We’ve been incredibly blessed with 24 weeks/almost 6 months of full time travelling, homeschooling and being digital nomads. We set off knowing we needed a break away from the daily grind to just enjoy each other and the journey. It was our own journey of grief.
Travelling across Malaysia, Vietnam and now Thailand, we’ve enjoyed many experiences and made many wonderful memories. We have had a lot time to find ourselves, relax, reflect and reconnect with each other. But it still felt like something was missing. As Debra was creating her first published book "Ravi and Kitty", I had a sudden realisation that I could write a book as part of our amazing journey. To be honest, I was apprehensive about writing. I’ve never written or conceptualised a picture book.
“Nobody will think anything good about it!” were one of the many self-doubting thoughts that flooded my mind. Then, that still small voice in my heart went “It is for your daddy, mummy, your kids and family”. My heart almost immediately swelled up with passion and inspiration to embark on the project. The core ideas of the book came almost instantly. It must be about COFFEE! There I sat at the dining table, pouring my soul into writing a book that would be a fitting end product of our Grand Tour.
THE END PRODUCT
First and foremost, I must give due credit to my beloved wife and illustrator of this book. Without her support and countless hours of drawing, none of my ideas would be brought to life. I’m so very proud of how she connected my thoughts and ideas and communicated them so well through the art she produced. She also the artist behind our sticker, art card and t shirt collections.
She’s really the better half!
This is not just an ordinary book that comes off a regular profit making publishing house’s conveyor belt. "The aroma of his coffee" is our journey down memory lane as we remember a man's love for his family, travel and his coffee. Debra and I will launch this book on 28th September 2022 on what would have been our beloved daddy’s 70th Birthday. This book is first dedicated to my dad. We feel acutely his absence every single day. I feel this is the most fitting way to remember what he meant to us and what we meant to him.
WHAT WE HOPE TO ACHIEVE
I have also written the book while being profoundly aware that grief and loss is a huge part of everyone’s life. I hope that our book can help others journey through their grief of losing a loved one through remembering. We hope people will be inspired to explore the many forms that memories take. Photographs/Videos have been the primary medium through which we reminisce but we've realised how powerful smells and a sense of place are in rekindling memories. Remembering is always bitter sweet. It can initially feel painful to remember but remembrance can help us cope and inspire our steps ahead.
Anyone who has experienced loss and grieve would be familiar with this cycle:
What we really need however is to work through our grief and loss. (As we have discussed in our mental health post how important it is not to just chuck it aside)
We need to exercise remembrance to reframe our thoughts, accept the situation and have a go-to coping strategy. Grief will never actually go away. You’ll always miss the person you’ve lost. Working through grief can help to lessen the debilitating effects of the pain and cope better when the wave hits you again.
This book has done exactly that for Debra, the kids and I. Being the author/illustrator of the book, we’ve had the fortunate opportunity (or unfortunate for some haha) to read the book a million times before it gets published. It brings out the feelings of loss and pain but at the same time, we are comforted by the fact that we actually shared those wonderful moments. It gives us the impetus to make more of those good memories and do what really matters in the grand scheme of things. This reframing exercise helps us accept the situation and channel the emotions into something positive in our lives. We hope that our story can help you do that too.
E-Books will be immediately available while hard copies will be on pre-order while the press works on producing them. We hope to have your strong and generous support this launch!
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You may be wondering if the end product also means that our trip is ending. To be honest, that prospect is looking quite real. We are not sure where we’ll be going next or how this will pan out long term. We hope that our work is well enjoyed and supported and in turn we can keep going for awhile until we decide on the next phase of life. We think that we would like it to go on for a little more.
In the meantime, please help us share this post and about our upcoming launch. Let us know your thoughts and comments too!
