My Grandma just passed away. It was a very unexpected event, robbing away many of our wishes to say a final goodbye. But that’s how death happens most of the time doesnt it? We rarely have the chance to see someone off in their final moments. For many of us, we are born into this world, into our mother’s loving arms, but we leave alone. In those final moments of breath, I wonder what was going through my Ah ma’s mind. I wonder if she knew she was going to die.
She died in her sleep – at home, at night, very peacefully. My Ah gong found her in the morning, called the family over and everyone took turns to say goodbye.
When I woke up in croafia to the many missed calls and messages, it took me a while to register the news. Over the next few days, I let the moments of anguish take over me and sobbed whenever I felt like it.
In crying out for Ah ma, I kept saying goodbye to her over and over again – so that reality can start to sink in.
When a sudden death takes away a loved one, its the people who are left behind who go into a state of shock and grief. “Why? How? Should I have? I thought I’d see her again.”
I took Ah ma’s passing really well, mostly because I believe she’s gone off to a better place. I’ve been such a good friend with grief and sadness now, that it greets me like an old friend, patting me on the shoulder for comfort.
I can now very clearly separate my own interests from my wishes for her, and because I wish for her the best in this world, my missing and longing to see her again is secondary. I suppose this is how we comfort ourselves, but putting someone else’s needs before ours, so that we don’t focus on our own “selfish desires”
Still, it definitely got me thinking, that this is now my reality. By choosing to leave Singapore for the next few years at least, I’m choosing to miss many important moments in my family’s life. In one way, I’m no longer in their lives. No longer in their routines. No more Saturday blading sessions, no more random weekday dinners. My only chances of interactions or creating new memories will have to wait till I go back to visit, or when my family comes to me.
I had this impending dread before I left Singapore, that me leaving would put a distance between us – my family/friends and I. That thought saddened me quite a bit and made my previous stay in Singapore pretty depressing.
Now that I’ve accepted the fact better though, I’ve begun to really see what it means to lead your own life. One thing that people don’t really talk about – is that walking your own path can mean leaving your support system.
With the gift of technology, its true that we can still have as many conversations with our loved ones, but there’s a bitter fact that in walking our own paths, we sometimes need to settle for the fact that our families will never truly fully support our decisions. I’m lucky because my immediate family does, and I happen not to really care what any one else thinks.
However, I’ve been receiving many messages about people fearing the most important thing – disapproval from their family to do the unheard/uncertain thing.
Many have shared of the obstacles in their paths and it would be juvenile to tell them they’re making excuses for themselves. It’s not an excuse when you fear losing your family over something you’re not even sure is what you want in the first place. Their concerns are completely valid.
I started to think about what it means to not have approval or support from family, for any big decisions in life.
Having family criticise our choices, show disapproval, threaten or blackmail us for wanting to live life differently is essentially an alienating act. They may not realize they’re doing it, and from their perspectives it might even seem like we’re rejecting and alienating them.
I’ve been traveling around for 1.5 years and my Ah gong has never said a peep before. However, since Ah ma died just recently, he started thinking differently, and just 2 days ago, told me to come home.
“why don’t you come home for a while…. Your home is here. Why are you traveling around for so long? Its time to come home. If anything happens to us, its more convenient for you to be here. If anything happens to you, we can also take care of you.”
But Ah gong, my life is not in Singapore anymore. I don’t enjoy life there.
“are you joking? How can you say that? Your family is here. Your home is here. You are Singaporean. Your home is in Singapore.”
I try to joke my way out – but ah gong, many years ago, my ancestors came from China to make a better life in Singapore. Maybe that’s what I want too? To make a new life elsewhere?
He wasn’t having none of it. “those ancestors are long ago gone, I am your ancestor and I’m here in Singapore now.”
Ah gong if you miss me just say la, I tease….. He finally breaks and say “yea of cos I miss you.”
Before we ended the call I shouted Ah gong I love you!!!! He didn’t reply so I said “you have to say it back!” “I love you!!” he chimed back.
This is how I’ll choose to deal with my family. To acknowledge their concerns but also stand firm on my decision – because this is my life and ive lived too long of it trying to please people around me. I know I come from a very comparatively supportive family so I’m lucky. So I’m wondering how I would deal with a difficult family who either threatens to disown me, and violently disapproves of me doing anything.
