A centenarian & a warrior
A great-grandson shares about his 110-year-old great-grandma and her longevity.
BY: Tan Boon Leng
She was born just after the turn of the 20th century, in 1902. In April this year, she will be celebrating her 110th birthday! Meet Cheng Mui Keow, who is not just extraordinary for her longevity, but for the fortitude with which she has lived her life after her husband’s passing when she was only 30.
At 109 years old, Cheng currently resides in a private nursing home. She is far from being abandoned as her very large family continues to visit her and speak of her praises. Currently, she has four surviving children, 61 grandchildren, 65 great-grandchildren and three great-great-grandchildren who shower her with love and care. She moved to the nursing home in 2010 when she lost the strength in her legs, and had to be wheelchair-bound. Not wanting to inconvenience her family, she insisted on moving to a nursing home.
Other than her weak legs and failing hearing, Cheng is in the pink of health, and is counting down to her 110th birthday. She is one of about 700 centenarians in Singapore, according to the 2010 National Census. For someone who has outlived four of her eight children, her longevity is astonishing.
Her great-grandson Jeffrey Quak, a 40-year-old lecturer, gives us a glimpse of her earlier lifeand her hopes:
“My great-grandma married her then 32-year-old husband Tan Teck Meng when she was just 18. My great-grandpa was a successful businessman who owned several dried goods shops in Singapore and Malaysia. She bore him eight children – two boys followed by six girls. However, their marital bliss was shattered when he passed away 12 years later at 44.
Then 30, great-grandma spent the next 20 years bringing up her seven children single-handedly (her second son had passed away earlier from a fatal sports injury). Finances were manageable as she could rely on my great-grandpa’s savings and rental from his property in Johor Bahru. When money became tight, she sold off great-grandpa’s shops and pawned off some of her jewellery to keep the household going. Great-grandma even lent money to some relatives and did not ask for the money to be returned. She was that selfless even then! Life only became easier when she was in her 50s as five of her daughters got married.
My second uncle, Tay Cher Kwee, shared this account of my great-grandma’s courage. About 57 years ago, in the mid-1950s, he followed great-grandma to Johor Bahru to collect rental. Unfortunately, they were caught up in the racial riots happening then, and could have lost their lives. But great-grandma was unflustered and showed a lot of calm. She held on tightly to his hands and they took refuge at a stranger’s house. When tensions simmered down, they returned to Singapore.
Secret to longevity – it’s all about being a good person
My great-grandma has astonished us all with her longevity! She said that there are no secrets or tips to living beyond 100 years old. She leads a simple lifestyle and when she still had use of her legs, she would walk regularly and indulge in her passion – gardening.
However, if you must, these are some qualities she feels has enabled her to live a long life:
- Be contented.
- Look on the bright side of things.
- Show compassion.
- Don’t hold grudges – forgive.
- Always help others who are in need.
I admire my great-grandma for always putting others before herself, and giving herself to help others in need without seeking any form of return.
Looking towards 110
My great-grandma is very contented with her life and she has nothing to look forward to. Having given birth to eight children and raised seven of them on her own after my great-grandpa passed away, she finds herself blessed to have lived past a century.
What she hopes for now is that she can pass on peacefully without burdening her family. This is my great-grandma, Cheng Mui Keow, a centenarian and a warrior.”