There is much to admire and respect about the Man, Lee Kuan Yew.
But there is only one thing about him that all men can emulate: his role as husband and companion to his wife.
Many have said great and wonderful things about him. His intellect is evident, his commitment to Singapore, undeniable, and his foresight and tenacity is legendary.
But in the quiet, private moments he is first a husband to his only love, and a father to his children.
And his love for his wife, and their love for each other, and their partnership is what I admire most, and what I can emulate.
Because he is a private person, an Asian man with Asian values, and Asian sense of propriety and privacy, what he feels for his wife is not worn on his sleeves, not evident, not displayed. Usually.
And how for an agnostic who holds no belief in the afterlife,
It is a comforting thought, but my wife and I do not believe in it. She has been for two years bed-ridden, unable to speak after a series of strokes. I am not going to convert her. I am not going to allow anybody to convert her because I know it will be against what she believed in all her life. How do I comfort myself? Well, I say life is just like that. You can’t choose how you go unless you are going to take an overdose of sleeping pills, like sodium amytal. For just over two years, she has been inert in bed, but still cognitive. She understands when I talk to her, which I do every night. She keeps awake for me; I tell her about my day’s work, read her favourite poems.
And so it was that when he was hospitalised for a chest infection in 2010, his wife passed away.
It is conjecture on my part, and I am sure the Man must have wondered himself, if his absence from his wife’s side for an evening or two, might have been the “cause” of his wife’s death. It was a nightly habit for husband to sit by is bedridden wife, to read to her, to share his day with her. She keeps awake for him.
What must she have thought when he did not show up one evening? How might she have felt? Her life by then was endless discomfort made bearable perhaps only by the time spent with her soulmate. No, made meaningful only by the time spent with the Man.
And when he did not turn up one evening, perhaps she just let go of life. There was nothing left to hold on for, she might have thought.
In any case, it was inevitable.
As is his passing.
And he had this last request, a sentimental request for a man not prone to sentimentalism:
“For reasons of sentiment, I would like part of my ashes to be mixed up with Mama’s, and both her ashes and mine put side by side in the columbarium. We were joined in life and I would like our ashes to be joined after this life.”
He will be known firstly as the Father of Modern Singapore, as Singapore’s First Prime Minister, as one of the longest serving PM, as an astute statesman, and perhaps he was proud of his achievements as PM of Singapore.
But as a Man, perhaps what is most personally meaningful to him was that he was a husband, and he had a wife, who was all things and everything to him, and he, to her.
“Without her, I would be a different man, with a different life… I should find solace in her 89 years of a life well lived. But at this moment of the final parting, my heart is heavy with sorrow and grief.”