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Friday, 26 February 2016 00:00

A Journey to Be Continued – Final Farewell to Yee Kok Yan

Written by  Tan Kim Hion, KL & Selangor / Translated by Chong Pei Fen

Volunteer Yee Kok Yan (on wheelchair) departed peacefully on February 24, 2016. [Photograph by Lim Say Loong]

Two weeks plus into the Lunar New Year, volunteer Yee Kok Yan departed peacefully, marking an end to his 37-year journey of life. Volunteers bade him a final farewell and wished him a quick rebirth to resume his much-loved role as a Tzu Chi volunteer.


On February 24, 2016, volunteer Choong Kah Meng received an emergency call from the hospital, requesting him to inform Yee Kok Yan’s family that his condition has turned critical and that the family members ought to come see him urgently. Soon after Kah Meng arrived at the hospital, Kok Yan breathed his last.

Regrettably, his mother could not make it in time to send him off. She was devastated and burst into tears. Volunteers stayed by her side to offer whatever assistance they could and assured her that they would continue to care for her like family despite her son’s demise.

On the evening of February 24 and 25, volunteers gathered at the Kwong Tong funeral parlour and chanted the Buddha’s name for Kok Yan. It had always been Kok Yan’s wish to become a volunteer. Thus, while paying respect, some volunteers whispered gently, “Brother Kok Yan, come back soon, Tzu Chi awaits for you.”

Inherited cerebellar atrophy   

Kah Meng, who had cared for Kok Yan during his one month’s stay in the hospital, was emotional over his demise. He and fellow volunteers walked into Kok Yan’s life eight years ago, when the hospital referred his case to Tzu Chi. The 29-year-old Kok Yan then was suffering from hereditary cerebellar atrophy, not long after his father succumbed to the same illness.

“Back then, Kok Yan was already having mobility impairments but being a filial son, he still worked as a cashier at an Internet cafe at night to support his family. As his steps were unsteady, he often bumped into objects and had bruises on his body and limbs. It pained us to see that.”

In view of the difficult financial condition of Kok Yan’s family and that he was unable to walk properly and needed the care of his mother due to his contracting limb muscles, Kah Meng brought his case for discussion. After due assessment, Tzu Chi decided to provide financial assistance to the family so that Kok Yan could recuperate at home with peace of mind. Volunteers also helped him to apply for financial support from the Social Security Organization (SOCSO) and the Social Welfare Department.

Thankfully, Kok Yan’s former employer had paid for his SOCSO contributions regularly, and before long, his application was approved. Feeling that the monthly living allowance from SOCSO would suffice, Kok Yan then requested Tzu Chi to use the subsidies originally allocated for him to help others who were more in need.

His sense of contentment touched Kah Meng, who then invited him to help sort out recyclables at the recycling centre. From then on, Kok Yan had been participating in recycling activities enthusiastically. Though with a stiff pair of hands, he could spend some long four hours at the recycling centre, tearing papers up and sorting them according to whether they are coloured or black and white.

A role model to emulate

Even when Kok Yan’s condition deteriorated and he became wheelchair bound, he still committed himself to recycling. Over the past few years, he would always turn up at the recycling centre came rain or shine, with assistance from Kah Meng, except for the one time when he was hospitalized.

Kok Yan was a delight, who always brought cheer to volunteers at the recycling centre, with his humour and singing. As time progressed, his muscle atrophy worsened. His limb movements became increasingly inflexible and it was a daunting task for him to complete even a short sentence. But he still offered a pleasant smile to anyone he met.

Besides recycling, he also attended group study, community volunteer training class, Buddha Bathing Ceremony, sutra study on the Dharma as Water, Year-end Blessing Ceremony and other Tzu Chi’s activities, through which he gained a better understanding of Tzu Chi’s missions. His personal experiences plus the touching real-life stories that he watched on Da Ai TV spurred him on to become a volunteer and reach out to the suffering.

With encouragement and company from Kah Meng and other volunteers, Kok Yan was able to fulfil the requirements to become a Tzu Chi volunteer officially, which included attendance at three community volunteer training classes as well as participation in studies and hands-on activities.

Despite the physical challenges, Kok Yan was ever ready to render his service without a word of complaint. Apart from devoting himself to recycling activities, he also willingly shared his life stories with others at various Tzu Chi’s activities. Each time, smilingly and with all his might, he would call upon the audience to join as volunteers and do recycling.

