Prime Minister and Mrs Lee Kuan Yew with their daughter, Dr Lee Wei Ling, on arrival at Nanyuan Airport, Beijing, in 1980
Excerpt of Eulogy by Dr Lee Wei Ling at Cremation Service of the Late Mr Lee Kuan Yew
Family and friends, thank you for being here with us today.
After Mama died in October 2010, Papa’s health deteriorated rapidly. The past five years have been challenging. But as always, Papa was determined to carry on as normal as possible, as best as he could.
He developed Parkinson’s disease three years ago which severely limited his mobility. He had great difficulty standing and walking. But he refused to use a wheel chair or even a walking stick. He would walk, aided by his SOs.
Papa was also plagued by bouts of hiccups that could only be controlled by medication which had adverse side effects. Over and above the frequent hiccups, his ability to swallow both solids and liquids was impaired, a not uncommon problem in old age.
Papa searched the Internet and tried a wide variety of unorthodox hiccup therapies. For example, he once used rabbit skin and then chicken feathers to induce sneezing, so as to stop the hiccups. Although the sneezing sometimes stopped his hiccups, it did not do so consistently enough. Papa also tried reducing his food intake, because he felt that eating too much could precipitate hiccups, hence he lost a lot of weight, and appeared thin and gaunt.
Papa was stubborn and determined. He would insist on walking down the steps at home, from the verandah to the porch where the car was parked. Ho Ching had a lift installed so Papa need not negotiate those steps. But when he was aware and alert, he refused the lift though it was a struggle for him to walk down those steps even with 3 SOs helping.
But the lift was not installed in vain. On several occasions when he was ill and needed to be admitted to SGH, he did not protest when the SO guided him onto the lift. Still, even when ill, if he was asked if he wanted to use the lift, the answer would invariably be “no”.
The SOs were an integral part of Papa’s life, even more so in the last five years. They looked after him with tender loving care, way beyond the call of duty. One doctor friend who came to help dress a wound Papa sustained when he fell, noticed this and said to me: “The SOs look after your father as though he is their own father.”
Papa believed that goodwill goes both ways. He was very considerate towards his SOs. Once while in Saudi Arabia on an official trip, one SO came down with chicken pox. The doctors decided that the SO should be isolated in some hospital in Saudi Arabia for two weeks. Pa thought that very unkind to the SO and insisted that the SO return to Singapore together with the rest of the delegation. He wasn’t going to leave any Singaporean behind, not least an SO.
Sensing he was special, all the SOs have been very kind to Papa. On behalf of my family, I would like to thank all of them. I know each of them well, even the number of children they have. To me, they were not only staff whose job was to look after Papa, but also friends of the family. They helped me pull out the SIM card from my blackberry when it hung; they were friends for me to share food and goodies with whenever the opportunity arose.
Soon after my father died, Yak called to inform me. After being in my room alone and unable to go back to sleep, I went downstairs to the SOs room, and sat with the two SOs on duty, watching black and white footage of Papa in his younger days. I needed the company of friends. Junji jichaou dan ru shui. There is a Chinese saying that the relationship between two honourable gentlemen is as understated as plain water. That was the relationship between the SOs and me.
One occasion, while having lunch at home, Papa choked on a piece of meat. It went down his trachea and obstructed his airflow. Fortunately the SOs knew what to do. ASP Yak and Kelvin together carried out the Heimlich manoeuvre several times, but to no avail, because Pa’s abdominal muscles were very tense.
Yak then called for help over his walky-talky. Liang Chye was the only senior SO downstairs, and sensing something strange in Yak’s voice, he came running up. They formed a human chain. Liang Chye, the shortest and probably the strongest, was positioned behind Papa; the tallest, Yak, at the furthest end of the human chain; and Kelvin, the one of middle height, between the two. They coordinated their pull, and after several attempts, the piece of meat was finally ejected. By this time, Papa had already turned purple. But within seconds of the meat being dislodged, he was mentally alert.
I would like to give special thanks to Liang Chye and Kelvin, and especially ASP Yak, whose presence of mind saved Papa’s life. To all the SOs who have served Papa over the years, I thank you on behalf of my family.
