By Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew
ANCIENT peoples developed and ritualised mourning practices to express the shared grief of family and friends, and together show not fear or distaste for death, but respect for the dead one; and to give comfort to the living who will miss the deceased.
I recall the ritual mourning when my maternal grandmother died some 75 years ago. For five nights the family would gather to sing her praises and wail and mourn at her departure, led by a practised professional mourner. Such rituals are no longer observed.
My family's sorrow is to be expressed in personal tributes to the matriarch of our family.
In October 2003, when she (Mrs Lee Kuan Yew) had her first stroke, we had a strong intimation of our mortality.
My wife and I have been together since 1947 for more than three-quarters of our lives. My grief at her passing cannot be expressed in words. But today, when recounting our lives together, I would like to celebrate her life.
In our quiet moments, we would revisit our lives and times together. We had been most fortunate. At critical turning points in our lives, fortune favoured us.
As a young man with an interrupted education at Raffles College, and no steady job or profession, her parents did not look upon me as a desirable son-in-law. But she had faith in me. We had committed ourselves to each other.
I decided to leave for England in September 1946 to read law, leaving her to return to Raffles College to try to win one of the two Queen's Scholarships awarded yearly. We knew that only one Singaporean would be awarded.
I had the resources, and sailed for England, and hoped that she would join me after winning the Queen's Scholarship. If she did not win it, she would have to wait for me for three years.
In June the next year, 1947, she did win it. But the British colonial office could not get her a place in Cambridge.
Through the Chief Clerk of Fitzwilliam, I discovered that my Censor at Fitzwilliam, W.S. Thatcher, was a good friend of the Mistress of Girton, Miss Butler. He gave me a letter of introduction to the Mistress.
She received me and I assured her that Choo would most likely take a 'First', because she was the better student when we both were at Raffles College.
I had come up late by one term to Cambridge, yet passed my first year qualifying examination with a Class1.
She studied Choo's academic record and decided to admit her in October that same year, 1947.
We have kept each other company ever since. We married privately in December 1947 at Stratford-upon-Avon.
'My heart is heavy with sorrow and grief'
At Cambridge, we both put in our best efforts. She took a first in two years in Law Tripos II. I took a double first, and a starred first for the finals, but in three years. We did not disappoint our tutors.
Our Cambridge firsts gave us a good start in life.
Returning to Singapore, we both were taken on as legal assistants in Laycock & Ong, a thriving law firm in Malacca Street. Then we married officially a second time that September 1950 to please our parents and friends. She practised conveyancing and draftsmanship, I did litigation.
In February 1952, our first son Hsien Loong was born. She took maternity leave for a year.
That February, I was asked by John Laycock, the senior partner, to take up the case of the Postal and Telecommunications Uniformed Staff Union, the postmen's union. They were negotiating with the government for better terms and conditions of service. Negotiations were deadlocked and they decided to go on strike. It was a battle for public support.
I was able to put across the reasonableness of their case through the press and radio. After a fortnight, they won concessions from the government.
Choo, who was at home on maternity leave, pencilled through my draft statements, making them simple and clear.
Over the years, she influenced my writing style. Now I write in short sentences, in the active voice. We gradually influenced each other's ways and habits as we adjusted and accommodated each other. We knew that we could not stay starry-eyed lovers all our lives; that life was an ongoing challenge with new problems to resolve and manage.
We had two more children, Wei Ling in 1955 and Hsien Yang in 1957. She brought them up to be well-behaved, polite, considerate and never to throw their weight as the Prime Minister's children. As a lawyer, she earned enough to free me from worries about the future of our children.
She saw the price I paid for not having mastered Mandarin when I was young. We decided to send all three children to Chinese kindergarten and schools.
She made sure they learnt English and Malay well at home. Her nurturing has equipped them for life in a multi-lingual region.
We never argued over the upbringing of our children, nor over financial matters. Our earnings and assets were jointly held. We were each other's confidant.
She had simple pleasures. We would walk around the Istana gardens in the evening, and I hit golf balls to relax.
Later, when we had grandchildren, she would take them to feed the fish and the swans in the Istana ponds. Then we would swim.
She was interested in her surroundings, for instance, that many bird varieties were pushed out by mynahs and crows eating up the insects and vegetation. She discovered the curator of the gardens had cleared wild grasses and swing-fogged for mosquitoes, killing off insects they fed on. She stopped this and the bird varieties returned.
She surrounded the swimming pool with free-flowering scented flowers and derived great pleasure smelling them as she swam. She knew each flower by its popular and botanical names. She had an enormous capacity for words.
