reminisces. I didn’t know she had such a wonderful childhood back then. I wish I had those.


“During the war, we had to hide in the estate. At that time I had to stop schooling, I was only about 12. We were all hiding away from the Japanese. Times are bad. But before that, I did get to go to school.”

That was how my Ah Ma survived the war times, and even then she was thinking about education. After the war, she continued to do self-learning and for her generation, she is one of the few who reads and speak fluent English.


“You know, I used to see your Pho Pho across the street from my house when I wait to go to school outside. She would always be busy doing cleaning. Yes, she has a tough life.”

Ah Ma told me about my maternal grandmother Pho Pho, showing pity and understanding while her eyes exude gratefulness of her own good life.


“I use to make them study hard, I make them all sit around the table while I watch them. Not one would dare to make a noise!”

Ah Ma proudly tells me how she manages her eight children, yes eight! Everyone agrees unanimously that Ah Ma is strict and not one to mess with. Definitely not how I see her as she is real soft and sweet to me.


“We have a car back then. Ah Kong gets the driver to teach me driving. So I did. It was scary at first but I insisted on learning and so, in the end, I can drive.”

Getting all excited and proud, Ah Ma recalled how she learns to drive back then when even owning a car is rare for people. But to me, one of the things I learn is that after given the opportunity, she had to grab it and persevere to learn and enjoy it herself.


“Ah Ma, where have you been around the world?” the little me asked back then, wide-eyed at her with eyes full of wonder and curiosity.

“I’ve traveled to almost everywhere in the world! I’ve been to a lot of countries and they were all really good!” she replied, naming off the many places she has been and how she enjoyed herself there. Ah Ma had the chance to travel quite extensively after all her children had grown up and she was still young then as she married at the tender age of 17 and had her youngest son before 30!

“You get to go so many places, I want to go too!”.

“You will get to go next time dear when you’re older”

And so I did travel and I still do. Ah Ma was right, as always.


Related stories
A Tribute to Ah Ma

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *