Ahad, 27 April 2014

The Star Online: Lifestyle: Parenting

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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Parenting

Heart & Soul: A son's final letter to his departed mum

Posted: 26 Apr 2014 09:00 AM PDT

Hi Mum, just checking in: A son writes of a relationship which he lost.

Dear Mak,

Lately, it's been hard trying to get my customary forty winks. So here I am, kneeling and pleading for your empathy. Please hear me out and tell me you will accept my poor excuse of an apology.

I'm sorry I didn't do that well when I was in school. You missed the opportunity to gloat over my academic achievements to your friends, which is what proud parents normally do. Instead, I majored in being lackadaisical and a laggard. But I have to thank you for never once thinking of me as a failure, even when you knew I could do better.

I'm sorry for habitually "misappropriating" your money while I was growing up. It was even more prevalent when I was in my adolescent years. Please take comfort in knowing that it was all spent on books. Lots of it. I pride myself on being a voracious reader, but gave no plausible consideration to the financial state which you were in. Over the years, it puzzled me that you never found out. With your meagre salary as a teacher, supporting four kids, and your impeccable spending restraint, I got the feeling that you opted to close one eye and pretend that all my shenanigans never happened.

I'm sorry for ending up as a house-husband. I knew that was a point of awkward contention for you every time the issue cropped up. I could see that you were struggling to justify the mere mention of your second son being a stay-at-home dad. If I embarrassed you, and even if society abhorred the non-conformity in me, please take comfort in knowing that the arrangement fit our family nucleus better. And more importantly, your daughter-in-law is fine with this. Really.

Speaking of your daughter-in-law, I apologise for that bold step I took 20 years ago when I broached the idea of marrying a girl of a different race. I knew I ruffled a few feathers then. But I know that over the years, you have grown fond of her as she of you. You didn't want to admit it, but I could see the deep affection that you felt for her. Loved her as the daughter you never had. I could see the glow in your eyes every time you talked about her. Did you know that the two bracelets you bequeathed her are now deemed as the first family heirloom? She sends her regards, by the way.

I'm sorry I never paid back that huge chunk of money that I borrowed from you way back in the early 1990s. I lost it all to youthful peccadilloes. Never once did you indicate that you wanted the money back. It was a lifetime savings for you which your inept son just plundered right under your nose.

I'm sorry I reneged on my promise to take you to the Holy Land together with my family. I thank God you managed to take that trip even without me. I procrastinated like so many of us do, never realising that I would live to regret it. It's not so much of the trip that disturbed me but the thought that I failed to shower you with the things that were dear to you that continues to haunt me.

I'm sorry I couldn't do anything in my power to save you from that dreadful Big C. As I watched you deteriorate to a pallid resemblance of what you once were, I began to grasp that there was only so much your hapless son could do, and no amount of money could prevent the inevitable. Laura Linney's astounding portrayal of a cancer victim in The Big C, which I followed religiously, was too close for comfort.

I'm sorry for lying through my teeth while you were in treatment. I know I promised you over and over again, that with all the wonders of medical breakthrough, you would be able to sail through the ordeal and that it would be a matter of time before you were back in your family arms again. The family's collective efforts in wanting you to have the best possible treatment didn't bear fruit. I'm sorry I didn't know any better.

I'm sorry I had bombarded you with all those medical jargon that gave false hope. This creative endeavour by the medical industry in coining these peculiar terms provided a sense of hope, serenity and grandeur. Nevertheless, I can assure you that I've decided to throw them out of my vocabulary: lymphoma, lymphocytes, lymph nodes, B cells, T cells, pathogens, tumour, metastasise, non-Hodgkin, biopsy, malignant, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, transplant, and the list goes on.

I'm sorry we couldn't bring you back to Alor Setar for your final resting place. We have never discussed it but I'm sure you would have wanted to be by your husband's side. Bapak would have loved it, too. But your three sons are based in Kuala Lumpur, so I guess on the flip side, you will be seeing us quite regularly.

I'm sorry for not uttering those three magical words when you were alive. You know how guys are when it comes to anything that spells emotions. You know I'm more of a hugger. Hopefully, all those years of you hugging my emaciated bony frame compensated for my lack of verbal responsiveness. Have I ever mentioned that I love your smell? It gives me a taste of what heaven might feel like.

And finally, I'm sorry for being such a mediocre son. As cliché as it may sound, I didn't do anything less. I just could have done more. It never dawned on my pea brain that you were not just any mother. You were MY mother. That alone grants you the right to be absolute.

I promise I will make it up to you by always including you in my daily prayers. I've already reminded your four rambunctious grandchildren to do the same before they go to bed. But don't get your hopes too high. I'm sure they love you to pieces, but kids being kids we can only put it to faith.

We will eventually be reunited in the hereafter. When that time comes, I will utter those three magical words to you. And it would come with a giant bear hug. I wish I could erase the image of you lying forlornly on the hospital bed, cringing in pain while a phalanx of relatives stood imperceptibly despondent. Instead, I choose to remember all those blissful phantasmagorias.