Jane Marczewski famously made Simon Cowell speechless and shed tears on America's Got Talent with the line above. Going by her stage name Nightbirde, the Singer-songwriter got the coveted golden buzzer for her amazing performance. I loved her voice and the song she wrote. It is extra poignant because she faced a recent divorce after a cancer relapse and only had a 2% chance of survival. Despite the circumstances, she CHOSE happiness. She chose to do what she loved.
She died in February this year.
Being happy is a feeling indeed but I've come to realise that it is a feeling we can decide to have. The thing is, we CAN feel happy and sad at the same time. We can REFRAME our thoughts and adjust our lives to make room for more happiness. That's exactly what we set out to do 22 weeks ago when we set off on a trip with no end destination in mind.
It has been stressful trying to publish books, balance our budgets, school the kids and travel at the same time. Despite the stress and worry, I find that there's still so much room to choose happiness, faith and hope.
So how can we decide to be happy?
I found this picture Debra took of Gwyn and I walking in the mall when we were back in Kuala Lumpur. This picture alone gave me the inspiration and answer to finding happiness.
I've always found great difficulty in understanding why a balloon (a piece of coloured rubber filled with air) gave my children so much joy. I realised that they found happiness because they received a gift (in their favourite colour). To an adult, you really can't do much with a ballon other than stare at it or take photos of it. To children, they can come up with a million games involving bouncing, throwing and hitting the ballon.
In the same way, life is a gift. Waking up tomorrow is a gift. It is up to us to find joy in the moment through contentment. I truly believe that even on the worst days, we can find something to be grateful for and to be happy about.
2. Numbering your days
How many times will get to hold my daughter's hand while she looks at her balloon with immense fascination? How many more years will I have with my kids around my dinner table every single day before they head to University, Army or have their own families? When we realise how little time we have left, it puts things in perspective. That helps us appreciate what we have more and feel that happiness deeper.
I don't claim that being contented and numbering my days to be an easy exercise. I grew up in a society where million dollar properties, a fat bank account, a shiny career and an expensive car defines success. Spending almost all our healthy and years of youth pursuing these things have become almost a commandment and the only way to live life. Societal pressures can be quite daunting at times.
It is perhaps wise that we took this trip to reshape our world views and grieve at the same time. This trip we've been on has completely opened my eyes to how little we need to have happiness and joy in our lives. I'll use a little throwback to when we were in Melaka to illustrate this....
We live off two cabin sized suitcases. It is quite obvious we can't bring their collection of toys and furniture on the trip with us. We also believe in giving the kids as much freedom to be kids as possible. After their daily dose of academic exercises, they are free to do whatever they wish. Sounds like a formula for disaster for many parents out there eh?
We thought that way too for a moment but we've come to realise how resilient and creative kids can be. They spent hours drawing on the floor with chalk, collecting rocks (pretending to be penguin parents building nests) and playing hopscotch. There were genuinely happy. We don't hear the kids telling us "I'm BORED! There's nothing to play/do!". We got so much of that back in Singapore when they had an entire room full of toys, puzzles, crafts and books.
Matthias took my deck of cards (that I sometimes play with Debra in the quiet evenings) and decided he wanted to play solitaire manually. It was a game my late-father played a lot and Matthias learnt while sitting on his lap. I was pleasantly surprised that a deck of cards can occupy him for afternoons on end.
We do of course still carry some age appropriate toys that they can enjoy along the way. This box of Lego with a carrying case is the best thing we've bought for the trip. They have been making all sorts of fantasy worlds and characters with them. Gwyn narrates an entire epic while she plays with them. Its fascinating and hilarious watching her play.
We really don't need a lot to be happy. What we need most is to be contented. That means we have to stop chasing something more exciting, something bigger, something better. We have to stop comparing ourselves with others and stop building our self-esteem around that. We need to number our days and enjoy the moment.
Our evenings nowadays are pretty intense. It is filled with sly deals, sneaky +4s and saying NO. Lowest scores that night will entail some push-ups or squats. The kids have an absolute ball of a time! I'm so glad we are able to create these memories. I'm so glad we are able to fill their core memories up with the simplicity and joys of being together.