I would also like to thank all the nurses, doctors and specialists who have looked after Papa over the years, especially those who were involved in the last five years of his life, when his medical problems multiplied and became more complicated. At a ripe old age of 91, he had multiple medical problems and many specialists, so the list of people to thank is a very long one. I am grateful to each and every one of them for all the care they have provided to Papa.
When Pa was not well at home, I was the first line of defence. I would handle on my own what I could at home. At other times though, I had to call the relevant specialists outside of office hours when Papa had a medical emergency. Since the most common emergency was pneumonia, one particular doctor was called most frequently. He doesn’t wish to be named so I’ll call him Dr X. After several calls, I learned that Dr X would be up by 5:45am to send his children to school. One morning at 5am, I had to call him. I apologized for waking him up, and asked him to tell his registrar on duty at SGH what to do, adding: “You don’t need to rush in to see Pa. You can see him after you have sent your children to school.” Dr X replied, “Today is Sunday.” But even on Sundays, he made his rounds at SGH.
During his last illness, Pa had to be cared for in the medical ICU of SGH. This was a very difficult time for Papa, the medical staff, as well as for the family. The MICU staff were diligent and meticulous in their care, and no effort was spared to help Papa and tend to his every need. The doctors had meetings twice a day to discuss how to proceed, including on weekends and Chinese New Year.
Again, I thank all the doctors involved in this last fight. That includes not only the respiratory specialist who ran the ICU, who played the most important role, but also Dr X who decided on what antibiotics to use, the cardiologists, and others who advised on how to maintain nutrition whilst Pa was sedated and intubated on respirator. Thank you all — doctors, nurses and physiotherapists — who have helped Papa be as comfortable as possible in his final days. My family is extremely grateful to all of you.
I also want to thank the PMO office staff who kept the office running smoothly in Papa’s absence. Thank you all for being with Papa and for helping to ease his suffering in the last five years of his life. Thank you for being here with us today, to bid farewell to Papa
My brothers have said much about Papa. I just want to focus on one point: what have I learnt from Pa? What is the biggest lesson he taught me?
The influence parents have on children depends on many things. To a certain degree, it depends upon the temperament of the parent and the child.
Temperamentally, I am very similar to Papa. So similar that in a given situation, I can predict how he would feel and respond. For example, the SOs would look on with some amusement at the way Pa struggled to complete his 12 minutes on the treadmill, even on days that he was tired. He may rest in between bouts on the treadmill, but he was always determined to hit 12 minutes. The SOs were amused because they knew I was equally fanatical about exercise. Today, I have run up and down my 20 meter corridor 800 times, making it to 16 km.
Once, about 15 years ago, my father told me: “Mama and I should be very happy that you remain single and hence will be able to look after us in our old age. But you will be lonely. Also, you have inherited my traits but in such an exaggerated way that they are a disadvantage to you.”
Papa, I know you would have preferred if I had married and had children. But I have no regrets, no regrets I was able to look after you and Mama in your old age.
What is the most important lesson I have learnt from Papa? It is never to push around anyone simply because he or she is weaker than me or in a socially inferior position. And never to let anyone bully someone else if I am in a position to stop such bullying. If I saw someone being bullied unfairly by his superior, I should have no hesitation to come to the rescue of the victim. Since I am by nature pugnacious like my father, and I enjoy a fight so long as it is for a just and good cause, I learnt these lessons readily.
We have seen an astonishing outpouring of emotion on the passing of my father this week. There are many reasons why people feel this way about Papa. But I think one reason is that they know Papa was a fighter who would always fight for them no matter what the odds were. They know that he was ready to fight for them till his last breath.
This morning I noticed that the maid, in setting the dining table, had moved away Papa’s chair and placed it against the wall. It was a poignant reminder that this farewell is for ever. I have been controlling my feelings for this past week, but looking at this unexpected scene, I nearly broke down. But I can’t break down, I am a Hakka woman.
Farewell Papa. I will miss you. Rest in peace.