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A Father's Last Bus Ride

"Pa… why can’t you wait a few more minutes for me to say ‘thank you’ and ‘goodbye’,” cried Sok Khim.

She was too late. He was already gone by the time she arrived.

She stood crying in the ward. The nurse next to her was saying something, but she could not hear her. Everything seems blurry as she looked at the motionless body of her father.

Mr Su was the epitome of a Teochew father — he was a man of few words, strict with his ways and was the sole breadwinner of the family.

As a fishmonger, Mr Su’s routine started as early as five in the morning, when he would travel from Holland Drive to go to the fishery port in Jurong. By 7 o’clock, he would have started earning his daily wage at Jalan Bukit Merah’s wet market.

His day at work usually ended before two in the afternoon. He would then go home to rest and go out again to meet his friends in the evening. On busier days, especially weekends, the family would spend time together by helping him at the stall.

“My father did not earn a lot. His salary depended on the seasons and if he had enough fish to sell,” shared Sok Khim.

Sometimes, Mr Su did not open his stall because he was short of cash to buy fish. Life was a struggle for them and because of this, her parents would often get into heated arguments.

But that never stopped Mr Su from putting food on the table for his family.

When Sok Khim was seven, the family had to relocate temporarily due to Housing Development Board’s redevelopment plan. For three years, Sok Khim was under her grandmother’s care because she lived near her primary school. Mr Su would fetch her on Friday nights to spend time with the family, and then send her back to her grandmother’s on Sundays. The moments spent riding in his scooter’s sidecar were precious to Sok Khim.

“My father would buy Van Houten chocolates from the provision shops along Holland Village to prevent me from crying when it was time to go back,” shared Sok Khim.

Van Houten chocolates were a luxury for her family.

She also remembers her father’s culinary skills. Mr Su was a talented cook — he often remembered what he ate outside and would prepare those dishes for his family. From buying ingredients to cooking the dishes, Mr Su would do them all by himself.

He had many specialities — chilli crab, salted vegetable duck and curry chicken — but the one that Sok Khim still misses most is his pork knuckles jelly, a dish that’s not easy to find nowadays.

A father’s love is beyond words, running deep and expressed through actions.

Things went down south when Mr Su had a fall one day and was brought to the polyclinic. He had also been complaining of consistent coughing. Upon further examination, the family eventually found out that he was suffering from end-stage lung cancer.

Mr Su was admitted for palliative care at Outram Community Hospital (OCH). Sok Khim would visit him every day to bring him meals as he enjoyed home cooked food.

“I told my father that I wasn’t as good as him when it comes to cooking but he did not mind at all. Yet, I would see him pouring a lot of soy sauce in his food to enhance the flavour,” laughed Sok Khim.

To fulfil his final wish to be home, Khim and her family requested for the Outram Community Hospital (OCH) palliative team to arrange for home leave.

“Planning for home leave for Mr Su was challenging because of COVID-19. We were also worried about his condition and had to have an ambulance ready to prepare for any emergency,” shared Sandy Koh, Principal Medical Social Worker at OCH.

The few hours were very valuable for Mr Su and his family. He slept on his bed, watched television, ate some steamed buns and drank his favourite Kopi O. They were simple activities but the family saw Mr Su enjoying those short moments.

Three weeks later, at the age of 82, he passed away peacefully in the ward. His daughter only turned up moments after his passing.

During the last few weeks of his life, Mr Su shared with the care team that he kept seeing a bus passing through in his single room. He told the staff that he would need to catch the bus and knew that it would bring him away.

“Mr Su has finally decided to board the bus. He always liked to do things at his own pace,” said Sandy.