For all intent and purposes, I know the imperfection in you makes you human. But you were irrevocably perfect for me. I take solace in knowing that your soul is in a better place now. Until the day we are reunited, please allow me to hold on to your benevolent memory and say, "I'm sorry, Mak."

Your son,

Aslan Hj Abdullah

> Do you have any real-life, heart-warming stories to share with readers? E-mail them to star2@thestar.com.my. We'd love to hear from you.

Dear Thelma: My new boss is harrassing and threatening me

Posted: 26 Apr 2014 09:00 AM PDT

An employee suffering from a medical condition is feeling harassed and threatened by the new head of department.

Dear Thelma,

I'm 31-years-old and have been working in company A for the past five years. This is my third company and the longest that I served. All was fine until two years ago, when a major change of management took place and the company employed a bunch of newcomers, especially for the top positions. This affected my department as well.

I was the team lead for my department and once my new department head (HOD) joined, she implemented a number of new things, especially regarding an increase in daily workload which I disagreed on, knowing that it was impossible to achieve with the existing number of staff. This caused her to be unhappy, and she changed the organisation chart and placed someone else as team lead.

Nonetheless, I continued my performance as usual and even was named Best Employee of the Month in September 2012. That year end, I had a knee injury and had to undergo a knee arthroscopy. I was given a two-month medical leave from work, of which I had already informed my immediate superior. However, my HOD e-mailed the CEO and chief operating officer, and told them that I was absent for unknown reasons.

I started work again at the end of January last year and provided all the necessary documents to the human resource department. They said that my salary should be deducted due to the prolonged MC. But I said that I had proof that it was hospitalisation and not just regular MC. My HOD also pressured the rest of the staff to do more work but refused to pay overtime.

Our productivity bonus was slashed drastically. After all this happened, I began to look for another job. Last year was not a very good year for me as my family and I kept falling sick. But all the time I was being examined by the panel clinic doctor, I was given a proper MC. Finally, I had a job offer last December and tendered my resignation to company A. I am currently serving my three-months' notice.

One day, I wasn't feeling well and went on MC. I then received a call from a manager from company B, of which I will joining soon. She questioned me rudely about how I was "always on MC" and warned me not to take medical leave so frequently. I asked her who told her this and she simply answered me that she had her contacts.

I immediately figured out that it was my HOD's work (as all this information should be confidential and only known by my immediate superior. Besides, my HOD came from company B). After this, I couldn't sleep or eat properly as I thinking of what would happen to my future in company B. I started looking for other jobs as well.

Meanwhile, my HOD is still not satisfied as I am no longer performing. She threatened that I would not be able to resign easily and said that she would spoil my reputation. I'm wondering if I should report my HOD to my CEO and HR chief, perhaps even to company B as well in case I happen to encounter any problems there as they are friends. I'm confused and feel really hurt and depressed by this situation.

Should I report this matter to anyone else to stop this harassment from my HOD? I'm confident I can perform well in company B but what if the new manager harasses me as well?

Frustrated Employee

In cases like this, it may be advisable to consult with a lawyer with expertise in employee rights. You must find out what your rights are, and also know the limit that company A can go to when it comes to providing information about you to Company B.

If, as you say, there was a leak of personal information, then company A would have to be held liable.

If your HOD is previously from company B, it may be that there was an "informal" discussion about you. If this is the case, then her motive is in question. And, it would have been unprofessional for her to divulge information about your health status.

Her threat of destroying your reputation is something to think about. Why would she say something like this? It seems like a huge threat for something as simple as going away on medical leave for a serious health issue. Are you sure there were no other issues between the two of you?

Granted, even if there were other issues, a threat like this is out of hand. It is unprofessional, to say the least. Whatever the issue an employer has with an employee, it must be handled and settled professionally. That is why companies have codes of conduct, or standard operating procedures. Even if she is a HOD, her role has limits and boundaries, and the company is obliged to protect the rights of its employees.

Having said that, it may have also been a case of company B contacting company A for a reference of your work performance. That may seem strange since you have already signed a contract with them and had made plans to start at the company.

So, do consult a lawyer. Make sure you have with you all the paper evidence of communication and letters from your doctors and hospital records. In future, it may be advisable to have written documents as evidence of any communication or decision. Make sure these are saved as necessary. It is not devious. But, it is a way of safeguarding your position in an organisation and also your rights as an employee.

> Is something bothering you? Do you need a listening ear or a shoulder to lean on? Thelma is here to help. Write to: Dear Thelma, c/o Star2 (Level 3A), Menara Star, 15 Jalan 16/11, 46350 Petaling Jaya, Selangor. Or e-mail star2.thelma@thestar.com.my. Include your full name, a pseudonym, your address and contact number. No private correspondence will be entertained. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, usefulness, fitness for any particular purpose, or other assurances as to the opinions and views expressed in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses suffered directly or indirectly arising from reliance on such opinions and views.

