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A portrait of a sentimental mortal: Lee Kuan Yew, seen from his daughter’s perspective

A portrait of a sentimental mortal: Lee Kuan Yew, seen from his daughter’s perspective

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This is a 60-second reduction of the original commentary by Lee Wei Ling published in The Sunday Times on Oct. 2.

That strapping young lad is Lee Kuan Yew, and that missus looking hawt is Kwa Geok Choo.

My mother, Kwa Geok Choo, passed away on Oct. 2 last year.

Her devastating stroke on May 12, 2008 was more extensive than the previous one five years ago, on Oct. 25, 2003. The second stroke involved more brain regions controlling movement. Her condition deteriorated after that.

Papa knew that if Mama survived the second time, she would not walk again independently. Regardless, he wanted her to feel she was an important part of his life so she would find her life worth living.

Before bringing her home for the final time, Papa brought Mama to the Istana to view her favourite spots.

Papa was also adamant that Mama go for swims in custom-made wet suits regularly to keep her active.

When Papa travelled, she would stay awake at night waiting for him to call. Even when she was frail, she tried to vocalise to communicate through the call.

But Mama’s condition continued to worsen.

I watched Mama pass away by her bedside. I did not try cardiopulmonary resuscitation. That would have been cruel and unnecessary.

When the Singapore Casket Company arrived, Papa passed them the jacket he wished Mama to wear and asked them to do their best to make her look attractive.

But even before her second stroke, as a neurologist, I knew that Mama could easily re-bleed. Papa sensed it too. That’s why Papa and Mama talked about death, and concluded that the one who left first was the lucky one.

The one remaining would suffer loneliness and grief.

A few days after the cremated ashes of Mama were brought home, Papa moved from his usual place at the dining table to face a wall where he placed photos of Mama and him in old age. He arranged them a few times before he was satisfied.

He also moved back to the bedroom he had shared with Mama for decades before her stroke. He had three more photographs of Mama and him at the foot of his bed.

The health of men often deteriorates after they lose their wives. I watched Papa getting frail everyday, his facial features grim, probably to hide his sadness.

However, by July, he showed signs of improvement.

My Papa is like titanium – light but strong, can bend a little but not prone to snapping unless under overwhelming force.

But Papa is mortal. Except he is just psychologically stronger than most people.

One thing obvious to me is that love transcends boundaries of time and place. Papa, my siblings and their wives will forever be bound by our love for Mama.

As I was halfway through writing this piece, I saw a note addressed from Papa to his three children, Hsien Loong, Hsien Yang and me.

It read: “For reasons of sentiment, I would like part of my ashes to be mixed up with Mama’s, and both her ashes and mine put side by side in the columbarium. We were joined in life and I would like our ashes to be joined after this life.”

Lee Wei Ling is the daughter of Lee Kuan Yew. She is the director of the National Neuroscience Institute.

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