She had majored in English literature at Raffles College and was a voracious reader, from Jane Austen to J.R.R. Tolkien, from Thucydides' History Of The Peloponnesian Wars to Virgil's Aeneid, to The Oxford Companion To Food, and Seafood Of South-east Asia, to Roadside Trees Of Malaya, and Birds Of Singapore.
She helped me draft the Constitution of the PAP. For the inaugural meeting at Victoria Memorial Hall on Nov 4, 1954, she gathered the wives of the founder members to sew rosettes for those who were going on stage.
In my first election for Tanjong Pagar, our home in Oxley Road became the HQ to assign cars provided by my supporters to ferry voters to the polling booth.
She warned me that I could not trust my new-found associates, the left-wing trade unionists led by Lim Chin Siong.
She was furious that he never sent their high school student helpers to canvass for me in Tanjong Pagar, yet demanded the use of cars provided by my supporters to ferry my Tanjong Pagar voters.
She had an uncanny ability to read the character of a person. She would sometimes warn me to be careful of certain persons; often, she turned out to be right.
When we were about to join Malaysia, she told me that we would not succeed because the Umno Malay leaders had such different lifestyles and because their politics were communally based, on race and religion.
I replied that we had to make it work as there was no better choice. But she was right. We were asked to leave Malaysia before two years.
When separation was imminent, Eddie Barker, as Law Minister, drew up the draft legislation for the separation. But he did not include an undertaking by the Federation Government to guarantee the observance of the two water agreements between the PUB and the Johor state government. I asked Choo to include this.
She drafted the undertaking as part of the constitutional amendment of the Federation of Malaysia Constitution itself. She was precise and meticulous in her choice of words. The amendment statute was annexed to the Separation Agreement, which we then registered with the United Nations.
The then Commonwealth Secretary Arthur Bottomley said that if other federations were to separate, he hoped they would do it as professionally as Singapore and Malaysia. It was a compliment to Eddie's and Choo's professional skills.
Each time Malaysian Malay leaders threatened to cut off our water supply, I was reassured that this clear and solemn international undertaking by the Malaysian government in its Constitution will get us a ruling by the UNSC (United Nations Security Council).
After her first stroke, she lost her left field of vision. This slowed down her reading. She learnt to cope, reading with the help of a ruler. She swam every evening and kept fit.
She continued to travel with me, and stayed active despite the stroke. She stayed in touch with her family and old friends. She listened to her collection of CDs, mostly classical, plus some golden oldies. She jocularly divided her life into 'before stroke' and 'after stroke', like BC and AD.
She was friendly and considerate to all associated with her. She would banter with her WSOs (woman security officers) and correct their English grammar and pronunciation in a friendly and cheerful way. Her former WSOs visited her when she was at NNI (National Neuroscience Institute). I thank them all. (See below)
Her second stroke on May 12, 2008 was more disabling. I encouraged and cheered her on, helped by a magnificent team of doctors, surgeons, therapists and nurses. (See below)
Her nurses, WSOs and maids all grew fond of her because she was warm and considerate. When she coughed, she would take her small pillow to cover her mouth because she worried for them and did not want to infect them.
Her mind remained clear but her voice became weaker. When I kissed her on her cheek, she told me not to come too close to her in case I caught her pneumonia. I assured her that the doctors did not think that was likely because I was active.
When given some peaches in hospital, she asked the maid to take one home for me for my lunch. I was at the centre of her life.
On June 24, 2008, a CT scan revealed another bleed again on the right side of her brain. There was not much more that medicine or surgery could do except to keep her comfortable.
I brought her home on July 3, 2008. The doctors expected her to last a few weeks. She lived till Oct 2, two years and three months. She remained lucid. They gave time for me and my children to come to terms with the inevitable.
In the final few months, her faculties declined. She could not speak but her cognition remained. She looked forward to have me talk to her every evening.
Her last wish she shared with me was to enjoin our children to have our ashes placed together, as we were in life.
The last two years of her life were the most difficult. She was bedridden after small successive strokes; she could not speak but she was still cognisant. Every night she would wait for me to sit by her to tell her of my day's activities and to read her favourite poems. Then she would sleep.
I have precious memories of our 63 years together. Without her, I would be a different man, with a different life. She devoted herself to me and our children. She was always there when I needed her. She has lived a life full of warmth and meaning.
I should find solace in her 89 years of life well lived. But at this moment of the final parting, my heart is heavy with sorrow and grief.
