How do we measure a life well lived? Do we count up the money the deceased earned or the possessions they’ve bought? Or do we look at the lives they’ve touched around them and see if they’re made a positive influence on the others nearby?
While not much is known about Ong Peck Lye, one thing is. He passed away recently, but before he did, the Singaporean businessman called his family to him. And while his son held the pen, Ong Peck Lye dictated the following poem that will live on long after his death in his obituary…
The obituary poem reads as follows:
I, Ong Peck Lye.
I was born into poverty and uncertainty,
Circled myself with friends smarter than I,
Married a woman better than I,
So I could have children greater than I.
I spared no ego nor expense,
To show others I showered my family,
The beneficiaries of my simple heart.
I never got to see my father be
A husband to my mother so
I made mistakes being both,
Trying to be as human as I know.
All my acquaintances and my friends
Thought I was this perfect man.
My best and closest knew
My conflictions were quite a few.
My poverty became prosperity,
My hunger became my food,
My simplicity became complexity,
My ego big beyond me.
For all the adventure and flamboyance that I knew,
My last days were dreary and weary.
For all the charity I that gave,
My true friends were few,
My siblings all gone before me.
A wife who fretted over my meals and medications,
A son who cut and stroked my hair and nails,
Calmed my nightmares, lift me up and tucked me in.
My wife who cowed when I stood over her, stood beside me,
My son who dared stand up against me, stood up for me.
At last I got to see my legacy,
Ensured, enshrined in good hands.
I dared to live and now I dare to die.
I am Ong Peck Lye.
The deceased father’s second son, Ong Tiong Yeow, wrote down the poem from his father’s deathbed.
Although the father showered his children with privilege, he had his problems. Ong Tiong Yeow said his older brother was kicked out of home because he converted to Christianity and married into a Eurasian family. Then his younger brother came out as gay. Both left Singapore with their father’s shame at their backs.
“My father died before he had the chance to ask my brothers to forgive him.”
Even this loyal song was ordered to leave after fighting his father about how he treated his mother.
“The poem is also a tribute to my mum. My father bullied her, scolded her, kept mistresses – but she tahan (Malay for endure) until the end.”
The father was “hard” and wanted his sons to be hard as well.
“He wanted to toughen me up, to show me the same hard life he had led,” the second son said. “We have only one chance in life to be a husband and a father. We learn what we can from our parents, but we only have one chance to get it right ourselves.”
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