It is a belief passed down from Chinese customs that on the 7th day after the passing of the person, they would be brought back by underworld officials (in chains) to visit their family members.
During the funeral, the Taoist master would calculate the exact date (as on some occassions it may not fall on the 7th day). Family members would then prepare food for the deceased as well as some offerings for the ‘officials’ (who is said to have a head like a cow and face like a horse). Then all would go to sleep early and do not come out from their rooms.
Modern folks may find it hard to believe especially of the elaborate Taoist ceremonies. But one thing I find quite interesting… The Taiost masters who conduct these funerals would also do a calculation on what realm the deceased is born into just from the date of birth and death of the deceased.
There was a very wicked lady who was able to hide her actions from many people. She had done untold wicked deeds, causing hurt and carrying tales to break up relationships and harmony of others. During her funeral, the Taoist master calculated that she was reborn in hell. Hmm…. Interesting. He did it without knowing her and her family.
Anyway back to this topic, I have a story to share.
I was raised by my grandaunt who loved me unconditionally from the moment she laid eyes on me when my mom carried me back from the hospital after I was born. She was in her 80s then but insisted to personally look after me while my parents went to work (she stayed with us).
She made an uncanny prediction. She had told my mom that in the end of the day, I would be the one taking care of my mom in her old age.
That was despite of me being difficult, diva and spoiled rotten in my grandaunt’s presence. My grandaunt was strict and no nonsense with my mom but when it came to me, she would tolerate and entertain all my tantrums and demands. No one would have thought I would be filial and responsible judging from what a rascal and how naughty I was when young.
Above is the picture of my grandaunt and me. My grandaunt used to have a straight back. One month after caring for me, her back become bent. Yet no complaints from her.
My grandaunt passed away when I was 9 years old. That time, I was too young to understand what it meant by someone who is dying or had died. I did not know what a funeral meant. Even though my grandaunt was in a casket, with her face shown, it did not register in my young mind then that she would be gone forever. In my young mind I had thought she would probably wake up later.
The funeral was attended by my cousins who were then kids like me. There was food and they were there. I am ashamed to admit that I thought it was a party and was playing with my cousins till I got told off by a lady. And my mom gave me a pinch when the Taoist master was conducting some prayers and I was noisy. I remember turning and seeing my mom in some brown robes (mourning clothes) and her eyes were all red with tears. I was shocked to see my mom’s face and eyes all red with tears. After that, I shut the heck up.
The Taoist master calculated that my grandaunt went to one of the heavenly realms. Which kinda befit my grandaunt because she was an honest, hardworking and righteous woman who took up a vow of celibracy and came to Malaysia from China to serve as a servant.
Actually my grandaunt was in essence my mom’s real mother because she adopted my mom when mom was a baby. My mom’s real mother sold my mom to her. Because grandaunt was not married, she could not adopt my mom legally hence in paper my mom was adopted by the grandaunt’s sister-in-law (her brother’s wife). And my grandaunt was selfless enough to reconnect my mom with her birth family because my graundaunt was getting old (they have an age gap of over 50 years) and did not want my mom to have no one. This is despite people telling my grandaunt she was stupid to do so as my mom may dump her after reuniting with her family. Which, my mom never did. She took care of my grandaunt till her dying day.
On the 7th night after her passing, it was calculated as the spirit return night. So I remember my mom preparing my grandaunt’s favourite food and leaving on the table with additional some instructions given by the Taoist master.
Our bathroom was a common bathroom, we do not have attached bathroom to our bedroom. My mom placed potty in the room and said we cannot go out to the bathroom (as we would pass the living areas) and may bump into or disturb the returning spirits.
On that night or the night after I had a very vivid dream of my grandaunt. A dream that I could remember most of the details even to this day.
In the dream, I was playing with my grandaunt outside in the compound of our home. We used to have a huge nangka (jackfruit) tree and it was where she was with me. Then in the end, I saw daylight start to appear.
My grandaunt told me it was time to go back into the house. Then I saw the wall of her room (her room is near the jackfruit tree) opening up into an entrance. I turned and looked at her, “well, how about you? Aren’t you coming along with me?”.
She said she can’t. She had somewhere else to go.
And then I woke up and I could still remember the dream. When I told my mom about this, she had tears in her eyes.
Note: The reason I could dream of her was because I did not have heavy emotions like sadness and grief blocking me. Hence there was no barrier for my grandaunt to reach out to me. But my grandaunt would not be able to connect to my mom then because of the heavy attachments and grief from my mom that created the barrier.
For more than 30 years, my mom made the visit to my grandaunt each year for Cheng Ming without fail. My grandaunt was creamated and her remains placed in an urn in a temple. It only stop few years back when she got too sick and developed Alzheimer’s.
Even when my mom has dementia, she still pines for my grandaunt. She would call out ‘Ku ma, Ku ma’ which means aunt in Cantonese.
There was one day, after my mom had dementia that she threw some tantrum and upset me. I have learned that since she would forget after 10 minutes, I would leave the room first, often I need to cool off myself. Then go back in after 10 minutes and talk to her cheerfully as if nothing had happened. By then she would have forgotten what had transpired.
When I went back into the room, my mom said something that totally took me by surprised. In tears, she said that Ku Ma said ‘Ah Heng (the name she used to call my mom), it is not so easy for me to come and visit you each time you call for me. Please, listen to your daughter and follow her what she said’.
My mom told me she would listen to me. But of course, she forgotten she ever said that after 30 minutes.
At that time, in my mind’s Alzheimer’s stage, I know she was not capable of thinking and making this kinda thing up. During that stage my mom was a little diva, stubborn, and used to said hurtful words when she was not happy with me. I was lucky I have an experienced teacher who advised and taught me to understand and not to take my mom’s insults to me personally.
As my mom’s Alzheimer progresses and I have acquired patience, my mom has become cheerful and happy, like a baby. But occassionally, she would call out to her Ku Ma as if she was there or that she misses her. She remembers no one else, not her late husband, sisters, her children or even her friends of over 50 years.
And I always wondered, if Ku Ma has always been there, watching over mom. It would be nice if she does. I do not ever want to let my grandaunt down for the love and sacrifice she had in raising me for the first 9 years of my life.