Eulogy for Mama, by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong
MAMA has always been part of our lives. Papa was busy with political work, so she did most of the bringing up of the children - me, Ling and Yang.
She nurtured us, taught us, disciplined us, took care of us, and fussed over us. She would be home for lunch every day when we came home from school, spending some time with us before going back to work in the afternoon.
Loving but strict, she enforced clear rules, encouraged us to do well, and took pride in our successes.
She kept the first school prize that I ever won, for doing well in kindergarten - a pencil sharpener in the shape of a tiny trophy, which is still today in the display cabinet at home.
Mama did not believe in spoiling her children. When we were small, she would walk with us down Oxley Road to a little stationery and book store along Orchard Road near the canal, now long gone. I think it was called Naina Mohamad and Sons.
I was interested in trains, like lots of little boys, and remember in particular one book all about trains displayed in the shop. It was a hardcover book, grey, old and slightly shop-worn, really meant for adults rather than children.
I found the book fascinating, but I was not to get it easily. Each time we visited the shop, I would look at it and reluctantly put it back. Only after many visits did she finally agree to buy the book, which I kept and treasured for years.
Not surprisingly, Mama did not shower us with expensive toys, and rather disapproved when the grandparents sometimes did.
But she would visit the textile shops that used to be in High Street, and bring us home the long, stiff cardboard rolls, the tubes which were at the centre of the rolls of fabric, and which had been discarded after all the fabric had been sold.
They cost nothing, but were great fun used as telescopes, for sword fights, and endless children's games. When I had my own children, my wife and I did the same.
When we were a little older, Mama got us to join the National Library, the old building at Stamford Road. Every fortnight she would take the three of us to the children's section of the library, to borrow another armful of books each, until we were old enough to go on our own and then to join the adult library.
Sometimes when we found the books had been defaced, she would try to erase the graffiti and clean it up, or if she could not, would make a point of reporting it to the librarian when we returned the books.
By the time we graduated to the adults' section, we must have read hundreds of books, and had picked up a lifelong love for books and reading.
We would visit our maternal grandparents at Pasir Panjang regularly. Their house was along the seafront at that time, and at high tide, the water would come right in to the seawall. We would swim in the sea, and Mama would sit on the steps watching over us.
Once when I had almost learnt to swim but not quite, I got into difficulty fooling around using goggles and a snorkel, and nearly drowned. Mama had to plunge in fully dressed to rescue me. She was not amused.
When the boys went away to university, she fussed over us at long distance. She was a skilful knitter, and knitted us sweaters to stay warm, one after another.
I still have one of them, a favourite rust-coloured one, patched many times at the elbows but still warm.
We stayed in close touch during my years abroad in Britain and later in the US. Once a week I would sit down to write a long letter home, and Mama and Papa would each write me a long letter too.
In those days, Cambridge was very far away from home. E-mail and Skype did not yet exist. International phone calls were expensive and hard to make.
The weekly letter was eagerly awaited for news of home, and for news of the son fending for himself in a faraway land. I would read and re-read the letters from home, then file them away carefully.
Nowadays the casual convenience of instant, free Internet access has made letter writing an endangered art. Instead, people Twitter. But I am not sure if Twitter has improved the quality of human communication.
When Hsien Yang and I got married, she embraced her daughters-in-law as her own children. When grandchildren arrived, she helped to look after them, especially my two elder ones - Xiuqi and Yipeng - after their mother Ming Yang died.
She and their Popo supervised the maids, took the very little ones for walks every evening, and more than made up for what I could not do as a single father.
The years passed. Even in old age, Mama kept a motherly eye on her children. She would follow my public appearances on TV and in the press, and comment on my dress or demeanour or make-up by the make-up artists. After one particularly long evening function which both my parents and I attended, she reproached me: 'You were bored stiff, and looked it.'
When I fell ill with lymphoma, she worried about my children again, and also about me, fretting over whether I was eating enough nutritious food or bird's nest to stay strong and fight the cancer.
On Sundays, the family would gather for lunch at Oxley Road. For a time it was with all the grandchildren, who would make a fine hullabaloo.
But as the kids grew up and went off to national service, or went away to study, often it would be back to just Papa, Mama and the three children and our wives, plus Shaowu, the youngest grandchild.
One Sunday in May two years ago, we had the usual family lunch. I had spent the morning on a constituency visit to Tampines, and told her they were debating whether to allow bicycles on pedestrian footpaths.
She reminded me that when I was in Cambridge and was mostly a pedestrian, I had written home to complain about the bicycles being a menace, because they crept up quietly on one from behind, giving no warning except for sinister whirring noises.
