From My Heart



All about my grandparents. Embah is a Javanese word that means grandparent. Embah wedhok means grandmother (wedhok means lady) and embah lanang means grandfather (lanang means man).


I was sitting alone at Central Station sipping my cappuccino slowly when I saw an elderly man holding a pink back pack on one hand, and the other hand holding his granddaughter’s hand. She’s probably about five year old. They seemed to be waiting for someone. His face was soft and gentle, as if holding her hand is something that gives him the most peaceful feeling in his life.

I can’t help but shed a tear.

Well, I actually cried in the end, one hand holding my paper cup, another hand trying to wipe all the tears that fell.

I looked at this man wondering how much love has bound him and his granddaughter, how much time spent together, and whether the girl would have ran to him for all the things that made her cry, laugh or jump with joy.

Doing what I do, I see many elderly people who became unwell quite suddenly, and before you know it, they leave this world. So I can’t help but wonder, how much time together do they have left.

Will this girl be mature enough to understand, when one day her grandpa has to leave? Or will he be lucky enough to be alive and well to see her grow up, graduate or even get married? Will he always be the one she turns to when she has doubts about herself or about life?

* * *

I have seen so many elderly cancer patients come and go throughout my career, some I remember more than the others. I have spoken to them as if they were my own grandparents. I had joy sitting with them over the weekends while they shared their life stories. It gave me peace to see families coming together to care for their loved ones, even more when they are old and frail.

There’s something about these grandparents that warms me up inside, but I can’t really tell what it is. Perhaps it’s from their stories. Perhaps it’s the years of experience that has soften them up.

Or maybe they just reminded me of my own grandparents, whom I love and miss to no end.

I Love You Mama and Papa

Of all the joys in life, the ones that we really need to be thankful for, no matter what, are our parents.

Even more if they live to reach old age, if they have seen us graduate, get married, and felt how it is to be grandparents.

It gets more challenging when they get older, with health dwindling, movements slower, not too keen to listen to children’s advice about their health…but then again, those were the things they had to face when we were young.

Let’s care for them as much as we can.

Let’s show them our love and gratefulness.

Before it’s too late.
For there’s no greater regret in this life, than regret of not doing enough for our parents.

There are no greater gifts in life than the gift of our parents.

* * *
I’ve just watched a Thai advertisement about a deaf father and his daughter who wanted a different father, a father who is not deaf.
It is so deep that it touched my heart to the core.

Everyone should watch it.

* * *

Quite often, I bring lunch from home. Usually they are my own cooked/prepared food. But sometimes it’s something my mom or dad made for us.

I’d feel very sad if something happened to the food that they prepared for me; if I didn’t get to eat them, or they’re spoilt, or simply went missing. It rarely happened, but it could. Because I’d vividly see their faces when they were packing the food for me that morning.

That love on their faces.

I remember once my grandmother made some fried rice in the morning and packed some for my then-single uncle. My uncle was so busy that afternoon, he did not get to eat them.

Late that afternoon, my grandmother passed away.

That night I saw my uncle staring into the container, still filled with the fried rice his mother cooked that morning.

* * *

I have a confesssion to make.

Once, a few years ago, I asked Dato in an email, “I feel like my father is too proud of me, and I don’t think I deserve that pride. Why is my father so proud of me?”

He said, “All fathers are proud of their daughters, Maria. You know I’m proud of mine.”

* * *

It’s A Beautiful Life

I heard this story three times on Saturday, from different people and different perspectives; but it’s still a lovely story altogether.

In the late 70s, my uncle Mohlis worked as a ship engineer. He used to be away from home for weeks at a time. He’s the second of ten siblings.

When he’s due home, his younger siblings would get together to prepare his welcome-home cake.

Cik Uzi would bake the cake.
My dad would cut the cake into the shape of a ship.
He’d also lead the other siblings to decorate the cake with its icing.

I could imagine how wonderful it would be to come back from a long trip overseas, to see that your brothers and sisters have happily prepared a nice gift for you.