“I learnt from Brother Kok Yan’s family that he used to be an active person before the onset of his illness. He loved to play basketball and cycle. But after falling ill, he could no longer go anywhere as he liked. You can imagine how miserable he must have felt but he had never grumbled. He was undeterred by his illness and seized every opportunity to give.”

In recollection, Kah Meng shared that Kok Yan’s courage and tenacity in the face of adversity always touched a deep chord with the audience. He had also been a source of motivation for volunteers who were blessed with good health, to stay committed to their undertakings and not be overcome by tiredness.

To Kah Meng, Kok Yan was a role model worthy of emulation and respect. He had inspired others constantly by manifesting the suffering in life. Kah Meng recounted that Kok Yan was admitted to the hospital two weeks before Chinese New Year due to bacterial infection. On one occasion when the doctor was treating his wound, his heart stopped for about 20 minutes. Fortunately and with utmost effort from the doctor, he was revived.

However, the infection spread rapidly to his legs, making an amputation necessary. Kok Yan then fell into a coma after the surgery. As his mother was not conversant in the Malay language and would face difficulties understanding what the hospital staff had to say, Kah Meng sought her consent and requested the hospital staff to contact him instead in case of emergency, and he would convey the message to the mother.

Volunteers also took turns to visit Kok Yan and to accompany his mother and family members on their visits to the hospital. In each of his visits, Kar Meng would speak to Kok Yan although he was in his deep sleep. Kah Meng recalled that there was once, Kok Yan seemed to have heard him and took a glance at him.

Although Kah Meng was upset that Kok Yan could no longer walk the Tzu Chi path together with fellow volunteers, he believed that Kok Yan had paid off his karmic debts in this life and hoped that he would return to Tzu Chi again in his next life and continue to be a fellow cultivator.

Six years of companionship

Volunteer Leng Wan You was overwhelmed with emotions and turned teary a few times as he looked at Kok Yan’s portrait while chanting the Buddha’s name. The memories that they shared in the past six years were still fresh in his mind.

Six years ago, Wan You, who volunteered at the Buddhist Tzu-Chi Free Clinic, was entrusted with the task to chauffeur Kok Yan for treatment at the free clinic. Seeing Kok Yan’s weak and shrivelled limbs, Wan You thought that acupuncture treatment might help. Hence, he asked Kok Yan whether he would like to see a traditional Chinese medicine doctor, and the latter agreed to give it a try. Since then, taking Kok Yan to the free clinic for acupuncture treatment had been high on Wan You’s list of priorities.

Surprisingly, four months into the treatment, Kok Yan by leaning against the wall for support was able to stand and walk slowly to the washroom by himself. Wan You was delighted with his progress and was hopeful for his recovery. He remembered vividly these joyful words from Kok Yan the moment he could finally stand: “Brother, I hope that I will be able to walk and join you in voluntary work in three years’ time!”

To help Kok Yan realize his dream, Wan You had been giving him his full support, accompanying him to the free clinic and Tzu Chi’s activities, as well as assisting him to move around. Along the way, Wan You had also learnt a lot of life’s lessons. He witnessed first- hand Kok Yan’s remarkable resilience, fortitude and perseverance in the face of adversity.

“I thought that Kok Yan would recover if he persisted with the treatment but two years ago, he fell down in the bathroom and was hospitalized for three months. His condition turned worse and there had not been any progress thenceforth.”

Nevertheless, both Kok Yan and Wan You did not give up hope. Wan You continued to accompany Kok Yan to the free clinic, and the latter insisted on carrying out Tzu Chi’s missions actively despite his worsening muscle atrophy. There were times when Wan You noticed that Kok Yan was unwell and suggested to him to cancel the sharing sessions at the KL Tzu-Chi Jing Si Hall and to rest at home instead. But each time, Kok Yan would shake his head in response, attend the sharing sessions and still greet everyone with a friendly smile on and off the stage.

His life’s story always moved the audience to tears. Wan You too, was touched by his unyielding determination to do kind deeds, yet felt sorry that he had to endure the torment of illness. Wan You held great admiration for Kok Yan for always encouraging others to observe a vegetarian diet, while setting himself as an example.

Kok Yan’s compassion for animals was evoked during a Dharma as Water study session. He decided to become a vegetarian after watching a video footage, where a fish was opening its mouth in pain while people were savouring its flesh fresh and raw. His mother gave full support to his decision and had been cooking him vegetarian meals since then.