I had completely forgotten, but she was right. She said: 'The older I get, the longer ago the things I remember.' But she tracked current events too, and knew what the hot topics of the day were. I think the hot topic at the time was pretty girls serving beer in coffee shops.
The next day I was in my office when my security officer told me that Mama had fallen down at home, and Wei Ling was rushing her to NNI. She had had her second stroke. The last 2-1/2 years have been difficult on her and on the family. Now, she is at peace.
Over these last few days, I and my family have been deeply touched by the outpouring of condolences and fond recollections of people from all walks of life. We stood receiving the visitors, all moved that so many had come.
She touched the lives of all those who met her, and many more who knew of her only through television images, media reports, or word of mouth. They sensed what a special person she was, and how much she had quietly contributed to Singapore.
Thousands turned up at Sri Temasek to pay their respects. Some bowed or stood in silent prayer, while others crossed themselves or did a namaste. Still others fingered rosaries, and at least one lady spun a prayer wheel.
Many were visibly moved. Mama's children and our spouses stood beside her to acknowledge and thank them all, just as Mama had stood beside us so many times before.
All of our lives, Mama has been there for us. We have rejoiced together, grieved together, and shared critical moments and milestones together.
Now we will all have to learn to live without her. But she lives on in her children and grandchildren, in our cherished memories of her, and in the persons she has nurtured us into.
Eulogy by Lee Hsien Yang
ONE of the earliest photos of my happy childhood shows me at Fraser's Hill, a chubby toddler taking my first tentative steps. Mama is hovering in the background, ready to catch me if needed, and yet allowing me to find my own feet.
She played this role in raising Loong, Ling and me: always there for us if needed but helping us become strong independent individuals.
I have wonderful memories of the many idyllic family holidays at Cameron Highlands when we would stay at Cluny Lodge, a guest house perched on a scenic knoll.
I remember the brisk invigorating air, long walks on the golf course, playing in the mountain streams. In the evenings we would toast marshmallows and listen to stories around the fireplace.
In August 1965, when I was not yet eight, our family holiday at Cameron Highlands was suddenly cut short. A crisis I did not then comprehend was unfolding and Mama swiftly bundled us down the hill to Kuala Lumpur and then to Singapore.
It was only much later that I came to understand the historic significance of that abrupt interruption. I have not returned to Cameron Highlands since, wishing to preserve untouched my happy memories.
Although Mama encouraged all her three children to strive for academic excellence, I never felt pressured. Perhaps, it is because I was the youngest child. In fact Mama would sometimes tease me as having the 'youngest child syndrome'.
Mama supported my numerous extra-curricular activities, including swimming, canoeing, the military band, the Singapore Youth Orchestra.
Mama often would say she is a worrier by nature, and she must have worried. Luckily her worries about these interfering with my academic achievement were completely unfounded.
Mama loved music. She encouraged Loong and me to play the recorder when we were little, moving up to the clarinet in secondary school. We shared a love of classical music.
Her favourite was Bach, which we played at the wake and earlier; she also enjoyed Mozart, Hadyn, Vivaldi. She continued to enjoy music into old age. In hospital after her stroke, she asked for her MP3 player. We would like to think the music was a comfort to her.
She also enjoyed popular singers of her time: Doris Day, in particular Que Sera Sera, Vera Lynn, Bing Crosby, The Black and White Minstrels and Danny Kaye. I remember Danny Kaye's charming song about Tubby the Tuba entitled Be Yourself. Tubby was a tuba who dreamed of being a different musical instrument - a piccolo, a trumpet - but concluded it was best to be himself.
In many ways, this represented Mama, in modern IT jargon, we call her a WYSIWYG person - what you see is what you get. Her genuineness and sincerity left a deep impression.
When I went away to university, Mama and I would correspond regularly. She was good at reading between the lines, and before long noticed the frequency Fern was being mentioned in my letters.
They arranged to meet for tea on the lawn in front of Sri Temasek; I am sure there was mutual trepidation.
Thankfully Mama and Fern hit it off very well, and, although Fern was competitive enough to learn to knit so that I would not only wear my mother's hand-knitted sweaters, they had a warm relationship with many common interests besides knitting.
Soon after we married in 1981, Fern and I started receiving hints that grandchildren were due.
These messages began quite subtly, but by 1984, when I was attending Staff College in Camberley and Fern was working as a young lawyer in the City of London, Mama wrote to say 'I can understand your wanting a year or even two to run in your marriage, but it really is about time you got on with starting a family!'