Flower power: A special delivery heals a family spat

Posted: 25 Apr 2014 09:00 AM PDT

Why do we hurt the ones we love? After a fight with the woman Alexandra loves the most, a florist goes to her rescue. Here's the letter she wrote to him after that.

Dear Uncle Lai,

I wish I could see what you sent my parents, because according to my dad, they were beautiful! And big! I hope you did not put in anything extra because I happen to be a friend of your son's or because I am a writer that you read.

But anyway, because you made it happen for me, I thought I'd let you know why I sent her flowers – and what happened after that. The day before mum's cataract operation, she and I had a huge argument.

On hindsight, I realise that venting is just her way of dealing with her fear. Despite her outward bravery, she was afraid and of course, who wouldn't be? It's eyesight we're talking about, even if the chances of a screw-up are minimal.

The argument was so explosive that the next day, her blood pressure was still high (side effect from the argument, I suspect) and the doctor could only carry out the operation a few hours later after it subsided.

After she came out from the operation room, she complained that her eyesight was "blur".

I brushed it off as only temporary. In all honesty, I was trying to calm her, not that I took it lightly, but I admit I could have used more sensitive words.

By the time I left Ipoh two days later, her eyesight had not gone back to normal.

No choice – I had to leave since work was calling. The worst part was our relationship was still strained at that point. Hearing her brusque goodbye, I never felt so cut up leaving Ipoh before.

One week later, I spoke to dad on the phone. It was the day of her check-up.

Guess what? The operation left a hole in her eye. It's not uncommon, apparently, and it's not fatal, and the surgeon rectified it.

But it proved that she did have cause to be frightened. Surgeries can go wrong, even if it's something supposedly as simple as a cataract operation.

I was horrified.

Not only had I left on a bad note, I had not demonstrated sufficient concern in her hour of vulnerability. Knowing the anxiety and stress she must have gone through, I felt even more guilty.

Then yesterday morning, the news of Karpal Singh's death sent shockwaves through the nation.

The first thing I thought of, when I saw the FB feeds, was to call home. Karpal was well admired by my family; so much so, it felt like a personal loss that I had to inform close family members of. My parents didn't use Facebook, so I was sure they hadn't heard the news.

At my third ring, Dad picked up the phone. I told him the news, and after putting down the phone, I couldn't help wishing it was mum who had answered instead.

At least I could have said something to her after nearly two weeks of silence.

My brain whirled. Karpal's unexpected passing reminded me of how ephemeral life was, and I couldn't bear to think that should anything happen between now and my next trip back to Ipoh – early May to coincide with my school reunion – the cold interaction between mum and I at the railway station would be the last we had.

You won't believe what happened. In my mental absorption, I had ended up scrolling mindlessly through my whatsapp contacts and that's when Michael's name jumped up.

Flowers, I remembered. His dad sells flowers.

In a weird twist of cosmic coincidence, my own friends had turned to you when they wanted to buy flowers for me when I was hospitalised. They were tickled that you'd recognised my name. Not only that, I found out later that I knew your son!

That's when I called you and asked if you do deliveries.

At your recommendation, I opted for a basket instead a bouquet because you had the foresight to tell me that if I chose the former, the recipient wouldn't need to put the flowers in a vase.

You were so fast! The minute I SMS-ed you to tell him that I'd banked in the money, you acted, even before you had seen my receipt.

Half an hour later, I got a text from you: "Your flowers have been delivered."

I waited. One hour. Two hours. Afternoon stretched into evening stretched into night.

No phone call from mum. Not even a text to tell me she got them. Nothing from dad to tell me her reaction.

The next few hours were hell. Had I screwed up that badly that Mum couldn't forgive me even after I carried the ultimate grand gesture of sending her flowers?

After the longest 24 hours of my life, I got my answer. My dad's voice was peculiar – like a cross between amusement and puzzlement. "Why did you send flowers?" he cut to the chase.

"Did she like them?"

"Well, she told her friends they are very beautiful."

A hundred tonnes of weight fell off my shoulders. "Ha! So what happened on the day of the delivery?"

"The man came in a van. I think he was in his 60s. He asked, 'Are you the parents of Alexandra Wong?' Then your mother saw them, and when she realised what they were, she exclaimed, 'Aiyo, flowers so expensive. Why waste money?' After that, I heard her telephoning her friends."

I smiled to myself. That's so typical of Asians, but I knew the ruse had worked.

Two days after the flowers were delivered, my mum sent me this message:

"Yun. l have forgotten what you have done that day. This is the characteristic of all the mothers in the world. Anyway, thank you."

And people say that I am the writer in the house.

Thank you, Uncle Lai, for everything.

Yours truly,


> Alexandra Wong (bunnysprints.com) thinks it would be a shame if Uncle Lai's effort, and most importantly, her mum's efforts in raising her, are wasted, so she will do her best to fulfil the promise in the card's message: Be a better daughter.

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

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