I stayed overnight at my parent's home the day before the funeral. Sleep evaded me, as it did my parents, and many other friends and family in the wake of Alda's passing.
In the almost 3 months of my brother's comatose state, my relationship with my parents strained. That night, I listened to my dad until 4am... As he retold what happened in my brother's final week.
I breathed a deep sigh of relief in tears, that my dad found what he needed in that last week. My brother, in all impossibility, awoke from his coma unable to speak, but was conscious enough to listen to my dad beg his forgiveness. My dad had prayed so hard than he had ever did his whole life, negotiating with God, bargaining like Abraham against the odds while on the verge of sacrificing his son Isaac's life. He asked God for a sign, for a few moments in prayer to have my brother listen and acknowledge my dad's pain, heartache and regrets...
Then, Alda opened his eyes. He responded subtly to friends who sang and joked by his bedside. Doctors confirmed that my brother was showing signs of positive brain activity. Then my dad sat by his side, poured his heart out and prayed the Rosary with Alda. At the end of it, Alda reached out to kiss the Rosary beads that my dad held within his tight face-to-face embrace with my brother. The tears rolled.
Within the next 48 hours, Alda relapsed back into a coma and fought an infection in higher body temperatures. The medical staff did their best to keep Alda stable. Yet in spite of all their efforts, and having commenced stem cell therapy, it was time.
I never imagined that my dad had hurt so much, to let my brother go. My mum, in the months of Alda's coma, had been quietly persuading him to let Alda go and let God take over.
Miles away, I battled acceptance in assurance that it was my brother's time to leave. With doubt against hope. In futility.
It was only a few more hours to Alda's funeral Mass. I took refuge in the very familiar space that was mine before I left Kuala Lumpur 6 years before. Only now, Alda's clothes and personal belongings cluttered the space that mine occupied only years before. After a short nap, I woke staring at the tall and bony-suited 16 year old Alda in a photo pinned to an old cork board. A far cry from the fit 5ft 8in tall kick-boxer build he was the day he collapsed.
My parents left the house for the church, ahead of me, dwindling aimlessly through the memories I missed of my brother's last 5 years of life. His voice was close to me. I found myself listening to Alda tell me what to do with every photo, card or letter I pulled out from the desk.
From contracts to scripts, birthday cards to gig passes in brittling lanyards. Alda's well-worn, well-loved Adidas gear and Liverpool jerseys. As I shuffled rough the pile like an innocent sister running through her brother's belongings, Alda instructed me who needed some items returned and what to do with them. He had me help him finish up a few final things before he 'leaves', he said.
I knew that it was going to be a special funeral Mass. It wasn't just an hour of prayer, while those attended grieved and paid their respects for one last time. I knew it was going to be more than that. I was humbled that I was going to be allowed to witness the most magnificent vision of life.
While I grew up in a Charismatic church, seeing visions, listening to prophecies come alive and speaking in tongues, it was a past life I had left behind for more than a decade. I didn't stop believing. I just started fearing.
But Alda prepared me, in our silent morning rush hour drive to the church, spent in each other's final sibling presence listening to the radio. The songs that played, the disc jockeys' mindless banters, we both laughed at memories and spoke of its meanings.
It was a calmness I can only relate to being underwater. You can watch life happening around you in a muffled tone. A parallel time and space almost.
The church filled quickly with friends and family, mostly wardrobed in black with stoic expressions of disbelief, hoping it was all just a dream.
My parents, team Alda and I, as the pallbearers hugged each other tightly before walking Alda's casket up the aisle at the commencement of the Mass.
Every song, every prayer throughout was a living note that morning. It breathe and beat to the rhythm of the hearts of those who shared Alda's love, both in their spiritual and mourned presence for those who were and couldn't be physically there.
My dad had refused to play any role in the selection of the liturgy that day, but I swear, every single hymn and reading were an exact representation of the life in the Catholic faith that my brother grew up with in that very church building, St Ignatius.
From his first Holy Communion to his life as altar boy, and his undoubted humble beginnings playing guitar along to worship music as a spirited youth of praise. I choked upon tracing the memory come full circle, in realization that the room my brother's casket had lay during the 3-day wake ceremony prior, was the very same room he began his musical career as part of the youth group.
I sang those praises and hymns, soulful and shyly as I watched in awe of the visions of Heaven that gently lead Alda's Mass into the moment Father Lucas, the celebrant, began the Rite of Commendation. The church filled to the brim with spiritual doves and flames and hoards of angels, as Alda went around to hug every single one of us.
"Into your hands, Father of mercies, we commend our brother Alda Evan Tan in the sure and certain hope that, together with all who have died in Christ, he will rise with him on the last day."
'It was time,' Alda said. My heart skipped.
As Father Lucas walked down the Altar steps, Alda returned to lie in his casket obediently. As the prayer of commendation left Father's lips, one by one, word for word... this is what I witnessed...