Closure on Remembering Lee Kuan Yew

Closure on the death of a loved ones is actually much harder than the receiving the actual news of the passing on.  At least that is so to me.

During a funeral, there are lots of buzz going around; friends and relatives rallying around.

When all is done and the crowd disperse, the void, the deep pain of loss sets in.

I felt this first-hand when my maternal grandmother passed away some 7 years back. I wrote about it months after it happened.

Lung cancer took my beloved grandmother away too suddenly just weeks after her diagnosis; and just one day after she started chemotherapy.

I had the privilege to be part of the 4 persons family members which stayed with her all night in the hospital and shortly after the whole clan arrived, she opened her eyes one last time seemingly to bide us farewell.

Regretfully she left us.

Reluctantly we let her go.

For months thereafter, her family gathered together. We met more often than usual. My uncle (her son) did a memorial book which combined all our heartfelt thoughts. My sons were not born then. But if they were, I believed Xi En would have written “I missed you”.

23rd March 2015 marked the passing on of one of the greatest man in history, Singapore founding father, Mr Lee Kuan Yew.

A week of national mourning was the darkest I have ever seen in Singapore. Radio stations played nothing except soft sentimental music throughout the day.

Social media profile photos were changed to shades of black and white. Even the man-in-the-street went around our daily chores less spirited.

For me, I had the longest and deepest understanding of Singapore history since it’s Independence Day to today. I had these lessons through the many sharing online, on TV and in the papers.

It was a sobering week. And I believed I wasn’t alone.

From grief, it grew to respect, to admiration and appreciation for this man and his team which gave us modern Singapore. We are all beneficiaries of his foresight and sheer determination to build Singapore into a clean, green, corruption-free and hardworking nation.

I recalled when I was probably 6 to 7 years old, I ride in my uncle’s car to “make up the numbers” to enter the CBD. During those days, there was a rule to maximise car rides into the CBD, thus you need to have minimum 4 (or 5?) persons in the car to enter the CBD area. I was “the number”. I sat in the car quietly wondering to myself why are there trees on every single roads I passed. I searched for a single road without trees grown on the sides. I couldn’t find one. I was curious why so. Only this week, I remembered this fleetingly thought and realised LKY had the foresight to distinguish Singapore as a green city.

Last week, we visited tributes, paid our due respect to LKY and wrote in the memorial books.  Maybe we needed to do something. For memory. For respect. For appreciation. For closure.

I don’t know this man personally but it really felt like a closed relative had passed on.  Many had been said and I have my tributes set in my heart too.

I enjoyed reading tributes of those who knew him personally and I wept at the eulogies presented by his loved ones.

One of the interesting illustration which hit home to me was put forward by S Dhanabalan (Former Cabinet Minister). I learnt that Mr LKY is an idealist not just a pragmatist. We all knew he is a pragmatist but he is also an idealist and push his ideals to reality too.

“He was a pragmatist, yet in a very deep sense, he was an idealist. This is well illustrated by his approach to the language policy…. the easiest way to ensure electoral support would have been to champion Chinese language… To convert Chinese schools into national type schools and to push for Mandarin against Chinese dialects were the acts of an idealist not the acts of a pragmatist. “

More of each public eulogies can be read here.

At the private funeral, our Prime Minister Mr Lee Hsien Loong recalled a speech his father made in 1972 at a congress of cardiologists. I was curious and searched online to read the full article. The end of the speech probably summed it all:

“There will never be a final solution to the problem of life an death, other than death itself. And whether it is philosophy or logic or medicine or morality or law, we are all human beings with human imperfections, both as individuals and as societies. And Singapore is an imperfect society. But I hope, despite all the imperfections you have found some pleasure in having come here.”

If you are interested, read the full article here.

Because of LKY’s legacy, I can lift my head up high and proudly say I am a Singaporean.

Even months and years go by, for as long as I live, I will tell of this week’s story to my children, grandchildren and maybe great-grandchildren. And of your story, the Singapore story and the Singaporeans’ spirit.

Just like in remembrance of my grandmother, she lives forever in our hearts. Likewise, in our own little ways, we will remember the LKY’s spirit of doing good for Singapore and contribute positively to the society.

There’s nothing else to say except: “Thank you and Thank you, Mr Lee. May you rest in peace.”


Among all his speeches I’ve read last week, this is one of my favourite:

“You begin your journey not knowing where it will take you. You have plans, you have dreams, but every now and again you have to take uncharted roads, face impassable mountains, cross treacherous rivers, be blocked by landslides and earthquakes. That’s the way my life has been.

I’m grateful that I got where I am.

happy that I’ve made a contribution to many people. And reassured that I’ve helped select a team of people to keep Singapore going…

At the end of the day, all I have cherished are human relationships.

Your worldly wealth you can’t take with you.

Your life has been lived.

It is the friends you have made. your family ties. Which sustain your spirit with a certain warmth and comfort.

So you cannot say you plan your whole life.

And that’s why I feel life is an adventure.

Exciting, unpredictable and at times exhilarating.

What is crucial is never to lose the joie de vivre.

That zest for life.

To watch the sun go down

and wake up to a new day

rested and refreshed after a good night.”

– Mr Lee Kuan Yew 2003


Source of photo: Bloomberg