The next morning, I tried dialing Lily's handphone number, with the hope that someone in the family would answer. It was the only number I had to get in touch with the family. There was ringing tone, but nobody answered. I then sent a text message asking if the jenazah was already in her father's house, and if so, what was the address. There was no reply.
I really must get in touch with them. The children are now orphans. Somebody will have to take care of them, and most importantly, my main concern - the little boy, or more affectionately known as Boboy, is HIV+. Whoever takes over custody must know about his condition and must be given all the necessary information! The new guardian, must know that Boboy must not miss his hospital appointments; and once on medication, must be strictly compliant! All these need to be explained to whoever gets custody of the children.
I was beginning to get restless, not knowing where to go and what to do to get the details of Lily's funeral. As I was driving to work, it suddenly occurred to me that maybe I should just try to go to Lily's rented house in Ipoh. Who knows, I thought, maybe someone in the family may go to the house to get some things and I may bump into them.
Just as I was about to reach the junction to the housing area where Lily and the children lived, my handphone rang - PLWHA ringtone! As I had hoped, it came from Lily's handphone. And as anticipated, it was Roy, Lily's possessive friend. He gave me the address of Lily's father's home. I was driving then and was in no position to write down the address. So I had to depend on my memory to remember the address given. I asked if the jenazah had already been brought there - was told that they were all still at the mortuary. All the bathing, kafan and sembahyang jenazah were to be done at the mortuary before Lily's jenazah would be brought back to her father's kampong.
Upon hearing that the jenazah was still there, I decided to go to the mortuary. Next junction, took a u-turn and headed to Ipoh GH. Even if nobody there knew me, at least all Lily's children would recognise me.
When I reached the mortuary, I saw Roy (I've met him once before) coming out of his car with Boboy. Took the opportunity to speak to Roy first before I got to meet Lily's relatives. I needed to find out from Roy who knew and who did not know about Lily's and Boboy's HIV status. It was important for me to find out so that I wouldn't be saying the wrong things to the wrong people. Roy said so far only Lily's brother knew.
Roy then introduced me to Lily's father and brother. After Lily's father remarried (Lily's mother died many years ago), Lily only went back to her father's house during special occasions like Hari Raya and the likes. As for Lily's brother, his house is just nearby Lily's, but he never helped her out financially, as he himself earns just enough to feed his own wife and children.
I saw Lily's children trying to be brave. But looking at little Boboy, ohh poor little Boboy... I felt like my heart just got pierced. It is sad that he had just lost his mother... but what made me really feel for this boy is that one day he will find out he is HIV positive - through nothing of his own doing. For now he is quite oblivious to what's happening.
I was looking for the opportunity to speak to any of Lily's family members quietly. The chance came when Lily's brother approached me and told me that he was willing to take care of the children but he may need financial assistance. It wasn't long before Roy saw us and immediately joined in the conversation. I didn't really have the chance to get much information from Lily's brother.
While waiting for the kereta jenazah to come, Roy told me so many things. Too many in fact, even the ones I didn't want to hear. He told me how he (and he alone?) had been taking care of Lily day and night for the past 2 weeks. He told me he had already taught the children to be independant during the time when Lily was in the hospital. He told me Lily's in-laws just want the children to enable them to get Lily's late husband's EPF (was that what he himself had in mind, I wonder...). He told me Lily's father liked him better than Lily's late husband. He told me he had sacrificed a lot for the family. He told me that the children were already like his own children.
I listened, and I just listened. This guy is my only means to get in touch with the children for the time being, so I shall not say anything that will piss him off. I need to get updates, especially on Boboy.
Seeing that Roy was telling me a lot of things (although she didn't hear the conversation), a female relative came over to ask who I was. She knew Roy by now, but had never seen me before. Why was this woman so sibuk at the mortuary, she may wonder. Roy just looked at me... he knew I wouldn't tell I was from a HIV support group, but maybe he got worried I may not know what to tell. Ahh, we volunteers are quite used to this kind of situation. With Lily's status as a single mom, I had no problem saying, "Dari pertubuhan kebajikan."
She then asked who would be taking care of the children (good question, I'm wondering the same too...) and if the children's paternal family would be coming. Roy answered, "Kalau dia orang tak malu, datanglah!" The female relative then said, "Ni bukan soal malu tak malu, dia orang ada hak." Roy then kept bad-mouthing the children's paternal family. The female relative gave up and went back to where she was sitting earlier. I hope she wasn't relying on me to tell Roy off. I couldn't do that as I still have some unfinished business to settle - and I still need to be in Roy's good books to be able to do that! What matters most is the children's well-being, not how I feel.
When Lily's jenazah was finally carried into the kereta jenazah, and the van drove off, we all then got into our cars to follow from behind. Roy was looking for the children. The children by then were already in their uncle's car. Roy shouted, "Hoi, budak-budak mana?" Lily's brother then told the children, "OK, separuh ikut kereta Uncle Roy." Together, the children answered, "TAK NAK!"
Well, now at least I can be very sure Lily was telling me the truth during the earlier days when she said the children didn't like Roy...
So, off we went to Lily's old hometown. I didn't see any familiar cars to follow at the highway, but since Roy had already given me the directions, I wasn't too worried. After having been assigned to PLWHAs from various places in Perak, I am already quite used to finding houses based on addresses and verbal directions. By the time I got to the kampong, the kereta jenazah had just arrived. I recognised the driver, so I knew I definitely got the right house.
At Lily's father's house, again I tried to look for opportunities to speak to any of the family members privately. But it's not an easy task - at least not at a funeral. I was told the burial would be after zohor. I couldn't wait, so after spending some time there, I decided to make a move. I was thinking that maybe on my way out I could just pass my phone number to Lily's brother.
Just as I got out the door, both Roy and Lily's brother got up to send me off... like I was some kind of VIP. Told them to inform me on any updates on the children's well-being, especially concerning their schooling needs. Lily's brother did say he would contact me because there were things he wanted to discuss. Roy didn't want to be left out... he said he had my number (he was holding Lily's handphone!) and so he'd contact me.
So, like it or not, for the time being, any contacts with the family will have to be through Roy.
And I can only hope that any decisions made will be in the best interest of the children... and not based on the adults' selfish needs - like EPF... or ego... or whatever other reasons...