This collection of poems was written during a two-year courageous battle against cancer. Aileen wrote the first poem My Jaw Muscle and I shortly after a major operation which replaced her diseased right jaw with a titanium strip and bone grafted from her hip. The operation left her with a limp and a jaw which required painful and painstaking exercises. It also led her to believe that she was well on her way to a full recovery.
The cancer spread and Aileen was finally persuaded to undergo seven weeks of radiation treatment.
The treatment gave her some respite after which her condition worsened rapidly. She lost the ability to speak and became blind in her right eye and partially blind in her left. Her hearing was also impaired. Throughout all this, Aileen never gave up her hope for life. Nor did she complain or speak of pain.
Aileen was a teacher. She loved working with young people. She was always cheerful, warm hearted, sensitive, observant, generous and had a wonderful sense of humour. Helping others was second nature to her. When approached by the late Mrs Margaret Joseph, former principal of St Theresa’s Convent, to help raise money for the school building fund, she staged Emily of Emerald Hill and played the solo role of Emily.
Illness did not prevent Aileen from taking a keen interest in what was happening in the world. She wrote about the contrast between the world of poverty and that of the rich when scandals of the British royal family occupied much of the media here. Illness also did not prevent her from reflecting on the sufferings of others and the senselessness of war. She wrote Ethnic Cleansing and Mostar Bridge when reports of human tragedy in war-torn Bosnia occupied front-page news.
Aileen was always proud of her Peranakan heritage. She was an active researcher on her mother tongue, Baba Malay. Her dissertation for her masters degree in Linguistics and English Language Teaching at the University of York in 1983 – 1984 was entitled Language Death with particular reference to the Baba Malay of Singapore. She had planned to write a novel in Baba Malay but her illness prevented it. She did, however, write three poems in this language.
Aileen wrote this collection in two notebooks. It is likely that she never found the time nor the strength to review most of the poems. She died on 10 April 1994 at the age of forty-four.
Friends of Aileen
This collection is available only at Ethos Books