Dear Angel, I remember you telling me that your dream was to become a dentist. As you were describing to me every detail about dentistry with full excitement, I could see there were tears of joy filling your eyes. I then knew that studying dentistry was your aspiration the whole time. An accident suddenly struck, you fell from a very high floor of stairs and injured your spinal cord. You instantly knew you had to give up dentistry for you could not be able to walk again and move yourself freely up and down dental engines.
Majoring in the field of science was always your preference, hence you opted pharmacy as a second choice. You showed all of us your perseverance in pursuing your dreams and future careers. You were a fighter, you never gave up easily. You made sure you put your best effort into sustaining life. You attended wheelchair workshops to retain mobility after the accident. It was a new life journey for you as you began everything from zero – new tasks, and new challenges. You learnt patiently how to control movements using wheelchairs. The process was arduous but giving in did not appear in your mind for you knew giving up was the only way to fail.
After a few months of blood, sweat and tears, you successfully mastered every skill in managing a wheelchair. You participated in events and made new friends. You even attended classes at university, where we met and befriended each other. I was beyond pleased when we became desk mates in class. You never failed to thank me whenever I helped to carry your desk to you. We shared our daily life stories when we had free time. You once told me that dancing and painting were your favourite activities. I could see they were also your talents. You said you learnt ballet at a very young age and could perform beautiful ballet dance. I saw your childhood ballet outfit before on Instagram- you looked exactly like a ballerina, with your tied-up bun, adorable tutu and pointed shoes. You missed ballet more than anything, and wished you had the chance to dance again if you would recover.
Eventually, you took up painting as your hobby. During the semester holidays, or whenever you had free time, you carried out painting as you adored it very much. You possessed fine skills painting with watercolour, using both wet and dry techniques. Your masterpieces were amazingly brilliant. You proved to all of us your abundance of passion in committing to doing things that you dearly loved.
There were a few times when you flipped over and were tossed off your wheelchair in class. As all of us turned our attention to you, we found you lying helplessly on the ground, with the entire wheelchair pressed against you. Immediately, we approached and assisted you into sitting position again. You noticed our worried and concerned faces, so you pulled our leg by telling us you were as light as a feather and falling down was nothing. The atmosphere turned less awkward after you got us all gingered up. You always put on your best smile in front of everyone; you were gleeful and warm. We barely saw you cry. There were also several times when you were really exhausted and slept in class. As you were finally half-awake, you took a glance at the projector screen, then at me, and always said the same statement, “I am so tired.” I automatically mouthed back, “Me too.” You then grinned at me and resumed slumbering.
Our classes started at 8 a.m. and ended at 6 p.m. almost every day. Every day was wearying, yet you were stronger, more independent and diligent than most of us. You insisted on driving yourself to attend classes, so you drove to campus, rain or shine. Your car was sent for re-design, allowing you to control and move the vehicle safely with only your hands. You taught all of us resolution in your self-support and living in optimism.
You told me the multiple medications you took daily to treat your condition were the dominant culprit which led to constant drowsiness. At most times, the side effects were so bad that you could not focus on your studies and experienced muscle cramps. However, you did not allow these challenges to become a barrier. You did constant revisions, aced in tests and examinations, and were awarded the Dean’s List Award for your consistent good results. You never ceased to learn and ask questions. Sometimes, you even taught us when we had doubts in our studies. You encountered every obstacle with resilience and compassion, displaying yourself as an ideal student role model for us all.
One day, we had CNSP (Central Nervous System Pharmacology) class together. While you and I were discussing the topic about nervous system, you told me that there was no treatment that could make you stand and walk again. I felt sorry and looked down, not knowing what to say. Instead of me comforting you, you reassured me that you never gave up on trying out any novel physiotherapy options, even those with the slightest hope. You said you and your family found a neurologist in America who was still in the midst of conducting research on nerve damage therapy. There was hope for you, and you were eager to go to America to receive treatment once the research was successfully carried out. Meanwhile, you went to consultation and physiotherapy on a weekly basis.
You were finally able to walk again for short distances after three years of hard work. Everyone was proud of you, for you had shown all of us your determination in standing up and becoming stronger in life. Unfortunately, a very sad and tragic loss happened last December. We attended your funeral on that gloomy day. Rain drops were hitting heavily on the rooftop of the parlour as we arrived and paid our last respects. The sudden news of your death was shocking. We did not expect you to leave us so early. We knew you were extremely tired of everything, we hoped you could rest in peace now. We would miss you dearly for sure.
My dear Angel, I thank you for proving to us that life has no limits. You have taught us well that determination and perseverance are the key elements of breaking the boundaries of life challenges. This letter is written to pay tribute to you, for you have been a stoic all this while. Until the day when I see you again in heaven, I shall remember your story of life and utilise it as a source of motivation always.
“It’s been a long day without you, my friend, and I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again. We’ve come a long way from where we began, oh, I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again, when I see you again.”
May you rest in peace.
Words by Jun Ni Ho
Illustration by David Adams