So imagine my shock when the phone call came early the very next morning, Sunday 9 October, that she was not well. That afternoon, when I visited her, she held my hands and would not let go. I told her I loved her, and knew the end was near.
I did not know how I would take her passing, for I truly loved her - all of us did. When the end came 3 days later, it turned out that while all of us would miss her, we were all glad that she went peacefully. We were determined to celebrate her life. The first night was supposed to be a quiet affair, since the obituary would only be published the next day. A whole crowd came. We had a time of worship and tributes. The next day, the wake service saw more laughter than tears. All the grandchildren presented their eulogies – each sharing contained touching moments, and humorous incidents involving their grandma. During the funeral service, it was the turn of the daughters-in-law. Through it all, there was much joy exhibited – a sharing of the life of a person who handed out laughs the way Santa handed out presents. If the services were not held in a funeral parlour, people would never have guessed they were wake services.
What a mother-in-law I had. I was so privileged, so honoured to have had such wonderful in-laws. Casting my mind back to the sharing, I would smile at the words of some, and tear at others. Something that struck me was what my sister-in-law Jenny shared.
“Mum and dad, by showing so much peace when Kenneth and I were incarcerated under the ISA gave my own parents hope, and helped them find God and the strength that only He could give.”
Yes, mum may have been an ordinary housewife, but even as her heart was broken when her eldest son, to our bewilderment, was taken away, she made it a point not to burden the rest of us with her woes. She encouraged each of us to continue to live as normally as we could, for there was nothing much we could do except trust God. Dad was the same. It must have been extremely difficult for them. On the one hand, they had to suffer the raw pain that this dealt their hearts. On the other hand, there were other children and their careers to think of. The other children and their spouses were all working, in one way or the other, with the government.
Those were difficult years. None of us dared to ask too many questions; we could feel the pain that my in-laws hid in their hearts. We had no clue why Ken and Jen were arrested. We did not know many of the so-called co-conspirators, and as we found out later, Ken and Jen did not know all of them either. It was agonizing to watch them being interviewed on TV – we listened hard, but nothing made sense.
I was reading DPM Rear Admiral Teo’s comments on the need of the ISA. All these years, for me at least, the question was not whether or not there was a need for the ISA. I can even accept the existence of the ISA if it is indeed necessary for the security of the country. However, when such a system is in place, surely there is a chance that the wrong people could be arrested? What then is the proviso to right a wrong? What redress is there for those wrongfully arrested, especially since there will be no public trials? If there is no courage to face our mistakes, no proviso in the event we are wrong, then we do not deserve this blank cheque to put someone behind bars without trial.
Yes, we are family members and obviously we believe in Ken and Jen’s innocence. After so many years, we still have no concrete evidence otherwise. While mum and dad carried their unanswered questions to the graves, many ex-ISA detainees are still alive. Were they really guilty? To tell us that there was a need to put away what were perceived as security threats is one thing, but if there were mistakes made, should not an apology, at the very least, be made? Or are we always perfect?
Frankly we have moved on. The generation after ours did not even know this part of the family history until recently, when social media brought this to the fore. To receive answers now will make very little difference to our lives. Answering the questions, however, will give credibility to the people who are advocating the continuance of the ISA. It will assure the people that moral transparency is practised.
To my mother-in-law’s credit, whatever pain she bore, she did not allow it to affect the lives of those around her. Apart from shouting death threats at Serena Williams when she wanted her to lose, she showed no visible bitterness. That is the way we Tsangs live, by the grace of God, and by her example. We will try to walk in her footsteps, continue to laugh and love, to leave bitterness aside.
Goodbye Grandma Tsang. May all the other Mrs Tsangs make you proud and continue your tradition of strength and joy.