Rewriting the obituary

23 May 2011By Wong Ting Hway, Singapore

My mother used to tell us, she’d like her obituary to read: “She tried to be the best teacher, mother, daughter, sister, wife… and she was.”

That was many, many years ago, when we were still in school and she had no need to be considering her obituary. She was making a point that she tried to be the best she could to all of us, and that we should try to make the best of our lives too.

When she first started showing signs of slowing down with age, she wrote the first draft of her will. I insisted that she show it to one of her lawyer friends, who made just a few recommendations.

A few years later, she wanted to add someone to her will, a new addition to the family. Again, I asked her to show it to her lawyer friend. This happened a few times while she kept on trying to “get it right”.

When she started to forget things, she asked for a copy of her will, just so she could remind herself what she had written. I told her – sure, but please, no more changes!

Recently, when she was hospitalised again, she showed me a copy of another document. Scribbled on the back of hospital paper, I wondered if she had tried to rewrite her will.

Instead, it was a draft of her obituary. Her usually regular handwriting was now uneven, did not follow the lines on the page, was full of spelling mistakes and was sometimes outright incomprehensible.

There was one paragraph listing all the schools she had taught at. There was a second paragraph talking about her students and some of the stories they told her. Finally there was a long paragraph thanking the people at the hospice who had brightened up her days.

I saw the crumpled sheet of paper a few times. She hadn’t changed it much. I didn’t remind her that she had once wanted her obituary to talk about how she had been the best. I was also relieved she had stopped trying to re-apportion whatever worldly goods she thought she had to dole out.

The sheet went missing when she moved from intensive care to a normal ward.