After many days of heavy downpour, we finally got a break in the weather. The sun came out and we headed to Patong beach! And boy, its beautiful!
Now that the monsoon rains are more frequent and the school term has started in the US/UK and Australia, Phuket is experiencing the lull season. It is unsurprising that the beach is a lot cleaner (still has some plastic trash) and less crowded. It is really soul soothing to just sit and enjoy the wide open space.
Even I got interested in digging up the sand to find out what was below and bubbling! I didn't get to find crabs though. If you are a geologist or an expert with beaches, please comment and let us know why are there little holes in the wet sand that release bubbles!? It is so liberating to be on a beach that doesn't want to eat you alive. There aren't mosquitoes or sandflies here!
We were gifted one of the most beautiful sunsets we have seen on this trip. It really drove home the message for us. Life is as fleeting as the beauty of these sunsets, we can't wait until it isn't hard anymore to feel happy and enjoy it. We need to seize the moment because life will always throw difficult times at you.
We just want to end off by announcing the title of our second book and to give you a sneak preview of it!
"The aroma of his coffee" is our journey down memory lane as we remember a man's love for his family, travel and his coffee. Debra and I have been working together on creating this book that to help others journey through their grief of losing a loved one through remembering. We want people to explore the many forms that memories take. Although Photographs/Videos have been the primary medium through which we reminisce, we've realised how powerful smells (and other senses) are in rekindling memories.
Please support our work by generously purchasing our merchandise, art and book at www.hirojack.com :) We're also accepting donations and support for a remembrance trip!
Ovid the ancient Roman poet once said....
Winged time glides on insensibly, and deceive us; and there is nothing more fleeting than years
We have already travelled around South East Asia for a whole 21 weeks. By the end of our time in Thailand, we would have travelled for almost half a year. To be very honest, we didn't think that we would last this long with the little we had to finance the trip. We still crack our heads about how next month will be. But it has been an incredible feat, a journey by faith and grace. I'll talk about the crazy flight in bit...bear with me.
We know that our years are numbered and life is more than just accumulation of wealth or climbing up shaky ladders that may topple anytime. Having faced the very harsh reality of our mortality, we chose to spend our time and resources building lasting memories and doing what we are passionate about.
It has been a mammoth task juggling travel, homeschooling, budget constrains and a post pandemic world. On top of it, we are also walking through a very difficult journey of grief. This is why I'm incredibly proud of Debra who has completed the first book in a series she intends to write. It feels crazy to have an ISBN number allocated to your work and sending a copy to NLB.
We are thankful for those who have purchased the books! We've also set up a listing to accept support for a remembrance trip to New Zealand to complete a bucket list destination on behalf of my late dad.
On top of that we are also already in the process of publishing a second book called "The aroma of his coffee". I've authored this book and Debra is illustrating. This book is very very close to our hearts. Those who personally know us and my dad will know that we absolutely love coffee. The aroma of coffee has brought an enormous amount of comfort, memories and strength in our journey of grief. We hope this book will help others not shy away from reminiscing and remembrance.
We are deeply thankful that we've been able to create this much since we spent a month in KL to focus on writing. We haven't done much travelling in KL but enough to write this post about it!
The city was much kinder to us compared to our previous nightmare visit to KL. We even got to meet some old friends and our children had a whale of a time meeting up. So blessed to have a wonderful afternoon at the soft play and a pizza dinner to celebrate Matt and Gwyn's birthdays!
Our 30 day tourist visa quickly came to an end and we had to move on to the next destination.
The almost fateful flight
We thought we were catching a routine short haul flight from KLIA to Phuket, Thailand! Lo and behold, we had to come face to face with our mortality.
