Updated: Sep 18, 2022
Loss. It's a hard thing to deal with. For the past few days I have been wrestling with images in my mind of my Grandpa in his rattan chair in his apartment. In my mind he is happy, smiling. He has a big grin, his immaculate teeth, perfectly straight, line his lips. He has a blue checked. shirt on, with comfy shorts as my grandparents' apartment doesn't have air conditioning, just a rotating fan to keep us cool. His silver, wavy hair neatly covers the sides and back of his head. These beautiful images partner with an uncomfortable feeling of loss. Grandpa passed away last week, on Thursday 19th May 2022.
Robert Tan Kim Siew was 94 years old when he went to glory. He had what Brits would refer to as "a good innings". Friends have expressed their amazement of his age and health at that age and have used this as means to comfort me. But to be honest, I haven't really felt comforted. As a Christian, there is hope that I will see him again one day, but neither does that really bring comfort. The loss of my grandpa hurts.
It seems strange to say, but I am grateful for this ache. I don't wish to get into details right now - should wish, you can read much more in my book - but as a child, I experienced what would today be described as emotional abuse from my grandfather. His heavy hand and sharp words almost broke 8 year old Jonathan Tan. One particular occasion set my tears running so much that I had to lie to my teacher and school friends, telling them my cat had died, so as not to draw attention to him. I have since learned, following a conversation with a psychiatrist, that my 8 year old heart could only compare the hurt with the magnitude of death.
Grandpa grew up in a very different time to me and in a very different place and culture to mine and so my culture and modern upbringing grated on him immensely. He had lived through WWII, through the brutalities of the Japanese occupation (see video for interviews with Grandpa about this). He also grew up in Asia - a continent with such different principles to the west, regarding discipline and the contrast of these two worlds was perhaps too uncomfortable for him to deal with. His style of discipline may have been consistent with what he would have grown up with.
Only in my 20s, learning about forgiveness in a church, did I decide that I needed to address the hurt in my heart and the angry feelings I had towards my Grandpa. I don't know if I felt an immediate release or a sense of lightness, as if a burden had lifted. What I do know is that this one decision changed our relationship and over time a love for my Grandpa grew. This is why I am grateful for the ache. That one moment of forgiveness allowed me to get to know my Grandpa again. In time his heart had softened, too. He was kinder and more understanding.
My one act of forgiveness, reinforced by a commitment to that decision to forgive, opened the door for me to get to know a wonderful man. Grandpa was generous - with his words, with his love, with his life. He cared deeply about everyone he would meet. For example, he would strike up conversations with taxi drivers, trying to converse with them in their dialect with the words he knew. Over the years we would visit Singapore on holidays and each time I would look forward to seeing Grandpa (and Grandma!) again.
When we landed in Singapore in 2020, relocating from the UK, the first people we went to visit were my grandparents. Our relocation meant that for the past two years we were able to spend lots of time with them. We even brought Grandpa to come and live with us for 5 weeks while my grandma was in hospital. These were precious times that we were able to share together. Times that would not have happened should that one act of forgiveness had not happened - not just for me, but my wife and kids too. During these times, my wife and Grandpa built their own wonderful relationship too, and in the past 6 months, Millie spent many a day in and out of hospital with him and Grandma, out of her love for them, not duty to me.
Today we scattered Grandpa's ashes out at sea. A final goodbye, if you like. I miss him so much. But I remain grateful for forgiveness. A lack of forgiveness could have robbed me of these years. As we dropped flowers in after his ashes, my wife's final words, "goodbye, Grandpa", were a fitting reminder of the precious conclusion to the complex relationship he and I once had. Pain, forgiveness, restoration and love. Even Millie loved him as if he were her own grandfather. And he loved her like his own granddaughter.
My children - Grandpa's great-grandchildren, miss him and are mourning. My son wishes to play chess with G-G-Pa "just one last time" and my daughter was just so sad, her big brown eyes filling up before rivers of tears streamed down her delicate cheeks. We validate their tears and sadness, teaching them that this is a good sadness - we are sad because we have loved and been loved. We are sad because G-G-Pa is precious to us. To think they have had such quality and deep interactions with such a wonderful man, their own great-grandfather, gives me so much joy.
It's been hard to process properly so far. We have been busy with arrangements over the past 4 days and hosting family in our home, while precious and so valuable, hasn't quite given me the freedom and space I need to settle this loss in my heart. But I will, in time. Perhaps this is why I needed to write. For now, I will continue to appreciate the fact that the deep sorrow and loss I feel is because of the love we have shared. In contrast to the loss expressed at 8 years old, I much prefer today's hurt and I'm OK with holding onto it for a while. It is strangely comforting to know how much my Grandpa meant to me.
I love you, Grandpa. See you again.