• Caroline Donough

The Ones That Love Us Never Really Leave Us



The year was 1979 and we were in the living room putting socks on... me, my brother and our cousin. I can't remember whether it was Johnson's baby powder or some other brand, but we had emptied about half the contents of a large bottle of powder on to the living room floor in an attempt to make the surface slippery. As it had been a workday, no adult was at home that morning, except for our maid, who must've been busy somewhere at the back of the house unaware of what the three of us were getting up to, so we laid claim to the living room. Swooshing around the powdered terrazzo floor in our socks, at times bumping into each other, we mimicked ice skating. "More powder! More powder!" I can still remember it all.


In the midst of our mischievousness, the phone rang and my brother glided over to it. "Hello," he said as he picked it up. The caller was our grandmother, or Ah Ma, as was how we addressed her. Speaking in her native Hokkien, she talked to the three of us one at a time, starting with my brother since it was him who had answered the phone, then our cousin, and then me. I'll never forget her voice on the phone that morning as she told me to be good and to remember to drink my Ribena blackcurrant concentrate, which happened to be my favourite beverage growing up. The transmission sounded distant, almost like an overseas phone call, yet her voice was as crisp as though she had been right next to me. And I asked her, "Ah Ma, when are you coming home?" It's hard to describe, just that you could tell she was calling from a serene place. A very serene place. Far away. You see, about a week before that day, Ah Ma had passed away. Yes, you read that right - she had passed away the week before. Not kidding. And I wasn't even spooked that she was on the other end of the line talking to me, and I'm convinced this experience is the reason behind why I'm always so at ease to be alone. But that's a story for another day. Back to this one. Even though I understood she had died, hearing her voice again, the child that I was still asked that innocent question.


I don't know what compelled us to make a mess of the living room that morning, and quite frankly, it doesn't matter. Maybe we were just kids being kids. What mattered was that we got to talk to Ah Ma again. Although her answer to my question was that she would not be coming home, she assured me she would always be with me, and there was a comfort that came from hearing that. As the call came to an end, her voice faded gradually into the ether until all I could hear was nothing, and then I returned the handset to its cradle. It was weird, and yet it wasn't. I've heard of deceased loved ones visiting in dreams, as I'm sure other people might have also, but never in my wildest dreams would I have believed this sort of thing were possible had I not experienced it myself. I'm not going to attempt to explain it accept to say that maybe love can transcend even death.


We stopped "skating" once the call had ended, and when Mum and Dad came home from work that evening, we had a lot to tell them.


As with the ebb and flow of life, days then turned into weeks, and weeks turned into months, and in what seemed like the blink of an eye, four decades have passed. And here we are.


Although there hasn't been anymore calls from Ah Ma since then, in many ways, she remains firmly connected to us. Or maybe it's the other way around. Mum still has an old photograph of Ah Ma and me that she displays in a lovely vintage frame above the radio in our dining room. It's a standard-sized 4"×6" photo, and in it, I'm holding my two teddy bears, one in each arm, and Ah Ma is sitting next to me smiling. I miss her. And I often think of her. It's usually around festive seasons and the anniversary of her death (today happens to be the 41st anniversary) that the memories would surface a little more vividly, but also at random sometimes, like the other day when Mum and I were chilling and talking about old times. It's hard to let go.


There's a scene in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban in which Sirius Black says to Harry, "The ones that love us never really leave us." I'm glad Ah Ma picked up her phone in Heaven that morning 41 years ago. I don't know if she'll ever call again, but one thing's for certain... she will always, always be here in our hearts. ❤️

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