We only managed to get Batik Air (previously Malindo Air) tickets because other airlines offered unearthly timings and ridiculous prices. It almost turned out very very wrong. After we were issued the boarding pass, we went through the formalities of security and immigration checks before walking towards the gate printed on the boarding pass. Upon checking the screens indicating departure information at the airport, we realised we were heading the wrong way. The gate for our flight was printed WRONGLY on the card.
As the plane filled with passengers, it became really hot in the aircraft. We were all perspiring. The plane also departed late.
The full thrust came in and we were rather violently pushed into our seats. There were sounds of worried squeals on the aircraft. As the pilot accelerated hard down the runway, we were being swayed from side to side pretty hard by the pilot constantly kicking his rudder right and left. It felt like he was struggling to control his aircraft. It was a hot, sunny and still day. I'm not so sure if he was fighting a crosswind.
I quickly put that worry behind and just assumed there was a suddenly rush of crosswinds. The flight was uneventful for the next 1 hour but we were rather annoyed that the aircraft had entertainment screens but none was turned on.
We had a pretty uncomfortable descent with quite a few shakes and drops but I just assumed it was the clouds causing turbulence. As we rushed down the last 500 feet, it became quite clear that we were in for a pretty harsh landing. True enough, the aircraft landed with a very loud THUD AND CLANK. It sounded like something in the landing gear took a pretty bad beating on that landing. The plane swayed again from side to side again as the pilot engaged reverse thrust to slow the aircraft down. Gwyneth was holding on to her mother for her dear life as Matt and I held on to our seats.
I've travelled extensively and have flown enough times to consider myself a seasoned flyer. This wasn't normal at all. I've never had to feel like I was gonna die or experience a serious aviation accident in my entire life. This was just something else.
I would definitely avoid Batik Air at all costs in future!
Welcome to Phuket
The airport was efficient and we cleared immigration, customs and collected our baggage in no time. We were told by the taxi counter staff who claimed that our hotel provided free taxi transfers. We wasted 15 minutes walking back into the terminal and being asked asked to join this resort package sales talk to get a free taxi transfer. Don't waste your time like we did! (unless you would really want to purchase a resort package). We obviously declined! We are just poor aspiring authors, writers and designers!
We settled into our accommodation and had a hilarious conversation with the receptionist. I asked him about putting on masks in Thailand because no one wore one outside of the airport. He replied "You see, if you believe you don't have virus, and you don't test, you don't find out! You don't have to go to the hospital! So no need any masks, you are free!" We had a good laugh! Off with the masks then!
For the first time in 2 years, we walked down the street with our bare faces, seeing smiles and feeling the wind on our skin. We took an evening stroll through the Patong Beach areas.
The last time we hit the beach was at Port Dickson more than a month ago. It was nice to watch the sun set and be lulled to a relaxed state by the crashing waves. The beach is fast becoming lively again with tourist activities and local doing their Zumba to loud catchy music.
We tried to enter Junceylon mall for a stroll and grab our dinner there. We were shocked to find that the mall was closed except for the supermarket and a handful of shops around it. I've been to this Island 5 times and I consider this mall to be the crown jewel of Patong beach! You get all the family friendly entertainment, food and shopping in a large mall.
We explored the area further and found many surrounding hotels and resorts abandoned or shut.
It became clear that quite a lot of the tourist oriented businesses have folded after two years of continuous closure. We also discovered numerous other shops and hotels that were shuttered, empty and abandoned all around Patong. It was a sad sight.
A quick google search showed that some larger hotels and Jungceylon itself is being refurbished and scheduled to reopen in the 4th quarter for high season of 2022. If you want a quiet and less crowded time in Phuket, now is a good time! If you want to see Phuket in his former glory, it would be better to come by next year!
As many businesses shut, a huge new industry has emerged in Thailand. For the first time outside of the US and Holland, we've seen weed (Ganja, Cannabis, marijuana) being sold in public. They are everywhere! Booths, pop up stores and full blown stores selling them. I'm still not very sure how to feel about this development. Still have mixed feelings about it. Smoking anything would harm your health and addiction is a real risk. However, research has also shown that medicinal weed can help ease some very severe illnesses.
