Goodbye Ah Chor (great-grandma)

My maternal grandmother – the kids’ great-grandma whom they call Ah Chor, passed away last month from a lung infection. She was 86. In a column I wrote for Sunday Times this month, I shared her love for my children and my relationship with her.

When I graduated from university, I brought my graduation gown to the Hong Lim market where she ran a stall selling burial clothing, and made her take a picture with me. She was pleased beyond words, even though she proclaimed that she wasn’t dressed nicely for the shoot.

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Ah ma, with my sister and my son, Jason, her first great-grandchild.

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She has a special affinity with Shannon, my daughter, now 4. I had a difficult pregnancy with Shannon. For 4 months, I had bleeding and had to be on bed rest. Ah ma had gone for a kneecap surgery not long before and was barely recovered, when she found out I had to be on bed rest. She was 81, with a weak knee, but it did not stop her from taking a public bus from her home in Toa Payoh to Chinatown to buy birds’ nest from what she believed was the best shop in Chinatown. Many afternoons, she would brew it for me, with some Chinese herbs, chill it, and get my husband to collect it from her home. There was also chicken essence, cooked from a fresh chicken.

Miraculously, or coincidentally, my bleeding stopped soon after. I’ve always told her she had a hand in helping to save little Shannon.

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Oh there were family feuds among the older generation. We chose not to partake in any of it. To us, she was just ah ma, who loved us, cooked for us and listened to us. To my kids, she is Ah chor, who plied them with packet drinks and snacks whenever we visited, and saved little toys for them to play with.

ah ma and shannon

She stopped working in the market in her late 70s when she was hit by various ailments. But she remained hardworking and thrifty.

Being confined to the wheelchair in her later years was most cruel for someone who was used to getting up at the crack of dawn and making it to the market stall before 6am, and coming back to do more housework after she closed the stall. She regained little strength in her left hand and leg, despite therapy. Below, ah ma and I at sister’s wedding.

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Before she passed away, I bought her Chinese fried carrot cake. She disliked food in the nursing home so I would make it a point to bring her a little something to eat each time I visited. It was the first time I brought her carrot cake. She loved that the edges were crispy, and there were prawns. The first week I bought that, three of us, Shannon, myself and ah ma shared a packet. The second time I bought it, Shannon and ah ma shared the packet.

On our last visit, while watching Shannon run around, ah ma was animated in updating us about her life in the nursing home. We had a good chat before she reminded me to leave earlier to pick Jason from Taekwando. I decided to take a picture of her. It was to be the last time I would take a picture of her. A week later, she caught a lung infection, was admitted to Tan Tock Seng Hospital subsequently and passed away peacefully that evening.

I wish I had taken more pictures during that visit. May you rest in peace, ah ma.

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