It is quite common in a typical Malaysian family for the parents to be amongst the first members of the household to perform the hajj. My family was no exception.
We were all very excited when Bapak and Mak (or Atok & Nenek to you my boys) received their invitation and confirmation letter from Tabung Haji circa late 90s. Each one of us wanted to have a piece of it somehow, no matter how small or insignificant it might seem - from sponsoring the whole kenduri doa selamat, a token in the form of a nicely embroided telekung for Mak, a comfortable pair of sandals each, a sturdy and safe luggage for Bapak, right down to the ribbons in striking colors that were to be tied to the luggage for easy recognition at the airport carousel. Without doubt each one of us also started calculating in our head silently how much more did we need to top up our savings if still insufficient and started to wonder out lout rhetorically when our turns would come actually in the very familiar tone of "bilaaaaa la agaknya turn kita pulak eh?".
Nearing the weeks that my parents were due to leave for the holy land, all of the children, most of their siblings, lots of relatives & close friends flocked down to visit them in JB; either to attend the kenduri doa selamat, to seek forgiveness, to wish them well for a safe return trip, or even to simply kiss their hands to 'ambil berkat'.
With this kind of story, there is always a but somewhere ...
Barely 3 days prior to their departure to Mekah, in the middle of the night, I received an emergency call from my elder brother (Uncle Bard to you my boys) about Bapak complaining of severe chest pains. That must be serious I thought. The Bapak that we know hardly fell sick during his entire working life. A retired marine police officer, our non smoking Bapak had a very high threshold level for pain and would never ever consider falling sick as an option for him. Such confession of serious pain from Bapak, what's more in the middle of the night, was a real concern indeed to everyone and no one in their right mind dared to dismiss that as trivial . My brother said, Mak and my 2 other sisters were waiting nervously for my steer. Somehow, despite being the younger sister, I became the final consult that particular night. And without hesitation I requested Bard not to risk waiting at the emergency ward at GH JB but to rush him direct to a private specialist hospital instead. It has got nothing to do with lack of confidence with the public hospital but time was of essence. My view struck the cord with everyone and we assured Mak not to worry about the medical bill. Ayah and I, being the only ones out of 'hometown', drove down to JB that very same night.
It turned out that Bapak had a heart attack; with 3 arteries blocked at 98%! The surgeon's advice was to do angiogram on one of them straight away. He said, due to Bapak's critical condition, one of the arteries must be unclogged as soon as possible as temporary measure to ease the blood flow; the other two blockages can be discussed later subject to financial consideration. The consultation, surgical and medical fees? RM5,000. For one and one blockage only. The doctor assured us he would help with all the necessary reports and paper work to enable Bapak to claim back whatever claimable from the Pension department or for us children to claim from EPF. We agreed without objection for the need of speed. We had to. We must. Who to bear how much and pay back to whom - belakang kira. First things first, better be safe than sorry.
The very next morning, my sister and I went to JB Tabung Haji office to report the incident and to seek advice on immediate next steps with regards to my parents' intended pilgrimage that year. Needless to say, the much anticipated planned pilgrimage for Bapak and Mak that fateful year had to be postponed until the next Hajj season or until Bapak recuperated well enough to be medically re-certified as fulfilling the "able-bodied" criteria, whichever is later.
Let me take the pleasure of repeating when this happened. Barely 3 days prior to Bapak's flight departure to Mekah, okay?. Yes, only 3 fingers up please and count: 1, 2, 3! Not many. 3 days only!
The officer@ Ustaz yang I dah lupa namanya, was surprisingly very calm. After taking us through all the administrative procedures, he shared with us one classic piece of advice, "Ini lah namanya ketentuan Allah; kita manusia hanya merancang, tuhan jua yang menentukan. Adik berdua pesan kat Mak, jangan risau banyak sangat ya? Mesti ada hikmah disebalik setiap yang ditentukan."
A very common advice. One so common that could have been heard anytime anywhere from anyone - even from the TV cerekarama. So common that it could have been easily taken for granted without much heeds. For me personally, that particular morning advice pierced right through my skin, bones and rib cage straight into the center of my heart; triggering a high pitch shrieking alarm bell that seemed impossible to switch off, sending an alert message throughout all my blood vessels and a wake up call to my active yet semi conscious neurons.
The irony of all this was that all the while before this particular chapter, it was always Mak who had to be in & out of the hospital or clinics, either for medication or emergency treatment for high blood pressure, migraine, pain in the knee or other joints and what not. It was as if the hospital and the clinic had a specially designed revolving door custom made just for Mak's frequent and unobstructed access. Yet, as fate had it, when it came to the moments of truth, it was Bapak who stole the thunder.
Bapak felt very guilty for the delay and kept apologising to Mak and all of us for all the unnecessary trouble he thought he had caused. Mak remained very supportive and played her household counselor's role to Bapak and all of us, reminding that every cloud had its silver lining and this kind of things that had happened could well be a blessing in disguise.
After the angiogram, Bapak went through angioplasty for the other blockages at the then Universiti Hospital (now PPUM). Cost? For police force pensioners, only RM6.00 for registration. He was heavily prescribed with medications though, some free, some expensive drugs on own expense and was recommended to follow a strict diet. Bapak recovered well throughout the coming year and was eventually certified medically fit to go for his pilgrimage with Mak the very next Hajj season, albeit with a reminder that he would be under close monitoring by Tabung Haji medical team. What was there to fuss? The closer monitoring the better, we thought.
Amidst all these, I found out that one of the heart surgeons handling Bapak's case in UH that bapak affectionately called as 'Tuan Doktor' turned out to be my once long lost class mate from college prep days who happened to be the husband of an old buddy from my alma mater. What a small world! Maka terjejak lah kasih dan tersambung lah semula tali silaturrahim antara kawan-kawan lama. A blessing in disguise? You bet.
Meanwhile, Ayah & Ibu still shuddered with the thoughts that hovered in our mind - what if we continued the typical planning for such a worthy trip to take place later for our golden years - you know, after we have lived our life to the fullest? When the pockets are not drained by the mega sales, long term loans fully paid, children all grown up and can take care of themselves, and the mind all prepared to go, YET with an ailment that surfaced at the 11th hour like what happened to my very own Bapak? The spirit ever willing because the end could be near but the flesh naturally weak because the end could indeed be around the corner.
With all these happenings, it only further entrenched Ayah's & Ibu's heartfelt desire to perform the hajj the soonest we could.
BUT then again .... kita manusia merancang, tuhan jua yang menentukan.
So there is another BUT? What now?!
To be continued.....