A grand send-off for family matriarch


GEORGE TOWN: When someone has the rank of great-great grandmother, tallying up how many grandchildren, great grandchildren and great-great grandchildren there are can be hard.

And so it was that at the funeral of Leong Swee Foon, who died at the venerable age of 103, her descendants had trouble counting their numbers.

“About 60,” said granddaughter Bernice Wong, 53, after confirmation that Leong had six children, 24 grandchildren and 33 great grandchildren.

The number of great-great grandchildren was hard for the large extended family to pin down.

Crowded with loved ones and church members, Leong’s funeral in Mount Erskine yesterday was a happy one with many descendants wearing red shirts – a Chinese custom in funerals of those who die after living beyond the age of 80.

Leong’s longevity was a source of pride for everyone.

“The only medicine we recall her taking was Panadol. No diabetes, no high blood pressure,” said grandson Cheah Kok Eng, 61, who is a pharmacist in Adelaide, Australia.

He remembered that about 20 years ago, Leong contracted tuberculosis, and a year ago, she fell and fractured two vertebras.

Beyond that, Cheah said Leong never needed to see a doctor.

“It could not get better than this. In the last 20 to 30 years of her life, grandmother would go out for dimsum breakfast almost every morning with her daughter and son.

“They got up at 6am, pick a restaurant and after breakfast, they went for walks in Penang City Park, the Botanic Gardens or Gurney Drive.

“Not many people get the chance to be with their children all their lives, especially after living to 103 years,” Cheah said.

He said Leong was never senile and was always bubbly and talkative.

Leong’s daughter, Wong It Gnoh, 76, said about a week ago, she noticed that her mother’s feet were swollen and took her to see a doctor.

“Only then did the doctor tell us her heart was enlarged and weakening. He told us Leong only had a few days left. Otherwise, we never would have known,” she said.

Wong said before Leong breathed her last, she told her descendants that “she was following Jesus soon”.

“Then she called out the names of several of her children and grandchildren.

“We are all glad to have had so much time with her,” Wong said.

Born in 1915, Leong came from China in 1938 to be with her husband Wong Kan Fatt, who arrived earlier.

Throughout her colourful life, she had raised pigs, been a seamstress, ran a biscuit factory with her husband, worked in her daughter’s hair salon and her grandson’s pharmacy.


   

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