Mummy Cheah left us suddenly on 12th July 2007



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Celebrating The Life Of Jeannie Cheah. Love Is Not Zero Sum...

My jade phoenix, Jeannie Cheah née Koo Yook Foong was born 2 years after Merdeka and she passed away prematurely in July of the year Malaysia celebrated its 50th birthday.

Hers was a life interwoven into the fabric of the nation’s own evolving story through its first half century.

Hers was a story of true grit and self-actualization; hers was a story that inspires. She made demands on life by making demands on herself, never allowing herself to be a victim of circumstances. It would take volumes to write her life-story yet it takes a single line to summarize her life; “Jeannie lived her life by her own standards”.


Her exhilarating zest for life and indomitable spirit through an uncertain childhood, the health challenges for most of her adult life, her distinguished career in the beauty industry, and finally her charity as a Reiki Master/Healer were the stuff of motivational gurus. The fact that Jeannie achieved her life-long career ambition (she retired in 2002 as an international technical training consultant of a renowned Swiss skin care company) belies her humble beginnings.


Though the youngest in a family of five boys and a sister, her childhood years in Kajang were not one of pampered comfort usually associated with a youngest child. Actually, it was quite the opposite; she was home alone most of the time and responsible for household chores. Born to illiterate parents who emigrated from China, life was hard. She learnt the realities of life early and poignant stories of not having enough to eat abound; plain rice mixed with dark soy sauce and fried lard was often all there was for dinner.


Jeannie would readily admit to being not academically brilliant but she was no dunce either. Compelled to work after passing her MCE in 1976 she started out as a cosmetic counter girl before putting herself through beauty school. Her engaging personality coupled with her communicative ability (she was fluent in three languages and four Chinese dialects) initially brought her sales records before finally, success as an accomplished product trainer.


How does a husband remember his dearly departed wife to the world when there is so much to say that may sound clichéd yet, there is nothing that can be said to truly describe the shared bliss or the special person that she was? Perhaps the only way to do justice to the quintessence of Jeannie’s personality is to adduce the wonderful ways she touched the lives of all she loved and the values she personified throughout her eventful life. We see her in the psyche of those whose lives she touched. We see her in the millions of words her photos evoke. But most clearly, we see Jeannie in our children Krystyn and JJ who have internalized her values and remain guided by lessons she taught them so well.


How did she manage to squeeze so much into her short 48 years? She successfully weaved a demanding career into her role as full-time mother and wife; nonetheless, she had a social life that was the envy of many. She seemed to have her cake and eat it because she was about spending quality time; she was about living life. Yet, her most endearing quality was her down to earth disposition. She had an air of confidence about her yet her almost child-like tendency to take people at face-value imputed a certain vulnerability that made people comfortable around her. Such apparent duality was often characteristic of Jeannie.


There are lessons to be learnt in the paradox though. Jeannie was a wonderful mother yet she did not fit into moulds that measure model mums. She was an accomplished homemaker, yet she was never a slave to housework. She was well grounded in traditional Chinese values yet she was the epitome of a modern Malaysian woman. She looked lovely, yet she had an even lovelier heart. She was a great teacher, yet we never realized she imparted so much until we attributed so many things to her wisdom. She was the guiding light to a slew of young adults yet her life centered on her nuclear family.

In her early forties, after retiring from the beauty industry she turned towards spirituality and embraced a New Age approach to life. September 11th 2001 had a profound effect on her and she felt she had enough of traveling around the world conducting training; she wanted to spend more time with the family. It was as if she knew she did not have many years left. Jeannie became a reiki master/healer and devoted her spare time to counseling, healing and teaching others. She joined world renowned healer and author, Anne Jone's organization of healers and tried to learn as much as she could.

Jeannie gave me 22 of her 48 years as my wife. We were introduced by a mutual friend who was also Jeannie’s colleague. Both were Avon Cosmetics sales managers at the time. Jeannie always had what the Cantonese term, "loi yen mei" or “the scent of a woman”. From her grooming and disposition to her personality and carriage, she was womanly in very sense of the word. For someone in her mid twenties when we first met, she was mature beyond her years. While she obviously knew what she wanted out of life, the thing that impressed me was her certainty of what she did not want in life.

I knew straight off I had found the ideal mother for our yet to be born kids. The irony was that Jeannie suffered from endometriosis at the time; a condition that affected her ability to bear children. She endured a personal medical hell until a total hysterectomy in 1994 but not before the arrival of Krystyn in 1986 and J.J. in 1990. It was Jeannie who insisted that we try for a boy after Krystyn.

As a rule, Jeannie insisted on caring for her babies herself at least until they are two years old. Jeannie loved babies and had a special way with them. She wanted to savor the full experience of motherhood and she made baby care seem so effortless. Being pragmatic, she weaned them off night feed after the first month. With Jeannie, discipline training started very early.

Jeannie was literally and figuratively my better half. She was to me everything that I ever wanted in a wife and more. She taught me so much yet I was never anything less than the “man of the house”. Jeannie was about love and expressing ones love. To Jeannie, love is never a zero sum game; the more she gave, the more she received to give. That is why especially in her final years, she had such a wide and varied circle of friends who valued her in their own individual ways as she connected with them as individuals.

Jeannie’s passing did not leave behind a void but a space filled with wondrous possibilities. I certainly do not feel I am now a single parent; she has prepared our children well and all I need to be for them is to be their father. Jeannie had been their best friend, mentor and role model; they know exactly what Mummy would expect of them. Mummy was about traditional values; Mummy was about laughter, fun and love; Mummy was about kindness and caring; Mummy was about discipline and responsibility. They know that Mummy is just a memory recall away and that they must live the good life and must be good people.

We miss Jeannie dearly but we are also thankful she no longer suffers. We know she was worried that we would be overcome by grieve but we also know how we should honor the memory of her by fulfilling our own potential as her cherished ones. Jeannie's work is done.

Cheah Keat Swee (October 2007)












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