It may have only been a cake, but it must have meant a lot.

Doctors, Death and Grandpa

They say that doctors don’t feel anything anymore when their patients pass away.

It’s not true.


They say palliative medicine is easy. “Do nothing.”

Absolutely not true.


It’s not easy.  Sure, we go on with our lives after the inevitable has happened. Sure, we go home and spend happy time with our family and friends.


That’ what being a doctor made us do.

That’s exactly how being in palliative care made us this way.






A patient’s daughter once asked me, “How do you face death, day in and day out?”


At first I did not know what to say.


Then I looked into her eyes and said, “By spending more quality time with our loved ones.”


I elaborated further.


I said to her that another person’s death would always remind us of something that is absolutely going to happen to all of us. We learn lessons from every death we encounter.


It’s up to us, whether to take it positively, or with worry and anxiety.


We learn that time is short; we never know what’s going to happen next. Hence we’d use all the time we have for the good of others. We’d make sure that everything we do means something to the people around us. Loved ones or not.


We learn that nothing is gained out of worldly belongings. They are accessories we could live without.


We learn that everything in this world is temporary, borrowed to us by Him, the Most Powerful. We may have everything now, but we may lose it all at one point of time, and we WILL lose it all when we leave this world.


We learn to love, and to love more.


We learn to care for the other person.


We learn that life is too short for grudges, too short to be spent in anger, sadness and anxiety.


We learn to live life to the fullest.


Oh, and we’re still learning.


.  .  .


Of course, we need good social support.


Number one, we give good support to each other. It’s never easy to talk to patients’ families about the fact that their loved one is dying. It’s never easy to lay down options of palliative chemotherapy or radiotherapy, telling them that the disease is incurable and the treatment may or may not be beneficial to them. It’s never easy, especially when it has to be done repeatedly, one patient after another, one family after another.


So don’t get insulted if we share jokes with each other, laugh with and at each other, in between consultations. Not in front of our patients, of course, but in our office or in the pantry, or on the way to another ward at the other end of the hospital. Because we need to release the pressure while anticipating another.


Sometimes, that’s the reason we walk in groups. The whole team. Well, a small team, that is.


Number two, we search for support outside work. From our families, from our friends.  We go out and have a good life. We have hobbies each.

.  . .

Palliative medicine is a new field in our country. We only have seven palliative medicine physicians in the whole country.


The for the past two weeks we’ve been talking about Palliative Care in Islamic perspective during our journal club meetings. It opened all our eyes.


I did have doubts, sometimes, about palliative medicine. Nobody knows what death is like. The ones who’s gone through it can’t come back to tell us. All we could do is watch and draw a conclusion. Even if we had an epiphany about death and dying, we would not be able to say it out loud.


But what made me believe in it has something to do with my grandfather.


I’ve been in palliative medicine for more than two years (why I prolonged what is supposed to be a 6-months medical rotation is another long story of its own), but I have never met anyone more ready for his death than my beloved grandfather.


My grandpa began renovating his house about a year before he passed away. He built a large hall, of which one wall faces the direction of Mecca. He did that not only so that it’s easy for us to just stand facing the wall during our daily prayers. He wanted the wall that way so that when he dies, his body would be put parallel to the wall, so that we could all do the prayers at home.


He built his new bathroom big enough so that, when he dies, he could be bathed in private, in his own home, by his own six sons. The bathroom is longer than it’s wide.


Next to the bathroom there’s a room where we could shroud him after the last bath.


(Bathing, shrouding and prayers are the last rites to be done for a Muslim before burial).


So one fine day, he got a fever. We brought him to the hospital as he did not recover after a few days. He was admitted after that.


The doctor could not find the cause for his fever. He suspected some occult cancer and wanted to investigate more. He wanted to send grandpa for some endoscopic examinations.


Grandpa declined. He said his time is coming, and he wanted to go home. There’s no need for anything invasive anymore.


So we brought him home.