Despite the changes in Phuket, we were thankful that affordable and delicious Thai food can still be found! You just have to walk away from where the major tourist crowds gather. We are just so happy that the kids are eating well. No complaints, no protests and fussing at the dinner table. They absolutely love the simple stir fried dishes, fried rice, Pad Thai and omelette dishes. They cost just S$2.30 to S$3.10! There are of course more sophisticated curries, BBQ meats and salt baked fish that don't cost more than a maximum of S$10 a dish.
The weather is also pretty nice in Phuket at the moment. It ranges between 25 to 29 celcius daily. We are surprised it hasn't crossed 31 celcius. You'll still perspire at the beach but it isn't the searing or suffocating heat we experienced in Vietnam. We are positive we could get some sightseeing, beach days and our books completed over the next few weeks here!
Drop us some suggestions of family and pocket friendly stuff we can do in Phuket!
Thanks for reading and joining us on our journey this week! If you enjoy reading our musings, do consider joining our mailing list to get notifications when the latest one is posted!
We covered how as Singaporeans we are able to homeschool our kids legally in this post. https://www.hirojack.com/blog/how-we-home-school-2-kids-while-we-travel
We did cover some aspects of how we teach and what we use on our travels to homeschool them. I felt that I didn’t cover the road schooling aspect sufficiently.
Road schooling is basically homeschooling while being on the road (travelling/exploring/roaming).
What’s the difference you may ask? Well here is our odd life as Road Schoolers!
Permanence vs constant change
Most homeschoolers (as the name suggests) are schooled from their homes. Usually there is one homeschool parent at home who is the teacher. They may form groups where they co-teach with other homeschool parents or organise trips/enrichment/playdates. There is some form of permanence in the arrangement and location.
Road schoolers on the other hand are travelling and moving from destination to destination. They are usually homeschooled exclusively by their parent/s while they travel. They meet new people and have new classrooms according to their travel plans.
Road schoolers have to be lean in the physical items they use for school. They cannot afford to bring an entire physical library with them. This does not mean that they have limited access to materials. It means that they tend to go digital. Homeschoolers have the luxury of more storage space.
We carry only...
-A stack of writing paper,
We can't have the luxury of visiting a physical library overseas but we can access Singapore’s National Library’s collection on the Libby app. We can borrow and return books at any time as long as there’s an internet connection. They also use Khan academy (website and apps) often as a supplement.
Reading about it vs being there to experience it
Quite often, we are content to show children the maps and talk about landscapes, animals and history through the text books. We acknowledge that we don’t always have the time and resources to let them go where the lesson is and experience it.
We realised that road-schooling is a very experiential form of learning. We walked among the tea plants and climbed the steep slopes where rice terraces were situated. They didn’t just get to see and feel the tea leaves, they felt the burn in their legs (and on their skin) and realised how tough farming was.
Visual and auditory learners may be contented with watching a video at their desks but that would be a nightmare for others. Road schooling is a kinaesthetic learner’s dream. You’ll get to walk around in search of clues, look at exhibits and feel them (if permitted).
Road schooling kids get more freedom to choose what they will take away from a lesson. Be it a mall or museum, they are learning!
We recently visited this amazing little store in Mytown shopping mall that sells and showcases products that the older generation used to consume. It is like a time tunnel we took to travel back to the past when the idea of play and delicious treats were different.
We also had an amazing time of learning and reflection at the National Museum of Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur. We got to physically walk through a journey of how human civilisation came to be in this region. The different exhibitions led us through the lives of the early inhabitants all through colonial rule, Japanese occupation, communist insurgency and independence. Matthias also realised how much of history was treachery.
Matthias saw how much culture and History Singapore and Malaysia shared.
