Reverend Alfred J Deignan invited the friends and relatives gathered at the Hong Kong funeral Home late night last Thursday to look at the picture of the lady smiling happily and contentedly as he began his short homily. He told them that they were there to celebrate the life of a good person with a heart of gold rather than to mourn the death of a friend or relative. Later, before Mass ended, I tried to say a few words on this lovely lady, but had to stop short when emotions overtook me.
Rosita Magdalene was indeed a great person and certainly greater than she would admit. This was indeed a person who lived respected and died regretted. In our Christian faith, we firmly believe that she is now enjoying eternal happiness in a place where there is no pain or suffering, and where death has been conquered. Father Deignan said we should pray to her so that she could pray for us. “Thank God for her,” he said to me at the crematorium as we waited for transport, “I wish I had her faith.” He was referring to what they discussed privately in the weeks before he baptized her. She told him that she had been making orderly preparation for her exit. Apparently, I was her last worry on earth. She had the impression that I had yet to accept that she would leave me behind. It was against this background she sought to be baptized and put herself in the hands of God, Jesus and Mary.
She always said that she was an ordinary person, one who had neither the ambition nor the ability to do great things, who did not study hard or a lot, and who was not cut out to be movers and shakers. Well, as Father Deignan said, she had influenced many people whom she had come across, through her examples, through being kind to them and through just being herself.
She was born the fourth of six children in the family. She had two elder sisters, an elder brother, a younger sister and a younger brother. The third sister died when she was in the teens, of kidney failure, which left her with two elder and two younger siblings, which became a mirror image of my family. I also have two elder and two younger siblings, beginning with an elder sister, an elder brother, followed by a younger brother and a younger sister.
She was a good daughter in every sense and was probably her father’s favourite, for a number of reasons. Her two elder siblings left home for the United States very early. Her sister Judy married an overseas Chinese and her brother Bosco went there to study. So effectively, she assumed the role of big sister at home for a long while. She was a good big sister indeed. Young sister Hilda was good at sports when she was at school and naturally spent much time, maybe too much by parents’ standard, playing basketball and volleyball. Young brother Kenrick played soccer as most boys at his age would. She was generous to both and would give them pocket money and goodies on her pay days. Hilda recalled that her sister would let her wear her new shoes and clothes before she wore them herself. The two sisters looked like twins in their early twenties.
At work, she was effective, professional and dedicated. Her supervisors liked her; her colleagues adored her and her staff loved her. She had retired shortly after her first relapse; at least three years ago, but her colleagues still asked her to go out for lunch when she was well enough and would seek her advice and keep her up to date on office gossips. It was towards her last days when one of the girls came to visit her. She was already very weak. The girl began to ask her to take more rest and so on when she began to speak. She told the girl she would be okay. She asked her not to worry about her, but rather focus on her work. She then told her to go home happily. Her words put her visitor in tears, and I saw her crying Thursday night.
She was God’s gift. That was what Father Deignan said. She certainly was God’s gift to the children and me. She was without doubt a good wife and a first class mother. I had written a number of times in this series of letters on how she took care of the family in and out of Hong Kong. Indeed, the family was always her top priority, even when she was very ill. Talking about these letters, you might recall that I began writing about her conditions the first week I assumed the office of District Governor in July 2000. Many friends had told me that Rosita was their primary motivation for reading my letters: they had followed the series so that they could learn about her latest situation.
She must have known that she was going. All the signs were showing up. Late June, she asked me not to discuss her health situation in my letters. Some readers could be upset, she said. I did stop, but I had been keeping a log of major events, on a day-by-day basis. I wanted to remember her last days through these details. I had hoped foolishly I never had to use these notes. Since mid July, I had written over 20,000 words, laden with hopes and fears and painful details of how her body succumbed to her illness. They would remain my private diary.
She always attracted praises wherever she was and whatever she did. When she was carrying Stephanie, she was the most beautiful pregnant lady, and those were not my words. A friend who was a she described her radiating with beauty, and I had pictures to prove that. When friends said that she and I had similar looks such that we were made for each other, I quietly rejoiced within myself that I must have done something right when I was young to have her as my wife and bear our children.
Friends overseas who have known us for years were highly appreciative of her fighting spirit and will power. She had her first operation in August 1997 and her first relapse in June 2000. Since then, she had read up a lot of literature on clinical oncology and on the latest treatment regimes. Her doctors were surprised at her breadth of knowledge on these esoteric subjects. She had undergone extensive chemotherapy and had used almost every possible drug. Later she took up Traditional Chinese Medicine, which appeared to be working, until she had an attack of herpes zosters in July followed by a stroke on 7 August. The double or triple jeopardy proved too much. She stayed a full month in hospital, until she passed away on 7 September.
In the hospital, the nurses described her as a perfect patient, one who would make only reasonable demands. Her hairdresser told Hilda that her sister was the ideal customer, even though she did not visit his shop that often. Hilda went to have her hair done before she went to the funeral home and told him the sad news. Later that evening, the hairdresser turned up to pay her last respects. Stephanie was impressed.
I can go on, but I believe I have made the point. Here goes a kind person who had described herself as mere ordinary. Well, if we had more ordinary people like her, the world would be a very much better place in which to live.
In the past few days, I had received countless messages of condolences, many through emails. More than 300 people turned up Thursday night and there must be some 200 guests in all attending the funeral service on Friday and the Requiem Mass in Ricci Hall this morning. Still more had written to apologize for their inability to turn up because of distance, work or other reasons. My children and I would like to thank all these people and at the same time hope that they have shared the peace and goodwill Rosita Magdalene had brought to the world in her short life. We would also like to thank those who had brought or bought flowers and gifts and who had donated generously to our named charity, the Society for the Promotion of Hospice Care. I would send the donations to the charity and in due course distribute receipts to the donors where we have their addresses.
It only remains for me to say a big thank you to all of you who would be reading this letter. I hope you share the peace, joy and happiness that life is meant to be filled with and impart them to your loved ones. I would soon start a new life, in the sure belief that I would have Rosita Magdalene looking after me and helping me from another place.
May God bless you all.