Mama was thrilled when she first heard news of Fern's pregnancy and proceeded to knit numerous baby booties in anticipation. Mama knitted baby blue, white, lemon and peppermint green booties only, but no pink.
She must have been prescient. Our firstborn, Shengwu, was a boy! We still have those booties today.
The following year, in 1986, Fern delivered our second baby, yet another boy, Huanwu.
Mama rushed to NUH obviously thrilled and delighted, declaring 'Thank goodness, it's a boy. If the baby had been a Tiger girl, just think what difficulty we would have had marrying a Tiger girl off!'
Our third son Shaowu was born a decade after the first two, and is much younger than all Mama's other grandchildren. When Shaowu arrived in 1995, Mama was already 74 and had given up hope of any more grandchildren. In corporate parlance, Shaowu was an unexpected bonus issue.
Shaowu was greeted with great delight and she pronounced that she now had one granddaughter and six grandsons; she thought that there was a Chinese saying about a moon and seven stars, so all we needed to do was to produce another grandson to complete her family! Sadly, neither Fern nor Ho Ching obliged.
Shaowu has the privilege of being both the youngest son, and the youngest grandson. Nai Nai (as he called his grandmother) was always pleased to see him and loved to be with him.
She called him Shao Shao, and the two got on remarkably well despite the 75-year age gap. She would invite him to outings to the Zoo, the Night Safari, or just to play at the Istana grounds. They both enjoyed these times immensely.
Mama kept a collection of wooden tops, and would sometimes loan them to Shao. If he forgot to return them the next time he saw her, she would chide him. She did this to inculcate a sense of responsibility.
Every year, Shaowu would attend the National Day Parade with her. His spirited participation gave her much pleasure.
Mama made sure the family got together regularly.
In 1990, when I was still in the army, I decided to go parachuting. Neither Fern nor Mama thought much of this idea but I proceeded nonetheless.
When we then did not show up for our regular Sunday family lunch, Fern received a call from Mama asking if the grandchildren were sick.
Fern then explained that I had sprained my ankle parachuting. I soon received a call from Papa summoning me to SGH to have my injury fully investigated, only to discover Mama's intuition as usual was spot on and I had indeed broken my ankle.
In October 2003, soon after Papa's 80th birthday, sadly, Mama suffered her first stroke. This stroke left her much weaker and fragile. That she was less mobile and could not do many things for herself was a source of tremendous frustration for her.
Although Papa had been accustomed to being looked after by his mother during his childhood and youth, and by Mama after they got married, they now reversed roles.
From the outset, Papa helped, cajoled and encouraged her in her rehabilitation. He continued to care for her with an infinite amount of patience, love, kindness and good humour.
He adjusted his routine to accommodate her changing circumstances and physical condition. His abiding love, devotion and care must have been a great comfort to her, and an inspiration to Fern and me on how to manage a lifelong partnership, through good health and illness.
When we married in 1981, Papa wrote Fern and me a letter with advice on marriage.
Of his relationship with Mama he said '...we have never allowed the other to feel abandoned and alone in any moment of crisis. Quite the contrary, we have faced all major crises in our lives together, sharing our fears and hopes, and our subsequent grief and exultation. These moments of crisis have bonded us closer together. With the years, the number of special ties which we two have shared have increased. Some of them we share with the children.'
Papa has lived this love and commitment throughout these last difficult years.
Fern and I, and our three sons, Shengwu, Huanwu and Shaowu, miss Mama dearly. We will cherish her memory.
Eulogy by Lee Wei Ling
MAMA was the steadying influence on me for most of my life. I have always felt strongly about injustices, or the unnecessary suffering of humans and animals.
I used to be very upset when the police came to shoot stray dogs in the Istana grounds. So from young, I was perpetually on 'missions' - as I saw them - to right wrongs, most of which were not my duty to right.
Mama understood how passionately I felt about these missions. She did not stop me but would calmly put things into perspective for me and gently bring me down to earth.
When I was miserable because I failed in a mission, she was simply there for me, knowing words would be cold comfort.
As I grew older, I was more controlled in the way I took on challenges, and confided less in Mama. But her very presence when I failed in any mission was comforting.
Between Mama and me, there were times when we seemed to read each other's mind. She intuitively knew when something was bothering me and would often pre-empt my request for mundane items just before I verbalised my needs.
Once, I e-mailed her: 'I need a new toothbrush.' She replied: 'I must be telepathic. I just took one out from my store for you. But one day, the commissariat will no longer be around. If you don't know the word 'commissariat', look it up in the dictionary.'
