I really did not know my mother-in-law very well. No let me rephrase; my mother-in-law did not really know me very well. We were like "a chicken and a duck"; I could not speak Cantonese well and she could understand nothing else. However, I hoped she believed that my intentions for Jeannie had always been honourable and sincere. In the year or so that I knew her she was a kindly woman that gave me the impression that she was melancholic. Well, maybe I was wrong or maybe it was because of the stories Jeannie told me about the hard life her mother endured.
She passed away sometime in June 1986 when Jeannie was about 4 months pregnant with Krystyn. On that day, Jeannie was with her in OUG where she stayed with Jeannie's youngest brother, Benny. I was at the office that afternoon when Jeannie phoned me that her mother told me to go over for dinner and that she had put some soup to boil. About 30 minutes later, Jeannie phoned me again sounding frantic; her mother had collapsed in the bathroom! I told her not to panic and to do what she could as I was rushing over immediately. It took me about 25 minutes to get from Bangsar to OUG.
When I got there, my mother-in-law had already passed away. Jeannie had somehow managed to drag her to the bedroom and lay her on the floor with her head propped on a pillow. She would have been too heavy for Jeannie to heave her onto her bed alone. Jeannie was inconsolable. The neighbours had called a doctor from a nearby clinic and I think he had arrived minutes before or after me. My memory is hazy. The doctor pronounced her dead.
My main concern and priority was Jeannie as she was pregnant and very, very emotionally attached to her mother. I knew that her brothers and other family members would know what to do about the funeral and I was not about to interfere with any decisions that were about to be made. My first thoughts were that I had to watch over Jeannie and if she had any stand she wanted to make on any issue that met resistence (since she was the youngest in the family) I would support her. Other than that I was mainly an observer in the proceedings that unfolded and volunteered mainly logistic support.
The preceding week had been very rough on Jeannie. She had brought her mother to a gynaecologist for a bleeding complaint and it had been diagnosed as cervical cancer. Jeannie had decided with Benny that it was superfluous to tell their uneducated mother for the time being and instead let her undergo radiotherapy as recommended by the oncologist. Her mother also had a heart condition and it was deemed that her heart may not survive chemotherapy. The radiotherapy was to take place the following fortnight. That was the reason why Jeannie was with her mother almost daily to ensure she ate right and be "fortified". Why her heart gave in at the time it did remains a closed book but the fact remained that she died in Jeannie's arms.
Jeannie's mother had always shared so much of what was in her heart with Jeannie; her opinions, her wishes, her feelings, her frustrations, her thoughts, and indeed reasons for her apathy towards certain people including some of her own children. It was even more so after Jeannie had moved back to KL from Malacca the previous year. Unfortunately, Jeannie was also undergoing major changes in her own life at the time (not least because I was in the picture) and to her consternation she could not devote more time for her mother eventhough she was back in KL.
There were many family matters that were privy between mother and daughter (Jeannie naturally told me most things although we had decided that I would not stick my nose into the Koo family affairs). Things that Jeannie even brought to her own grave.
One such matter which I will reveal now is that Jeannie convinced her mother months earlier to do a will and bequeath all her property to Benny who was the one taking care of her mother during the preceding few years. The good intention was to prevent a sibling war over their mother's portion of the estate left behind by their father who died intestate. There were also some properties in the mother's name. It was deemed that Benny was level-headed enough to do the right thing in the eventuality. Whether he finally did or not, only his own conscience would know. He did however pay a big portion of his mother's funeral expenses. But then again, this was probably because his brothers felt he should justifiably do so. Jeannie for her part insisted on only having the pair of simple ear-rings her mother was wearing at the time she died and two suits of her clothes. Those earings have been given to Krystyn today.
Did my mother-in-law accept this son-in-law of hers? Maybe the following true story says something:
My MIL passed away during the 1986 Fifa World Cup held in Mexico. According to some Chinese beliefs and traditions, after the demise of a person there are certain dates to observe certain prayers and offerings. These dates usually coincided with multiples of seven days after the death. Since Jeannie was not working at the time she volunteered to look after her mother's alter for at least the first month. That was how both of us ended up staying at Benny's place and sleeping in Jeannie's mother's room for a month after her funeral.
England played Argentina in the quarter-final and that was the game Diego Maradona scored the now infamous "Hand of God" goal. Because the competition was in Mexico, the games were played/telecasted at 3.45 am Malaysian time. I tried to stay up for the game but was too tired and distinctly remember turning off the TV and lights at about 2.00 am with Jeannie fast asleep beside me. The next thing I knew, I was awakened by the sound of the TV in a still darkened room and as I opened my eyes, Diego Maradona just within his own half received a pass from Jorge Burruchaga (some say it was Hector Enrique).
Well, only Jeannie and I knew.