I know this may be easier to say than to do, but I would think it’s all the more reason to ensure that what you want to do, is firstly justified by yourself.
We can have many obstacles come in our way, but when we really feel stuck in our lives, and want to explore other options, it’s the will that matters most.
The overarching principle I adopted when I first left Singapore – was to focus on myself. Perhaps its because my grief and broken heart were so big, I couldnt care less about what my family thought. I didn’t actually think to ask them for approval. I put my needs first, in order to heal. I had to do that, if not I would have crumbled even more.
By building up a strong shield around myself against anyone else’s perspectives or well meaning concerns, I created a safe haven for myself. One where I cried in, got angry in, showed my most vulnerable self in. All to myself, all with myself. I became my own support system, and my own best friend.
I would say – to those who find it hard to convince your family of certain decisions you want to make – to communicate with them better. Yall know I’m not a professional, but here’s how my thought process led me to choosing my path in life.
1. Change your way of communication. Instead of leading with defensive statements, always start with “I feel”, “what you said makes me feel”, “I hear you and this is what I feel”.
2. Focus on your Why’s and explain them to your family. Sometimes, all our family want to know is whether we have a plan or not. Their worries stem from a place of concern.
3. For families who depend on your financially and emotionally, I’m sure you will find solutions or actually already have solutions in mind. Sometimes it might mean having to make peace with “abandoning them”. But even if it’s just to travel for 6 months, that time you’re carving out for yourself is important for your mental health. So that you can be a better support system for your family.
4. Communicate more with them. If a dialogue often leads to arguments, try writing what you feel in a letter to them. Use other mediums. It might seem awkward and strange but hey, that might actually catch their attention better, so they know you’re actually serious and you want to make a serious case.
5. Have a mediator to help you. With people we love the most, we sometimes have the least patience for them. Having a mediator is a good way to ensure both parties can peacefully express themselves without letting things get out of hand.
Everyone’s situation is different, so of course the ‘solution’ will be different.
What I feel though, is that I’m now finally living my life the way I want. Its not the fact that I’m in croatia and not in Singapore. The location is not the constraint – but my mindset was.
In the past, I would always prioritise my family over anything else. I don’t think that it’s bad to do that, but if in doing that, you compromise too much on what you want, and how you feel, causing you to feel depressed and empty all the time…..its worth considering when you want to save yourself.
If you are running on empty, or feel like you’ve been empty for a long time, it’s time to reconsider your priorities. When we’re full of happiness and zest for life, that’s when we can genuinely live life to the fullest. If we want to love people around us the best way they deserve, its really important for us to first be in love with our own lives.
The effects of one person’s happiness can very much spread to your loved ones, causing a positive charge to be passed around to people you spend time / communicate with.
Similarly, if we continue running on empty, and don’t do anything about our unhappy lives, what usually happens is that we sow seeds of bitterness in our lives. Have you ever wondered why you get annoyed/irritated easily? Have you yourself gotten very impatient with yourself? Do you sometimes catch your bitterness in life manifesting in ugly behavior towards people you love? These are all signs of being burnt out in life.
I remember when my Ah Ma was alive, that my Ah gong was constantly yelling at her. They’ve been together for 60 over years, and towards the last decade, especially after both of them stopped working, my Ah gong’s patience with her ran empty and he kept taking things out on her. If my Ah Ma had not been more patient or understanding, more fights would have happened. They were already sleeping in separate rooms for many years, but were dependent on each other for companionship so forced themselves to tolerate each other.
How sad is that? When you can’t control your behavior towards your lived ones, and yet run out of time to make amends.
Running on empty hurts you, and people around you.
The sooner we realize that our actions and behavior will cause either positive or negative charges in other people’s lives, the sooner we will want to take charge of our own. The only thing we can control is our own lives, and what we do with it.
Either way, know that you’re not alone. My friends and I have started a telegram group for anyone who’s been looking to leave Singapore for a while, to either travel during covid or work as a digital nomad. Feel free to dm me on ig so I can add you into the telegram group.
Sending my thoughts to you, you, you, you and you.