True enough, his fever never settled. He became weaker and weaker, luckily he did not complain of any pain. His wife, ten children and many grandchildren took care of him at home.


He passed away peacefully after about three weeks from the onset of fever.


.  .  .


So whenever I have doubts, I’d remind myself of my grandfather.













A Glimpse of Grandma and Grandpa

There was an elderly man

Wearing white jubah

With red checkered serban

Riding his bike to the mosque


My grandpa’s successor


There was a lady

Fair and pretty

Her eyes small

Beautiful, sharp nose

Freckled skin


My grandma’s daughter


It’s been more than ten years

More than five years


Their absence is still sorely felt


My Uncle Razak

My uncle Razak is my dad’s cousin. We call him Cik Razak, because his father is my grandmother’s younger brother (if his father is my grandma’s ELDER brother, he’d be called Wak Razak).

I met him only on two occassions in my whole life.

He lives in Sabah with his family. When dad said we were going to visit his cousin when we were in Kota Kinabalu, I thought he might be one big super-friendly uncle who talks a lot.

I was wrong, and I should have known that.

One, he’s not big. Not at all.

I was truly amazed with him the moment he spoke.

He was friendly, yes, but in a calm and peaceful manner.

He is THE definition of “prim and proper”.

His hospitality was such a delight that you’d always remember his welcome to his home and his family. He was incredibly polite, he spoke very softly, with a smile always on his face.

When one talks to him he’d listen intently.

My first visit to Sabah was amazing just because he was a wonderful host.

* * *

I visited my granduncle many times after that, but never managed to meet Cik Razak. He’s either away in Sabah, or he was home but out somewhere with his children.

* * *

The second time I met him was not a happy occassion.

I was partly looking after his father (my beloved granduncle, Embah Pandi), because he was very ill. I told my dad, and his brother, that he should come home. Now, like, now.

I was worried, I was anxious, I was agitated. His whole family needed to come together. I knew what was happening, but I can’t be the one deciding what to do. I knew they all need each other but where were they?

They called him to come back.

And so he did.

I was nervous when I saw him coming. I knew he’s very kind, very gentle, and I hoped I was right in the sense that he would be a very rational person too. I explained to him what I know, from my experience as a palliative care doctor, also as a granddaughter who used to care for her own ill grandfather. More as a granddaughter, I think.

This time I wasn’t wrong.

I was right about him being kind, being gentle.

And I was very right about him being rational.

His presence made me calm.

His composure soothed my nerves.

His peaceful words just blew my anxiety away.

He’s back. That’s good enough for me.

That’s my uncle Razak. The calm, peaceful, prim and proper Cik Razak.

Oh, and have I told you, he’s 48 but looks 10 years younger?

Dear Cousins

Written on 17th September 2010

Embah Pandi passed away that morning.

* * *

Dear cousins,

Let us promise each other something.

Let’s all take care of our parents, each other’s parents.

They are not old now, but they are approaching that age.

Some of them have one or a few grandchildren already.

We love them like we love our own parents. Our aunts and uncles, they are.

They don’t have many children, not like our embah lanang and embah wedhok.

We have, on average, maybe 3-4 siblings.

When they are sick, when they need help, we might not be immediately available.

So let’s promise ourselves, promise each other.

Ask for help if we’re in need.

There’s only a number of us in a small family

But in a total our number has reached 40.

And the number has not stopped growing.

So with of the 40 of us, should any of our parents be lonely?

Should they lie down being ill alone?

Should they die alone?

I have seen too many old people die alone.

I have seen too many old men cry for loneliness. With anguish and distress.

Let’s not allow that to happen to our parents.

If you need help, call any of us.

Just about any of us.

You might find one of us available.

Our parents may have done some mistakes in their lives.

We may have done some mistakes in our lives.

We all may have hurt each other a lot.

But let’s forgive each other.

How long must we hold that grudge.

And let’s not be judgemental.

Especially not to each other.

Embah lanang was always gentle and loving to all of us.

And embah wedhok’s love and care is just endless.

