I had just made plans to go away on a silent retreat the week just before Christmas but little did I know that I will be completely in a silence of another kind. On Monday morning of December 19, I received a call that there may be a wake service to be arranged while I was having a coffee morning with my youngest sister at IKEA. For the past few days I had a busy schedule back to back and I was looking forward to my long-awaited getaway.
Shortly after the call, another call came in from the Forensic Department of Putrajaya Hospital informing me that the body of Madam Tan Saw Kim is ready to be claimed. By then, I had already contacted Calvin from Nirvana Memorial Service to be on standby and provided the information necessary. Upon my arrival at the Putrajaya Hospital after maneuvering my way there through the heavy traffic, he was already there and the middle child of the deceased, Helen Loh was waiting anxiously together with some friends who were also attached to the hospital.
You see, Helen is deaf and so are her other two sisters, her dad and her mum who had just passed away at 10:10 am that morning. Madam Tan Saw Kim aka Sandra Tan had passed on due to a lung infection that has complicated her health situation after a long series of other ailments following a stroke way back in the late 1990s.
Despite being the fourth child of a family of eight children, she was home-tutored as a child. When it was discovered in the church she was attending for some time that she was actually deaf, the church made arrangements for her to further her education in the Deaf School in Springfield, Missouri. At the age of 26, she flew to America in 1965. The year when she graduated in 1967, her dad passed away and her dream of going back to America was not meant to be as she later married Jimmy Low Poh Wing through an arranged marriage by her uncle and the late Tan Yap, the Founder of the Deaf work in Malaysia. The wedding on March 14, 1971, was made possible through the help of MCA as Jimmy did not have the finance for it. Their marriage life begun in one of the rooms of the MCA building in PJ Old Town which was also where the Deaf School started.
The deceased was the first deaf teacher and being English-educated, she taught English while her husband, Jimmy who was Mandarin-educated in the only Singapore Deaf School was the first deaf leader of the Selangor Deaf Society. They were the catalyst that brought a community of deaf together with the late Tan Yap. Together, they served the deaf community though it was tough but their bond of love brought them through. Though Jimmy was two years younger, their marriage was truly made in heaven.
Sandra stopped work to focus on the homefront in 1997. By then, they were already blessed with 3 beautiful daughters; Joyce, Helen and Qistina. Though she single-handedly brought up her girls who were also deaf, it later took a toll on her health. On her way back from the market one day, she collapsed due to a stroke and it was only discovered then that she had been having high blood pressure which she herself was unaware of.
As I walked with Helen to her car parked in the hospital ground, she had by then contacted her immediate family members, relatives and friends via facebook and whatsapp. Shortly after we arrived at the office of the Nirvana Memorial building off Jalan Sungei Besi, Helen’s husband, Richard had brought her father and elder sister to meet us. Since they were all there, the wake and funeral arrangements were finalised.
There was a good turn out at the wake service held at their home that evening at 8:30 pm despite a sudden heavy downpour.
All those present were mainly friends from the deaf community and it was a truly “1 Malaysia” of a special kind though diverse in race and religion. Except for the voices that came through the pastor and interpreters, there were no sound of any kind which you would normally expect in a funeral. It was conducted totally in sign-language throughout and the atmosphere was rather quiet.
The husband of the deceased gave an endearing eulogy of his wife which took 3 signers to figure out and actually interpret what he was trying to convey to all those who were present on the night of the first wake service as his sign language was different from what is commonly used among the deaf community in Malaysia currently.
En Sazali, the Chairman of the Malaysian Federation of the Deaf (MFD) gave an impromptu eulogy that gave us a glimpse of the late Madam Sandra Tan. He mused about the times he used to dined and fellowship at their home. He praised her excellent culinary skills and signed about how much he truly missed those days. She was like a mother to him and it felt like home each time he was there.
As I was standing just behind Jimmy on the morning of the funeral, he stood in front of the casket and stroked the framed photo of his dear wife. I can feel his heart wrenching as he sobbed. I could not help but overwhelmed with emotions. This man truly loves his wife and children, though not rich but works his way to support and take care of his family. Their daughters have already settled down with families of their own but still remained close knitted and very much caring and supportive towards each other. It very much reflects the upbringing of the parents who had inculcated a good sense of family bonding.
As I reflect upon the life of the deceased, I cannot help but salute this amazing woman who was not “heard” and yet her life “speaks” so much despite of the challenges in her personal life. Being a deaf mum, bringing up 3 daughters who are also deaf and are now happily married with families of their own is truly amazing!
- This article is written by EV. EV as she is known among the deaf community has been involved in community work long before her eldest child was born and later discovered that she had congenital bilateral sensory hearing loss which has devastated her initially. EV now advocates for the disabled and disadvantaged to bridge the gap with the community at large.