As Kok Yan felt obliged to observe the Ten Precepts of Tzu Chi, which include, “do not smoke, use drugs or chew betel nuts”, he immediately quit his ten-plus-year smoking habit. During his sharing, he would always ask the audience: “Have you… become… a vegetarian? Have you… quit… smoking?” True to the saying, “actions speak louder than words”, his messages could deeply imprint in everyone’s heart without needing much expression.

“It was heart-breaking to see Brother Kok Yan underwent leg amputation. Hopefully his departure was a relief for him. He did not live in vain, and his spirit will be forever remembered.”

Wan You felt that Kok Yan came with a mission to lead others onto the Bodhisattva Path. He had completed his script for this life and had lived his life to its fullest. Wan You prayed that Kok Yan will be reborn with a healthy body to continue treading the Tzu Chi path.

Carry on the son’s wish

Kok Yan’s mother was thankful to the volunteers, who had been there for her throughout the funeral. She grieved the loss of his beloved son but found comfort in knowing that he had regained happiness and confidence through Tzu Chi in the past several years.

She related that Kok Yan found it hard to accept his illness initially and even contemplated suicide. But for the sake of his family, he chose to face the ordeal bravely. It was not until he participated in Tzu Chi’s recycling activities that he rediscovered the value and meaning in life.

Because of Kok Yan’s passion for recycling, his mother would promote recycling to her neighbours and friends. In response, they would send recyclables they had collected to Kok Yan’s house. Worried that it would be too taxing for Kok Yan to handle by himself, the mother would help him in sorting out the recyclables. As time went by, his family members had also taken recycling as their duties.

Kok Yan had once told his mother that carrying out Tzu Chi’s charitable work and recycling was something rewarding because one could help the poor and needy. Now that Kok Yan had departed, she will take his words to her heart and continue the endeavour in environmental protection on his behalf.

 

Yee Kok Yan, who could not accept his illness and contemplated suicide initially, found the meaning and value in life after joining Tzu Chi’s recycling activities. [Photograph by Leng Sow Wai]   Because of the beautiful and touching real-life stories on Da Ai TV, Yee Kok Yan aspired to become a volunteer. With encouragement from volunteers, he had been dedicating himself earnestly to Tzu Chi’s activities. [Photograph by Lim Chin Tong]

Yee Kok Yan, who could not accept his illness and contemplated suicide initially, found the meaning and value in life after joining Tzu Chi’s recycling activities. [Photograph by Leng Sow Wai]
 
Because of the beautiful and touching real-life stories on Da Ai TV, Yee Kok Yan aspired to become a volunteer. With encouragement from volunteers, he had been dedicating himself earnestly to Tzu Chi’s activities. [Photograph by Lim Chin Tong]
 
Volunteer Leng Wan You (left) felt sorry that Yee Kok Yan had to endure muscle atrophy at a young age, and had been keeping him company over the past six years. [Photograph by Ho Wen Yee]   Yee Kok Yan was always willing to share his life’s story to motivate others to face life’s challenges courageously. [Photograph by Lim Chin Tong]

Volunteer Leng Wan You (left) felt sorry that Yee Kok Yan had to endure muscle atrophy at a young age, and had been keeping him company over the past six years. [Photograph by Ho Wen Yee]
 
 
Yee Kok Yan was always willing to share his life’s story to motivate others to face life’s challenges courageously. [Photograph by Lim Chin Tong]
 
Because of the sutra study on Dharma as Water, Yee Kok Yan was inspired to take up a vegetarian diet and refrain from killing. [Photograph provided by Low Mai Yin]   Volunteer Choong Kah Meng (1st right) had been caring for Yee Kok Yan for a long time. After the latter’s demise, he and fellow volunteers continued to shower their care on the mother (2nd right). [Photograph by Lim Chin Shein]

Because of the sutra study on Dharma as Water, Yee Kok Yan was inspired to take up a vegetarian diet and refrain from killing. [Photograph provided by Low Mai Yin]
 
 
Volunteer Choong Kah Meng (1st right) had been caring for Yee Kok Yan for a long time. After the latter’s demise, he and fellow volunteers continued to shower their care on the mother (2nd right). [Photograph by Lim Chin Shein]
 
Volunteers solemnly offering chants of the Buddha’s name for Kok Yan. [Photograph by Lim Chin Shein]   Volunteers walked Yee Kok Yan on the last few miles of his life’s journey. [Photograph by Lim Chin Shein]

Volunteers solemnly offering chants of the Buddha’s name for Kok Yan. [Photograph by Lim Chin Shein]
 
 
Volunteers walked Yee Kok Yan on the last few miles of his life’s journey. [Photograph by Lim Chin Shein]