Did you know the region used to be one piece of land 18000 years ago? The low sea levels meant that we were mostly joined by land which allowed the floral and fauna to travel/spread throughout the region. It's great to learn something new!
Road schooling allows for more incidental learning (any learning that is unplanned or unintended). When we travel places, we learn bits and pieces of language, human behaviour and the different ways people conduct themselves. Apart from their fixed syllabus, exploring while travelling allows them to learn beyond purely academic knowledge. I’m not saying incidental learning doesn’t happen in a homeschooling environment or traditional classroom, it does. We just get a lot more of it learning while we explore and travel.
We’ve been catching quite a few rides on the KL Rapid transit.
Gwyneth has learnt to express her frustrations or boredom better. She enjoys describing what she sees, reading signs and advertising boards. She asks a tonne of questions from “what is makeup for?”, “papa, is this your big tummy?” “What does this sign mean?”
She has also learnt to cope better with crowded places and persevere when we have to walk more.
E.g. Matthias and I would go on Wikipedia to read about the top speed of trains, the rolling stock manufacturers and information about the KL Rapid Transit system. We also learnt of an AMAZING invention in KL called the BRT. An entire network of elevated roads that are solely for the use of buses to the ply the route like a train. These buses are FULLY ELECTRIC.
Although we are happy of the positive impact of the network on traffic jams and emissions, we also learnt that Malaysia generates more than 60% of its energy using COAL and more than 30% using natural gas. Singapore also generates 95% of our energy using natural gas. All of which are finite fossil fuels that contribute to global warming and pollution. This is despite both countries being situated near the equator where sunlight is aplenty. These aren’t things you plan to teach an 8 year old but one thing leads to another and it makes learning fun/relevant.
Schedule changes, flight delays, accommodation change, climate changes, changing road conditions, different cuisines and the ever-changing circumstance of a travelling life builds resilience.
It is unlikely that one is able to road school without being minimalists. And that in itself teaches a child that they don’t need a lot. We have been living out of two cabin sized suitcases and our small individual backpacks for close to 20 weeks. It is perfectly fine being content with what we have.
Road schooling just provides a rich environment for resilience to be formed.
Not just the kids who learn
This journey of road schooling isn’t just for the kids. Debra and I have learnt so much in this whole adventure. In fact we’ve learnt to be the solution to our problems. It has been quite a journey trying to get Matthias and Gwyneth sufficient exposure to the Tamil language. Tamil books for young children are really hard to come by even if you have full access to the National Libraries. You will find entire levels of English books, probably half a level of Mandarin books, a whole section of Malay books and ONE SHELF of kids Tamil books. The shelf isn’t even usually full.
Debra was initially perplexed and frustrated with this issue. However with much encouragement, she pursued her dream of many years to publish a bilingual book series in Tamil and English for our children.
These books were written with an inclusion of the local context and in future to include scenes inspired by our travels. If possible, we would love to create bilingual versions with English and Mandarin/Malay but we will need help for that.
I’ve experienced a similar journey myself finding materials and stories that may help us in grieving and remembering my dad. The only way I am going to find a book that is specific to our life experience and journey is to write one myself. So I’ve put my English Literature degree to good use and wrote a book of my own in remembrance of my dad.
We hope to have your support when they are officially launched soon!
Road schooling has been quite a journey for us. What are you thoughts? Share them with us in the comments, anonymous message link (on Instagram) or simply click the red button and have a chat with us!
Our world and Mental Health
I am not sure what comes to your mind when the term “Mental Health” is mentioned.
“Mental health” has become a sort of a buzz word in the recent years. But…How much do we really know about it?
To begin to even understand the magnitude of the situation, let’s look at some facts:
-Poor mental health costs the world economy between 2-5 TRILLION USD. These costs come from fall in productivity and treating poor health.
-Suicide is the leading cause of death for those aged 10-29 in Singapore. Globally it is the 4th leading cause of death for those aged 15-19.