Once, I had an accident while on a holiday in New Zealand. The car was totalled and it was a miracle I was not killed.
I carried on with my hiking plans after getting another vehicle from the car rental company. I did not inform my parents and thought to myself, 'you are real cool'.
But I suppose the worry that my injury or death would have hurt them was subconsciously present in my mind. So when I landed at Changi Airport, I immediately called home and said, 'Ma, I am home safe'.
I had forgotten that my usual habit was to greet my parents only when I got home. My mother realised that I must have been in danger.
She told my cousin Kim Li: 'Something happened to Ling on that trip. I rather not know what it was.'
Mama's (and Papa's) most significant influence on me was to teach me to treat people from all walks of life with the same empathy and kindness. Neither parent taught me in words but by action.
When the friends of our black and white maids visited our home, Mama treated the visitors with courtesy and as equals. Our maids felt that their mistress, who also happened to be the Prime Minister's wife, gave them a lot of face in treating their friends so kindly.
She encouraged me to treat the children of the staff who lived in the Istana grounds as friends without any thought of status.
To this day I remember Flora, Stella, John and Aloysious, the children of the butler, Peter, a Catholic Indian. I played rounders with them, and we watched the black and white TV in their small sitting room.
Over the years since we parted company, I have met Flora or Stella in the hospital on the occasions their children were ill. They usually recognised me before I recognised them and they would call out, 'Hi Ling, how have you been?'
The years fall away - and we are back in the time when we played together, the children of the Prime Minister and the children of the butler, as equals. Mama wouldn't have tolerated any other attitude on my part.
She taught my brothers and me not to behave as the Prime Minister's children. Flora and Stella came to my mother's wake.
On the evening of Aug 9, 1965, the British High Commissioner to Malaysia, Viscount Anthony Head, arrived at Sri Temasek to see my father urgently.
I was playing under the porch in my T-shirt and shorts. I asked him: 'Do you want to see my father?' I did not think I was rude. I would have greeted any unfamiliar adult who arrived at our doorstep in the same way, regardless of how distinguished he looked.
Mama herself treated people as her equals, regardless of their status in society. Even during this last illness, she still treated her Women Security Officers - or WSOs - with kindness and courtesy.
Many of her former WSOs SMSed me for permission to visit her. In the initial months after her devastating strokes in May 2008, she was able to recognise them and continued to treat them as her young friends.
One WSO related to me how Mama, even after the third and nearly fatal bleed into her brain, joked with the young woman: 'When are you going to have babies? You should not just be studying your books all the time!'
Mama was the one I ran to when I was hurt as a child, when I felt played out, or when I was simply sad because I felt life had been unfair to me or to my pets or to an injured wild animal on the Istana grounds.
As I grew older, I stopped bothering her with these 'trivialities'. But she continued to be there for me when I needed her most.
Mama taught me how to xue zuo ren - be an upright human being. On rare occasions when I was a child, she punished me by caning. But it was always in circumstances when I knew I deserved the punishment.
The final 2-1/2 years of Mama's life were painful - eased only by Papa's enduring and limitless love.
But we must remember Mama had 87 years of happiness, beginning from her childhood in a close-knit family, through her school years, and then university.
She found a perfect partner and spouse in my father. She was happy with and proud of her three children. She enjoyed and was successful in her profession.
While I mourn Mama's passing, I am grateful to have had her for 55 years. I am who I am partly because of my genetic make-up, but also because of the way in which I was brought up.
I firmly believe that you should treat others in the same way you wish others to treat you. Mama taught me that social hierarchies exist, but we must not treat people differently according to their position in society.
Eulogy by granddaughter Li Xiuqi, 29
I RACKED my brains as to what to tell you that you haven't already heard many times. By now, you have heard all about what a remarkable woman my grandmother was.
How she was an excellent wife and mother; how she was kind-hearted, sharp-minded and a tower of strength.
And indeed she was.
But now I'm going to share something else. As my granddad has said, after 2003, Nai Nai divided her life into BS and AS - Before Stroke and After Stroke. I'd like to give you a glimpse into Nainai's life After Stroke.
Before Stroke, she was a power woman. She ran the Oxley Road household like a tight ship. She paid the maids, bought the fish, quality-checked the cooking, and peeled my grandfather's fruit and packed his suitcase.
She exercised rigorously every day and ate not a single extra calorie, which preserved her hourglass figure for her many gorgeous cheongsams. She was no-nonsense and did not believe in making small talk or nattering on the phone with other women.
