How I Would Describe Lee Kuan Yew's Passing to my Grandchildren

How I Would Describe Lee Kuan Yew's Passing to my Grandchildren
Photo Credit: Yale-NUS

Photo Credit: Yale-NUS

On 23 March 2015, I, like many others, woke up to the news that Mr Lee Kuan Yew, the first of our founding fathers, had passed away.

It was news that we had expected given his condition at that time, but still, it was not something that we were emotionally prepared for.

That week became a week of national mourning, but what transpired through the week was a crucial period of reflection that I felt made us grow - a bit more mature, a bit more appreciative.

You see, from Wednesday to Saturday, we were allowed to pay our final respects to the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew, and the queues were massive. Some had to queue for more than 8 hours, either in the scorching Sun or in the wee hours of the night, but everyone felt that it was the least they could do for a man who did so much more.

People with disabilities, old and frail, young children and everyone from all walks of life came to the Padang where the 3km queue would begin.

It may have been an arduous journey that could had placed the city centre into a standstill and a state of chaos if it was not for the efforts of our National Servicemen, civil servants, volunteers and good Samaritans.

The nation mobilised herself spectacularly to allow her citizens to pay their final respects. Rumours says someone bought S$1000 worth of umbrellas to help those queue to shield themselves from the heat. Restaurants, organisations, and well-minded individuals handed out water bottles and snacks. Someone even bought 300 packets of chicken rice to feed those who are queueing!

A priority queue for the old and frail was created after two young ladies took the initiative to encourage those queuing to give the needy the priority. These acts of kindness, which were initiatives of the people, restored my faith of the Singapore Spirit and when I was one of the 450,000 that queued, that feeling is undeniable.

To be kind to one another for we are all neighbours of a small community, to accommodate to the needy and the weary, to push down on stupidity and ignorance with maturity and appreciation of the situation - these are words that I would proudly use to describe the Singapore spirit, one developed by our unique upbringing.

I was 22 at that time, and for me, the period of national mourning was very different when compared to the pioneer generation. For them, they were saying their final goodbye to a beloved leader, and for some, a dear friend - it was truly a moment of anguish. 

Even foreign ministers, delegates, presidents, took time out of their busy schedules to be here and bid farewell. The international coverage of the passing of Mr Lee Kuan Yew gave a glimpse as to the scale of his influence on the global stage with the power players of the world speaking highly of him.

His passing had an echo that reminded the world of Singapore, but more importantly, it reminded Singaporeans of Singapore. During those years, Singapore had almost forgotten her identity, and if it had slipped further, we could have lost everything.

That year was the year Singapore turned 50 and in some ways, I saw that reminder as the final birthday present that Mr Lee Kuan Yew had bestowed upon us, a timely reminder of the Singapore identity and the reigniting of the dying flame that is the Singapore Spirit.

The state funeral on Sunday was very wet, with unusually heavy rain pouring. But thousands of Singaporeans that lined up the 15km route did not budge, braving the rain give a final farewell. Mr Lee Kuan Yew being was also given the highest honour in every form of the SAF. Displays by our armed forces, those normally seen during our National Day Parade, were held as the cortege moved from the Parliament House to the NUS University Cultural Centre.

I always believe that feeling sad about someone's passing is because the living had regrets. I certainly had mine.

You see, I was fortunate enough to have lived my teenage years in a time when he was alive and yet, I did not take the initiative to see him speak in person.

While I could share the feelings I felt when participating during that solemn period, I regret that, like you, I had only witnessed the man through videos and books.

It was an honour to have experienced that period of Singapore's history, the very least I can do is to carry the torch that he and his generation lit, and pass it on you.