The video is the eulogy given at the funeral of a Raffles Hall university mate, Daryl Lee Eng Leong on 1 September 2019. Credit to Willy Soleysto for taking the video.
The transcript is as follows:
If you think that this is a funeral where you have to feel sorry for someone or a family. I’d suggest that you think again. For my friend Daryl Lee Eng Leong, he’s made the crossing. He’s safely on the other side. It is we who will have to make the crossing later.
The only thing that is guaranteed now is that each of us are guaranteed to die. He’s not coming back this way. No matter how sorry you feel for him today. We don’t know how it’s going to end for each of us. For some of us, death maybe imminent. Sooner than you think. For some of us, death may be a long time from now, many years from now. But we don’t know our own stories.
Daryl didn’t die. He went on to live.
I watched him as his days grew closer.
He didn’t have fear in his eyes. He was just tired, because he was stuck in this lousy mortal body that was diseased while his spirit was still alive and well.
I looked into his eyes a few weeks before he left us. And I said to him, “We are proud of you.” And he looked back at me and he nodded. That is all he needed to know.
He’s probably here right now with us, happy to have got rid of the physical body, and finally free at last and not feeling as if that it is a bad thing after all, while we are the ones still sitting here having to guess what our own transitions are going to look like.
Cancer is a very playful disease. There’s a book written by Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee, “Emperor of All Maladies”. He calls it the “pathology of excesses”. He says the cancer cell, it “invades” us. It sets up “colonies”. It seeks “sanctuary” in one organ and then another, it lives “desperately”. It lives “inventively”, “fiercely”, “territorially”, “cunningly”, “defensively”. As if teaching us how to survive, perhaps more adapt to survival than we are.
But being the extremely logical person, Eng Leong fought disease with all the brain power of an engineer, a doctor, a scientist and an accountant put together. Even his own surgeons could not keep up with him. He would visit the oncologist and then the radiotherapist and seek and suggest treatments that neither of them had thought about, or could even suggest because it was not in either of their territories. And then when regular chemotherapy had ended, he put himself on experimental medication. In his last days, his heartbeat was 170 beats per minute for hours on end, just from the dosage. A normal person would have been exhausted running at that rate for 10 minutes. But Daryl he kept going, eating, playing, seeing, laughing, joking with his family with a friends with anyone who visited him.
There was no sick man in that hospital. He was blessing all of us. The doctors just could not keep up with him. Half the time they could not find him. He would be away in the hospital canteen downstairs swallowing whole plates of noodle, chicken feet, otak, nasi something or another, like a python and then sending selfie photos of his meals to his friends and family. Sometimes he was not even at the hospital, making lunch and dinner appointments like a businessman more than a cancer patient. While he did everything in his own power to remain alive, it is wrong to assume that he was not prepared to die, that he wanted desperately to live.
Many people believe in heaven and God and the goodness of God. But not many are in a hurry to get there. In my long conversations with Daryl, both of us talked about life and death as if they were two sides of the same story. He believed enough about heaven and God to know that what is to come is probably just as good, if not better than what we have here on Earth. You can see that in the video interview that we posted on the Raffles Hall Alumni Facebook site. He was prepared for today, three years ago, just as his wife and his family are.
They all rehearsed today again and again several times. We all believed in this, even in different ways. The reason he remained alive as long as he could was because he was enjoying it. He enjoyed his family. He enjoyed his friends. He was actually scheduled to die earlier this year. In December, the doctors gave him three to six weeks to live. And then the family had organized a small party masquerading it as a birthday party. Well, actually, it was a farewell party for Eng Leong.
But then there was the Raffles Hall anniversary dinner in March and Eng Leong desperately wanted to make it to that dinner. And he did. In the video interview, he mentioned all his friends who were important to him. Teri Wong, Mok Wai Mung, Chin Toe Chong, Chong Wei, Seng Chee, Ng Fook San, Hor Nam Chook, Heng Yue, the four hall photographers, Patrick Chong, for some reason (jokingly) Lim Eng Hai, Goh Chin Yee, Francis Xavier, the housemates he lived with after he graduated but before he got married, the older generation of Raffles Hall friends he seemed to like. Oh please forgive me if I can’t recall of all the names, but they were all important to him playing in his head.
And until the end, he was checking his WhatsApp chat group to look for some comments, even if he could not respond to them. Of course, of all of Eng Leong’s successes, surely the greatest of his success was his family. If you hung around his family, they are a group of atoms in constant motion, a natural network economy. I remember on one of his escapades from the hospital.
He had wanted to eat satay at the Gardens By the Bay Satay Club. So we sneaked out of the hospital one evening, together with (daughter) Michelle was visiting from Melbourne. And we asked Joseph was working at that time to join us there. As we drove near Gardens by the Bay, Michelle looked out. The Gardens by the Bay was on the east side and the sunset was so beautiful on the west side.
All of us commented how beautiful the sunset was. Eng Leong said it was beautiful, Michelle said was beautiful. I said it was beautiful. And then Michelle called Joseph who was just then walking out of the Marina Bay Sands MRT Station and into Gardens By the Bay. Michelle asked him, “would you like us to swing by and pick you up?” And he said, “Hey, do you see the sunset, it is so beautiful. I think I’ll just walk over meet you there.”