Then her stroke struck in 2003 while she was in London. Shocked by the news, my friends and I prayed fervently and the next day she made a miraculous recovery.
I flew over to visit her in the East London hospital. She had regained consciousness and the doctor was asking her a standard set of questions to assess her cognitive function.
Questions such as 'Is it day or night? Do you know who I am? Do you know where you are?'
She was answering until he got to the question 'Do you know who is the Prime Minister?' She got cross and said 'Of course I know who the Prime Minister is!' and after that she refused to answer any more questions because she felt the doctor was talking to her like she was stupid.
That was when I knew she was back to normal.
While she was still away, her children quickly seized the opportunity to renovate and elderly-proof the old Oxley Road house.
They levelled the bathroom floor and installed a shower. This was a big deal because all these years, my grandparents had still been bathing with the old-fashioned system - scooping from a tub of water the same way they bathed me when I was little!
So my granny came home to find her tub gone and a shower in its place. She was not pleased at all and refused to bathe at home for several days, choosing to bathe in the Istana instead.
Many things changed at Oxley Road. Now, my granddad had to peel his own fruit, peel her fruit, pack his own suitcase and make his own Milo.
For the first time in a while, he had to handle money so he could pay the maids. My granny locked the money in one place, and kept the keys to the lock in another totally unrelated place.
My granddad complained that she needed a system but she retorted that she had a system. And that was that.
For the first time in her life, my granny was helpless. She experienced a physical handicap and it did give her frustration. But I knew that she was also secretly happy to be taken care of. And she acquired the glow of a girl who knew she was adored.
More changes were in store. My family was a little perturbed when my granny started showing personality changes.
Her memory, which used to be sharp as a tack, became a little blunted. She grumbled about this but I told her what's the big deal, that's how I feel all the time.
She began to collect colourful things like ribbons and pinwheels. She had a new-found interest in old nursery rhymes and lullabies that she used to know. She wondered if she was entering second childhood.
She started to natter on the phone like other women. She started to joke around with her security officers.
For a time my family worried that she had Alzheimer's but I don't think she did. Her wit was as rapier-sharp as ever. No, what I saw was a woman who for the first time could lighten up and smell the flowers.
I would say, and I heard many others say as well, that they felt she became less fearsome and more approachable. I personally enjoyed the new her very much.
I decided I would like to travel with my grandparents as much as I could, see the world and spend time with them too.
We went on many trips in four years. And no, the State did not pay for my plane tickets, so not to worry, Ministry of Finance.
Those were happy memories. We went to France where we enjoyed walks in rose gardens and along riverbanks. We went to Italy where my granny surpassed us all by polishing off two huge scoops of gelato - before dinner.
Once we went on a long trip with multiple legs, from Paris to the Middle East. My granny swears by bananas to keep the digestive tract working smoothly. I was just amazed at how she managed to supply herself with them.
She carried one in her hand-carry luggage; when we got to our first destination, the ambassador's wife produced more bananas for her; and when we arrived at the next country, my aunt Kim Li flew in, handed her a bag and said 'Here are the bananas you asked for'. An unbroken supply chain halfway around the world.
In Tokyo, my granny went to Tokyo Hands, a seven-storey DIY store. She has always been on a lifelong quest for the Perfect Hairbrush.
She found a nice hairbrush there. It wasn't expensive. But even purchasing it was a struggle for her because Nai Nai has always been frugal to a fault.
In the end, the hairbrush won. Nai Nai said, 'Well, I'm already so old, I can afford to buy it', and put down the money. She went home smiling, hairbrush in hand.
That was the thing about my granny. Some days, the aches and pains would act up, she felt old, she would be grouchy and critical.
But there was something about her that made you always want to please her. When you hit on something that she really liked, her whole person would light up and she would continue to praise it forever and ever.
Such was the case when we went to Shanghai. Once I bought her a pair of black Puma shoes. They were a spiffy pair with a stripe in Ferrari red. They cost me very little but it didn't matter.
She adored them. She felt cool in them and every single time she wore them she would beam and feel very pleased with herself and I'd feel satisfied that my money was supremely well-spent.
Once my granny discovered the joy of MP3 players, she accumulated more than me. Some were gifts from other people who, like me, liked to please her. She was young at heart. Sadly, her 80-something-year-old body gave her aches and pains all the time.
However, she was a survivor and never gave up trying to overcome it. She tried everything, from sleeping with little pillows in various positions to support her body, to acupuncture, sports massage, swimming an hour a day, and so on.
One time I arrived at her house to find she had gotten rubber balls with blunt rubber spikes, like sea urchins. Trigger balls, they are called.