-Mental health issues significantly reduces one’s quality of life
-There is still significant discrimination and stigma attached to mental health issues
How is this relevant for you?
ANYONE can face mental health struggles and issues at ANY time in our lives. It can arise from…
-Serious/Chronic health conditions
-Distressing life events (E.g. Death of those you are close to, serious accidents, divorce, job loss etc…)
-Prolonged stress factors (E.g. Bullying, abuse, unemployment etc…)
They can feel overwhelmingly painful and impossible to cope with. We should be careful to detect if our friends and family are struggling. We should also be more self aware and be more open to talk about it and seek help for it.
I’ve had my fair share of struggles with my mental health over the years. It isn’t the easiest thing to talk about. I’ve also witness close ones struggle with their mental health. Many of these struggles are kept very very private. Culturally it still feels like it is like a dark secret that should be hidden. It is shameful and wrong to share your struggles and weakness.
There is still a dangerously dismissive attitude toward mental health struggles in our society that makes it difficult for people to seek help. It is real and we urgently need to fix it!
Being a man, I’ve been told that guys who struggle with their mental health are just WEAK. (This is precisely why men are more likely to kill themselves!!!)
Instead of offering any form of concern, my wife was told by people (who were close to us then) that I’m a danger to her and my children. She was also told that she should protect herself because I was struggling with a condition.
Then there’s that generation that goes…“My generation just do it lah, what depression this and that! Nowadays all just strawberries!!!”
It is NOT okay to be dismissive of one's mental health struggles. IT IS ABUSE.
We need to call this behaviour out and be there for those we love.
The impact of his death
My journey of grief didn’t begin when dad passed on.
Allow me to recount my journey…
My daddy is a product of his time. Born in the 50s, he is a stubbornly responsible man who never took an MC even when he had a fever. He never let the lack of sleep or exhaustion of having just finished a night shift stop him from serving at church the following morning. He always made sure he cleaned the house floor until it squeaked when you walked over it. He would ride his bicycle from Eunos/Kembangan to Punggol (and back) just to see his grand children for awhile. That changed when his body began to give way and was first hospitalised for more than a month in 2019.
It was also when his knees started to give way and he would have episodes of suddenly losing all strength and collapsing to the ground while walking. I was able to be his chauffeur and caregiver on his many visits to the hospital. If you’ve been to a public hospital you’ll know that specialist visits are long drawn affairs that can stretch the entire day. I was there when countless tubes of blood was drawn from his arm. I was there when my stubbornly independent daddy refused to be held as he walked unsteadily. Scans, biopsies, putting a huge needle into his face to draw a sample etc etc….I was there.
His rare blood cancer also meant he caught on many different infections. At one point, I think he had appointments for close to 10 different specialists in different departments. All of us held on to hope that he will get better. But he didn’t. The treatment and drugs didn’t sort his illness out and he was hospitalised so many times we lost count. Each time he stayed for weeks with little positive outcome. In fact, he had a major infection once that left his right arm with nerve damage. He lost function of that arm and wasn’t able to write for a long period.
It was heartbreaking to see daddy frustrated at his disability. It was heartbreaking to see him so frustrated being “imprisoned” in the hospital. Being a cancer patient also meant he wasn’t allowed to have his Covid19 vaccine. The full blown social distancing measures prevented us from having family dinners. He also couldn’t visit malls or head out. I remember there was a time we had to eat our take-out lunch standing up in an open air garden because dining in wasn’t allowed and his appointments stretched from 8am to 5pm. Thinking back, I do cherish the times we sat in the SGH foodcourt and had our lunch, coffee and discussed various topics of life.
We also decided at a point that the treatment at SGH wasn’t working. We were very frustrated at the lengthy hospitalisations with no answers, explanation and updates. Not to mention the HOURS we spent waiting at the pharmacy for 5 pills or a tube of cream. The efficiency was NON existent.
