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Death at an exam

Leon Saw

Thu Jul 18 2013

Death at an exam_       MeldMagazine

PROCEED with exams or attend to a family emergency? It’s a no-brainer, but Leon Saw still wasn’t able to farewell his grandmother in person.

My mother often laments that I don’t provide her with regular updates on my life since coming to Australia. In my defence, there’s not much worth communicating. I’m still studying (relatively) hard, I haven’t blown my university fees at the casino or on (illegal) drugs, and I haven’t gotten anyone pregnant.

So considering her expectation of regular, meaningful family correspondence, you’d think she’d tell me something as significant as my grandmother being critically ill and on the verge of passing away. Except she didn’t – not until it was too late.

I received an email from my mother during the exam period mentioning that my grandmother was in hospital. This news was not out of the ordinary, since my grandmother’s kidneys had been failing and her health was not in its prime. I didn’t think much of it, until a week later when my mother called to tell me that doctors had advised the family to “prepare for the worst”. As it turned out, the hospital visit was anything but an ordinary check-up.

What is completing a few university modules a month late versus not being there for your loved ones in their final hours?

After a sleepless night trawling the Internet for flights home, I managed to get myself onto one the next day. Unfortunately, my grandmother passed away peacefully as I was in transit and I touched down to seven days of funeral proceedings.

Afterwards, I couldn’t help but wonder why my mother would keep from me news of my grandmother’s worsening condition. My guess is that knowing the exams were approaching, she decided to let me study in blissful ignorance. The stereotype of the education-obsessed Asian parent may not always ring true, but this time it struck with devastating consequence.

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I haven’t seen thirty years yet, but surely matters of life and death within the family should be communicated as matters of urgency. What is completing a few university modules a month late versus not being there for your loved ones in their final hours? My university, like every university in Australia, even has provisions for such emergencies. Sadly, my mother was not aware of this.

At the end of the day, academic failure isn’t final – death is. If such news about someone I really care for and love somehow ever reached me while I’m in an examination hall, it wouldn’t be a stretch for me to flip my desk and storm off to attend to him or her. The paper and incredulous looks be damned.