Nai Nai recommended them to me and the two of us spent the evening sitting on the balls on the floor, massaging the muscles in our butt.
I always felt sad that her ageing body did not allow her to do the things that her soul wanted to do, such as roam the streets window-shopping, eat more desserts, or move around freely.
The most terrible thing was when she got locked-in syndrome and could no longer move nor communicate. It pained me, imagining how agonising it would be to be in her position, just lying there for months while others ate, drank, moved and talked.
Ever the survivor, she overcame multiple infections in her locked-in state, infections that people thought would kill her.
A big Thank You must go to her wonderful security officers and nursing staff who grew to love her and facilitated her life with a lot of love.
The post-stroke Nai Nai was a person who was full of life. If I could spend more years with her, and if she was able-bodied, there would still be many things to see, do, talk about and taste. And indeed I have full assurance that one day, I will.
Eulogy by Li Shengwu, 25, eldest son of Lee Hsien Yang
'To everything there is a season,
A time for every purpose under heaven:
A time to be born,
And a time to die;
A time to weep,
And a time to laugh;
A time to mourn,
And a time to dance;
A time to gain,
And a time to lose.'
Ecclesiastes 3: 1-6, with some lines omitted
ONE of our family's abiding institutions is the Sunday Lunch. Our three (once four) generations gather at Oxley Road on Sundays and share a meal.
When I was little, the grandchildren tended to eat far too fast and play far too loudly. I remember Nai Nai's good humour as we mistook her rocking chair for a climbing frame. In lieu of a television, Nai Nai provided a tall, well-stocked bookshelf next to the children's table, and thereby contributed much of my early childhood literacy.
She chose our books well, and the selection was expansive, ranging from Peter Rabbit to a picture book on exotic animals (on the lowest shelf), from Roald Dahl to Arthurian legend (on the higher shelves). I never saw what was on the highest shelf; it was a very tall bookshelf and I was not a very tall child.
Little did I suspect that the best books were on a yet higher shelf; up the stairs and in Nai Nai's bedroom, where she kept the accumulated stories of a lifetime's reading - a hoard of Chaucer and Shakespeare, the Sejarah Melayu, Confucius and Mencius - to which the cheery bookshelf downstairs was a mere shadow or stepping stone.
The King Arthur of Roger Lancelyn Green occupied the downstairs bookshelf; the King Arthur of Thomas Malory held court upstairs.
Without her urging or insistence, I inherited her love of the kind of stories that are now called fairy tale or fantasy, but used to be, simply, stories. It took me more than a decade to discover The Odyssey, Beowulf and Le Morte D'Arthur, but Nai Nai had the patience to sow the kind of seeds that take long to bear fruit.
Nai Nai had the benefit of a classical education, and upon returning from my studies overseas, I discovered that she had long been reading the Greek philosophers that I had of late come to appreciate.
Well-worn copies of Plato's Republic and Symposium occupied places near her bedside. I wish we'd had the chance to talk about them.
It is well to say that Nai Nai lives on in memory, but she was more than memory. She was a great person; lively, quick-minded and kind.
Her passing is to us an inconsolable loss, and it cuts keenly. Tolkien's The Lord Of The Rings has for decades been a family favourite. In its final chapters, at the parting of the fellowship, the wizard Gandalf counsels, 'Go in peace! I will not say, 'Do not weep!', for not all tears are an evil.'
Ye Ye and Nai Nai's lives are a story to occupy many volumes. Coming late into the narrative, I am a minor character who has missed many chapters. I cannot bear witness to the earlier plot twists, climaxes and denouements. But I know that they have loved one another steadfastly, through many trials and joys. The Bard tells us:
'Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! It is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose Worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.'
Nai Nai and Ye Ye have been, to me, an example of that kind of love.
Nai Nai's grandchildren arrived relatively late in her life, and she loved each one dearly.
When Huanwu and I were children, we became entangled in a book on Cat's Cradle, a game of string figures played with a loop of twine and four hands. Seeing our difficulty, Nai Nai carefully unknotted our initial attempts, and showed us new spiderweb configurations mentioned nowhere in the book's pages.
She passed to her grandchildren a love of learning and reading, as well as the kind of knowledge not found in print.
Samuel Butler wrote:
'I fall asleep in the full and certain hope
That my slumber shall not be broken;
And that though I be all-forgetting,
Yet shall I not be forgotten,
But continue that life in the thoughts and deeds
Of those I loved.'
We love you, Nai Nai, and we will remember you.
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