We transferred him to Mount E where he was seen by another Haematologist. For some months, daddy’s condition saw some stabilisation and improvement. It was when he was also able to take his Covid vaccine and enjoy eating out as a family again. It was also when we spent evenings together playing board games with the children and enjoyed each other’s company. There was a glimpse of hope and some light at the end of the tunnel.
Sadly, that didn’t last very long. He had two emergency admissions and it became clear that the cancer had suddenly turned aggressive. It also became quite clear that survival was slim. He spent more and more time asleep because the cancer ate away at his blood cells. No amount of transfusion helped. I managed to share some last moments with him in PPE. Cutting his food into bite sized portions, feeding him, seeing him enjoy his last cup of delicious brewed coffee.
One day, they sedated him for a lung procedure to get a sample for detecting the infection but he never exactly regained full consciousness from that. Just like that he slipped into a coma shortly and a brain bleed was detected. The prolonged 2 years of having very little to no white blood cells (the cancer destroyed them) meant his blood vessels were extremely fragile. They opened his skull and tried to stop that bleeding but he passed on less than 24 hours after the surgery because the bleeding couldn’t be stopped and his brains were damaged beyond repair.
We were devastated. He was only 69.
He has been gone for 8 months, I’m still devastated. The grandchildren still miss him and talk about him every other day. It is still hard to accept that our beloved daddy and yeye is gone.
Have you ever felt like you are just so sick of feeling that dreadful feeling of defeat? Of being trampled over? Feeling like you’re good for nothing and nothing good will ever work in your favour? I’ve felt so much of that recently.
That gut wrenching sick feeling in your chest. Feeling defeated because I lost my dad to cancer. That glimpse of hope when he was better for a few months and then just absolutely ravaged by the aggressive cancer in the final weeks.
It has been 8 months but that feeling of emptiness and helplessness still happens when I get flashbacks of his lifeless body in the ICU. I would dream of walking the corridors and different areas in SGH and Mount Elizabeth with him. I would wake up feeling absolutely defeated.
Feeling like crap because we haven't been able to make a trip to NZ work out logistically and financially. Feeling exhausted from the world still being pretty much chaotic from the effects of covid. Feeling tired from the toil of building something from scratch, again.
Week after week, month after month you still feel that sinking feeling. You almost just resigned yourself to feeling it forever.
Mental Health, grief and our travels
Travelling has helped me process my grief. It has become the process of grieving. Travelling has given us space to feel, understand our sadness and to be with our loss.
It doesn’t have to be travelling, selling your house and changing your lifestyle entirely like us. Everyone grieves differently. The most important part we would like to encourage people to do is to TAKE TIME TO PROCESS YOUR GRIEF!
Starting this blog and talking about my/our journey has helped. TALK TO SOMEONE you can trust. Avail yourself to someone who is grieving, drop them a message to ask them how they are!
Being able to intentionally live our lives to the fullest doing something we are passionate about has brought much comfort. It brings much comfort because we know we are able to do what was to be my dad’s last encouraging words.
We’ve realised how much of grieving, depression and other mental health challenges require our ACTIVE participation to overcome. Passively “sucking it up” as many toxic people suggest we do is the very thing that will destroy you.
Apart from writing about our travels, we have been focused on writing books as a way to remember my dad.
I’ve written a book that is close to completion to remember him. (I’ll update more about it as we go along!)
With much encouragement, Debra has finally pushed through to work on her long time ambition and passion to publish her very own books. The first book of her very own bilingual book series is finally completed! We are posting a preview of that in our next post this weekend! You can check it out here: www.instagram.com/kwanslearntamil
Stay tuned for it!
We are always happy to discuss the topics we bring up on our blog! WE are happy to connect with you! Drop us an anonymous question on Instagram or click on the red chat button to chat!
Vincent & Debra Kwan, Founders of Hiro & Jack and stay-at-home parents with the odd life.
Drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org