It was that continuous linked conversation where every member of the family was conscious and relating to the same elements in the world around them, that made them the a constant motion, that made this family one big shared consciousness.
Sometimes they try all sorts of tricks, but Eng Leong was always vigilant, keeping his troops in order. Stephanie tried her luck by saying to her dad. “Why don’t I delay finding a job so that I can find more time with you, Daddy?” Oh, that was Jacqueline. To which her dad replied, “you go get a job that pays well enough to look after me.”
But the crowning glory of Eng Leong’s family was of course, you, Cecilia. Who would a man want as a companion and partner, to help him make his life defining decisions with dignity and common sense in moments like this. In some of the hardest decisions you’ve had to make as a couple, the love and the compassion is sometimes out of sight. These just have to be assumed from the years of building the family together. Because the decisions are hard ones. Even if Eng Leong had survived, the rehabilitation alone would have taken a long time. And if he dies, the consequences for the family are long term as well. Treating death as in treating life, both as imposters that cannot guarantee, that cannot entice us to either lust after one or cheat the other. But accepting both as gifts from God.
Who would have known Cecilia that when you met this nerdy Malaysian boy 30 years ago, as you heard that unmistakable motorbike going to tuk tuk towards your house, and that knock on your door and the sheepish grin, giving you that birthday present, that these were the decisions that you were being prepared to make together. And yet when the moment came, you lived your role with distinction. You prepared your kids, you rehearsed them. “Talk to your papa, each of you, one by one. Make your peace with them.” “Don’t have unresolved issues.” “No, you cannot come back for your holidays. You can only come back if he dies.” “Stephanie, mission trip, yes, go ahead.” “Get on with your lives.” One year, two years, three years, five years life goes on. These are decisions that Eng Leong himself would have made. And you make them together.
Samuel and Joseph, you’re both now men of the house. You have a great tradition to follow. Great parents whose footsteps you can follow now.
Of a mother and a father who showed you how to live life with dignity, even in the face of death. They taught you to laugh, to cry, to sing, to eat, to die, to drink, to travel, and even to build your ambitions and treat death as any other imposter at the door should. You should carry this courage with you. Live this courage. Spread the news of this courage to all around you. Hug your grandmother in the way that she would have hug her son. Hug your mother in the way that she would have hugged her husband.
And one day when you have someone that you love, you will know the way in which you were loved before.
Eng Leong was my university hostel mate. I did not know him too well. But during the hostel days, staying in a hostel together created a bond that for many of us, that’s why we’re here today. It’s like family. Eng Leong was an engineering student and an ASEAN scholar. But he chose to be a hall photographer as a hobby. I always thought of all photographers as a fly on the wall. Annoying. The people who stand in the way of the picture.
What I didn’t read realize was that they were the most important people who had a big opinion of all of the scenes that takes place, that they were part of. And they can tell you stories years later, of what happened exactly and in sequence, and who was more important then another. And in that way, Eng Leong was highly opinionated, with a front seat view of the most important events in the history of our shared time together.
But I reconnected with him three years ago, complete with family of five lovely children. And me living alone, the life that I chose for myself. I was invited to the unreserved warmth and friendship that the family gave me. It was like a gift to me. When he told me he was suffering from cancer, I started to value the days of my own life as well. I remember a flight earlier this year from New York to Singapore. I just decided to not fly directly. And I decided to stop by in Bermuda. And I text Eng Leong.
And he said, You must go and look at the Crystal Cave. And I said, How does he know about the Crystal Cave? But I did. In the one day that I was in Bermuda, I asked the taxi driver to take me to the Crystal Cave. He asked me “do you really want to go it’s far away and it takes a lot of time.” But I did that for Eng Leong. And then I discovered that in the cave, a 70 metre lake that looked like it was two meters deep because of the refraction between freshwater and sea water.
I learned something that day. I lived in Eng Leong, and Eng Leong lived in mine. Everything that he could not do. I did. I started to reinforce in my own life, that the best way to prepare for death is to live life fully. If there was something that I always wanted to do, there was no reason that today was the best day to do it.
Your family, this family is an inspiration to all of us. And this is not some amazing philanthropic, Singapore family that lives in a castle on a hill for the rest of us to follow or admire. This is not a family with untold resources or options open to them to make the decisions that they’ve had to make. This is not a prominent family that all of us look up to. And yet with the limited resources that they have, they’ve made some of the most important decisions that shows the dignity of life and the place of dead at the feet of where we live.
Today we don’t come here to mourn the dead, we come here to celebrate life. Eternal Life.
Thank you, Eng Leong, for fighting the way you did. For showing the dignity, the courage that you did. When you drew your last breath, it wasn’t because you gave up. It was just that your mortal body was gasping to keep up with your spirit. And now your spirit is free. “Energy is neither created nor destroyed,” said Jacqueline in the car, corrected by her schoolteacher mom. It is only transferred from one form to another. If that is true then you didn’t disappear.
The Book of First Corinthians puts it another way. “For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true, “Death has been swallowed up in victory”. I can hear my friend saying the rest of that sentence, “Where, oh death, is your victory? Where or death is your sting?” “I am free. I am free at last.”