So dear beloved cousins,

Let us strengthen this love between us.

We meet each other at least once a month, just to keep this bond.

Never should we break it.

Let us throw away all the hate and spite.

Because it’s not worth it.

Let’s make the world a better place for each other.

Nobody should feel lonely.

Because there’s so many of us.


Kakak Maya.

My Gentle Grandpa

Listening to the Quranic readings from the radio reminded me of one person.

My grandpa.

I remember those days when we used to go to the mosque for tarawih, and he’s the imam. His gentle voice ringing through the air.

He’s always kept it short. He understood that people were tired from a day’s work, and will need to get to work early the next day.

I remember his soft and tender love and the way he showed it to us, his grandchildren.

He’d smile at us from afar, and gently stroke our hair, kiss our cheeks.

With the same gentleness that I would imagine Rasulullah was to his grandchildren, Hassan and Hussin.

He was one of the most soft-spoken man that I have ever known.

He was so happy when I got a place in medical school. Although it’s so far away from him. But he never got to see me go. He left us first.

He was not a rich man. But he would share his blessing with his loved ones.

He bought us bottles of fizzy drinks for Eid. He knew we loved it, even when grandma disapprove.

He would buy things for grandma to cook, and share with all of us.

A few weeks before I left to Ireland, it was rambutan season.

He was eating rambutan when I came to visit. He said, “Come take these rambutans. There’ll be no rambutans there in Ireland.”

I’d remember that my whole life.

I used to walk to his house in the late morning, when I knew he’d be back from his daily work.

We’d take our morning teas together, with whatever that grandma has cooked.

Then he’d take one couch in the living room, and I’d take one couch. We’d take a short nap.

Grandpa worked very hard.

He worked extra hard when it was Ramadhan, knowing that he didn’t need to take breaks for meals.

He worked until he was very sick – that was when he was 81. And he was sick for only three weeks.

He’s a man full of love.

For his children, his grandchildren, and for nature too.

He would never litter.

He would not waste any food. Extras will go to his chicken.

In the middle of the night, when grandma is asleep, he would open the kitchen door. The cats would come to him when they see him.

He’d feed them milk and rice.

He was not a rich man. But he left us with a big durian farm.

He planted all those durian trees with us on his mind. When we have not even existed.

He was as peaceful as an early morning.

Early morning with its soft breeze, and quiet rustles of the leaves, birds chirping and chicken clucking away.

Leaves heavy with morning dew. The air cool and the ambient calm.

The sun begins to rise.

That is how peaceful he was.

He used to drive my brothers to the mosque on Fridays.

Once he said to my brother, “One day when you’ve got your licence, you can drive me to the mosque too.”

Well, he never made it to the day my brother got his licence.

But even though he did not say those words to me, I could really imagine his soft voice, his gentle words, and his tender face.

Because he’s my gentle grandpa.

My Grandmother’s Determination

Story by proxy (Wak Mohlis).

My grandparents used to live in Meru (about 7.5 miles from Klang) when their family was smaller. In 1968 they moved to Bukit Kapar (10 miles from Klang). My grandmother still had her rubber farm in Meru. So when they moved to Bukit Kapar she needed to go down to the farm to tap rubber, plus my aunt Cik Uzi was still in school in SK Sg Binjai, Meru.

One day she asked my uncles to clear up a path which would surround the house. She wanted to learn to ride a bicycle.

Not many women those days were able to ride a bicycle. But she was determined to learn. She needed to help out feeding 10 growing children, also sending Cik Uzi (her first daughter after 5 sons) to school.

Hence my uncles made that path for her.

There she was, each evening after maghrib, under the bright moonlight, trying to cycle with the help of her sons. Round and round she went, not without falling, of course. Several banana trees were hit and, shall I say, savaged, sacrificed, in her learning process of riding a bicycle.

In less than 10 days, she succeeded.

She started to cycle from Bkt Kapar to Meru – to work, and to send/fetch Cik Uzi to/from school.

That’s my grandmother, with her courage and determination.

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