After visiting and delivering another month’s supply of groceries to Sofie yesterday; and then visiting Zalia and delivering milk & diapers for her daughter before heading home, I was planning to just stay home today (other than my Saturday pasar tani routine) and tidy up my messy work table at home.
But when I was at the pasar tani, a call came in on my hand phone from an unfamiliar number. The caller identified herself as Shilla’s sister-in-law and told me that Shila had just passed away about 6 something in the morning. She herself wasn’t too sure what time the funeral would be as the family was still calling relatives and friends.
So after my pasar tani routine, off I headed to Shila’s house. Shila had been staying with her mother (at her mother’s house) ever since her husband passed away about 8 years ago. It’s a kampong house which I had visited quite a number of times even though I am not Shila’s main buddy. Shila’s buddy is for the moment overseas and was not able to visit today.
When I got to Shila’s house at about 10 am, there were quite a number of people visiting. Laila, Shila’s 11 year old daughter, looked rather calm. So did Shila’s mother. I knew Shila’s mother was busy with people always asking her where was this and that to help prepare for Shila’s funeral, but I still managed to talk to her for a few minutes to find out what happened.
After being hospitalised some time last month, Shila’s condition had improved a lot. Other than HIV, Shila also had heart problems. She & Laila did join us for our recent Family Day. I never thought that would be her last Family Day with us. Within the same week after the Family Day, I did get to meet Shila & Laila. Shila had to go to the hospital for some tests and after she was done with those tests, I went to fetch her. Shila was hungry by then (she had to fast before the tests were done) and so I brought both her & her daughter for makan-makan at a fast food outlet at a nearby shopping centre. Apparently Laila had always asked her mother if she could eat there but Shila couldn’t afford to fulfil the girl’s request. So when I offered to bring them there, the girl was all smiles.
That was the last I met Shila alive. And she was doing okay then.
So the news of her death came as quite a shock to me. As a matter of fact, it was a shock to her family as well. Even though they knew of her HIV, but based on her condition, they didn’t expect her to go so soon. According to her mother, the only thing Shila was complaining about yesterday was a backache; and then later at night she complained she felt rather warm and so decided to sleep upstairs which was cooler. Usually she’d sleep downstairs with her daughter. And the next thing they knew, this morning Shila was gone.
I immediately sent a few text messages to a few people whom I thought should know about Shila’s death – including SN. SN immediately called me back – she was shocked too. Apparently the doctor had just asked her to call Shila to arrange for some other tests to be done on her before deciding on the best ARV medication to be given to her.
Anyway, when I got to Shila’s house, the first thing I did was to ask her mother if the funeral arrangements had been made.
“Jenazah semua dah ada orang uruskan ya?”
“Dah… saya suruh anak saya pergi ambik orang yang selalu uruskan jenazah tu.”
OK, so everything had been arranged for, so I just sat there quietly and I thought probably I could leave early. But after a while, Shila’s sister came back, and the family seemed a bit restless. I decided to ask. Apparently the regular lady whom the kampong folks had always depended on to handle pengurusan jenazah, was not home and nobody seemed to know where she was. A few ladies offered help to cut the kain kafan, but nobody dared lead. I could see Shila’s mother was beginning to worry although she kept her cool. I finally decided to just go and join the ladies helping out with the kain kafan when one of them asked, “Adik boleh tolong ke?” “InsyaAllah boleh,” I said, and immediately they put me as the “leader”.
So yes, from then on I took over the pengurusan jenazah, right from preparing the kain kafan, mandi jenazah and on to mengkafankan jenazah. The other ladies gave full cooperation.
It was during mengkafankan jenazah that Laila started sobbing away. Poor girl. Being the only child, and losing her father when she was just about 3 years old, Laila had always been manja with her mother.
By the time the jenazah was all ready, it was about 12.45 pm. I sought permission from Shila’s mom to leave as I had already done what I could. She hugged me and thanked me for helping her out. Somehow, from the way she thanked me, I get this gut feeling that maybe, just MAYBE, the regular lady could have heard rumours that Shila had HIV and therefore purposely made a disappearing act so that she didn’t have to give any excuses for refusing to handle Shila’s jenazah. Just for the record, during one of the kursus pengurusan jenazah that I had attended before, one of the participants actually asked if he could refuse to handle the body of an HIV infected person. I do hope I’m wrong about this lady though…
I do intend to visit again one of these days to discuss about Laila’s future. No worries about who the girl will be staying with, she’ll definitely be staying with her grandma at the very same house she’s staying now. But other than monitoring Laila’s educational needs, we need to monitor her emotional status as well. Ramadhan will begin on Monday, and one thing for sure is that this coming Raya will be Laila's first Raya without her mother.