Tuesday, November 15, 2016

William Koh (08 January 1943 - 12 November 2016)

It's quite normal that most people look up to their parents as their role models. My dad was my role model too when I was still a little boy. But that changed through the years as I was growing up. I think it had a lot to do with the fact that he was hardly ever around during my early years. It must have been around my mid-teens when I had a big revelation—that the man I used to admire and look up to had a lot of limitations. My father was, in many ways, a stranger to me. On many occasions in my life, I've tried to no avail to understand him. He's unique—one of its kind in this world. But although I've failed to fathom what's going on in his head, I've nevertheless learned to accept him for what he's worth. He's after all my father.

There was a time when I thought there weren't many good things that I could say about my father. It seemed like I could go on and on about what's bad about him though. And this is where I throw in those famous 2 words—nobody's perfect

Shortly after his death last Saturday morning, I received a private message from my uncle, and apart from offering his condolences, he also advised me to "think of the goodness in him (dad)...and there's a lot to his credit". Even without my uncle's advice, though, that would have been what I'd do anyway; but it's good to know that a wise uncle would support how I react to my dad's demise.

But I feel compelled to give a little background of the man. The late William Koh lived his life to the fullest, and seemed reluctant to forego whatever littlest opportunity for pleasures in life. If he enjoyed, for example, a particular food or habit—like smoking up to four packs of cigarettes per day—nothing in the world would stop him from indulging in those. When in due course, he's overwhelmed by the curious optimism that he's known for, he'd sell whatever his worldly possessions to pursue his business ventures. Not that he had very many possessions to start with. The trail of destruction in his wake could be quite something to reckon with, and I've had my fair share of the chores of picking up the pieces. I dare say that in some ways, it's a lot like making babies—I have a shrewd suspicion that he enjoyed the process of trying much more than actually achieving his goals!

But side by side with his reckless attitude in life, he was also known for his generosity. He has helped countless people including close family members and friends; even total strangers. While he was never rich with money, he was at least rich with people who've been indebted to him in one way or another. He was also loved for his simple but sensible approach to solving problems. Many people went to him for advice in his day. Despite all his failures in life, many, many people looked up to him as a big brother. I guess in that sense, he was a rich man after all. Over the last couple of days since his death, I've heard "he was a good man" from several different people, and I'm inclined to think of that as among his biggest achievements in life.

I've mentioned dad's reckless attitude in life. That's not without consequences. He was diagnosed with diabetes shortly before he turned 50. About 2 years later, he had a heart attack. He went through the angioplasty, and although he stopped smoking for about half a year after that, the locomotive in him came back with a vengeance, quickly building speed up to four packs per day. Thus he had a second heart attack about 10 years later, and this time he had to go through a quadruple bypass surgery. He survived that too. But his heart was badly damaged from the two attacks, and in the years that followed, his heart went through a gradual process of dying.

After he was hospitalised on one occasion, we children were all summoned by the doctors—both the surgeons and from the Palliative Care unit. We made no pretense, we were never in denial; and we knew what to expect. The doctors summed it up prettily—that dad's heart was in its end stages of dying. There wasn't much that the doctors could do to improve his heart, although of course they could try to make him as comfortable as possible. We should expect dad to spend increasing amount of time at the hospital. We also discussed about other matters, including funeral options etc. It was in fact a very honest discussion. Dad was also present during the major portion of the meeting, and I could see that the doctors were fairly surprised with the way we handled the discussion.

But that was about 2 years ago. Dad, with his reckless attitude, was suddenly forced to stop doing all the things he enjoyed doing. He was restricted to drinking no more than 700-800ml of water per day, otherwise his body would become "flooded". He was constantly fighting thirst. He could hardly walk more than a few metres without feeling exhausted. He was essentially imprisoned in his own body. Last Saturday, he was finally "freed", and although it's sad to lose a loved one, we're inclined to treat his life story as something to be celebrated.

William Koh lived a life of adventure, in blazing excitement. As a doctor friend said to me, he has completed his race. I dare say it was a triumphant finish too. Rest in peace, dad; you're da man!

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