In the morning of Saturday
Jun 28, Canossian Sister Rosalia Yeo came to Archbishop Gregory
Yong’s room to give him
Communion, which he took very reverently, as usual. But on this morning he responded, "May the Body of Christ bring me to everlasting life".
Archbishop Yong would normally look enthusiastically to
Saturday because it would be spent
with his friends from the Catholic Spirituality Centre. They would
take him for an outing and he
specially enjoyed being wheeled around Jurong Point and Vivocity to see the crowds and the activities. In fact he seemed to accumulate energy during the week for Saturday, and then sleep off his tiredness the next day.
But on this Saturday he said he
wasn’t going out. He said he was "okay" but the nurses knew he wasn’t – the day before he had skipped his physiotherapy, which he
enjoyed, because he was tired. But
they did not realize that death was
close. After all, they had seen him
feel weak before and then recovered.
He normally took lunch at 11:30am. The nurses brought soup for him but he ate very little, getting sick after a few spoonfuls. They tried different concoctions for him to enthuse him to eat. He would taste a bit, thanked them, but couldn’t eat.
He continued to weaken.
Sensing that the end was near, Sister Geraldine Tan informed Archbishop Nicholas Chia at 2:00pm. Archbishop Yong’s niece Priscilla was also informed.
During those hours, Archbishop Yong was always accompanied. After her lunch, Sister Lily Tan returned to the room.
It was 2:15pm. Pastoral caregiver Rose Lee and nursing officer Gillian Beins were by his side.
Archbishop Yong was conscious but his eyes were closed
and his skin colour was changing. Those with him prayed the rosary,
and there was a sense of peace in the room. More nurses came into the little room, which had been his home for so many years.
He was composed and calm. Sister Lily Tan asked Gillian how aware he was. "Oh, he’s very conscious," Gillian replied.
"How many percent?" Sister Lily Tan wanted to know.
"I would say about 75 percent," said Gillian.
Archbishop Yong was aware of what he was going through and he knew how to respond. "You let the Holy Spirit guide you and you will know what to do," he had explained to Sister Geraldine Tan when she had discussed this and other things with him before.
As the end neared, he took hold
of Rose’s hand and put it on his stomach. Rose whispered to him, "Follow the light. The light is Jesus."
The others observed the process
of dying and continued praying until
his heart stopped beating. Then everyone fell silent. It was 2:40pm.
Archbishop Chia came later with Msgr. Francis Lau and representatives of St. Joseph’s Dying Aid to pray.
Archbishop Yong’s niece Priscilla came with her sister and friend. Entering the room, they knelt down and cried.
Because it was a Saturday, his
body was not taken to the Cathedral
of the Good Shepherd. Archbishop
Chia requested that the body be kept at the St. Joseph’s Home chapel until Monday morning.
The body was then taken for
embalmment and returned about 10.00pm that night. Father Ignatius
Yeo said the vigil prayers. There was a big group at the prayer service despite the late hour.
At the 9:00am Sunday
Mass, residents, even those in wheelchairs, gathered around his body in the chapel. Though sad, they were grateful that they could still visit him at the chapel.
On Monday Jun 30, his body was moved to the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd.
His quick deterioration and death surprised most people.
Archbishop Chia, who visited him regularly with things for him to
give to others, had visited him only
the previous Sunday and found him cheerful and communicative.
In fact, on Thursday, just two days before his death, he had his desire for oxtail stew satisfied. His friend Juliana had found out that Jack’s Place at Great World served oxtail stew. She took him there and he enjoyed the oxtail stew with garlic bread
Archbishop Yong moved to the Canossian Sisters’ St. Joseph’s Home in October 2004 from the Catholic Spirituality Centre in
Ponggol, where he had lived after
his retirement in 2000, so that he
would have nursing care for his
diabetes and damaged heart. Despite all his ailments, he
remained cheerful and maintained
a meaningful life. He took his sickness very calmly, lived one day at a time.
On a typical day, he would wake up at 7:00am and pray in his
room. On Sundays he would go
to Mass at the chapel; the Sisters would bring Communion to him in his room every other day. He concelebrated Mass when his health allowed, in earlier years.
After breakfast, the nurses would shower him. He would then read, watch TV, especially the news, and keep himself busy.
Archbishop Yong enjoyed having company. There would always be laughter, clapping and singing in his room when visitors came. He would never let anyone who visited him leave without giving them something.
One of his regular visitors said they always felt recharged after visiting him.
Many visitors wanted to be
photographed with him. For this they would put him in his wheelchair and wheel him
to a suitable photo spot. He accommodated them, even
posing for them. His favourite photo location, however, was by the St. Joseph statue.
There were other things he
enjoyed in addition to company and
food. He enjoyed reflexology too.
Father Luke learned of this when
he visited him with Father Andrew
Wong in early June. They are members of the Priestly Life Team,
which ensure that priests and bishops
who are retired, hospitalized,
or in homes are not forgotten.
Arriving first, Father Luke found Archbishop Yong in the Physiotherapy Room enjoying his
twice-weekly foot reflexology given
him by a masseuse from China.
When the therapy was done, Father Luke wheeled him back to his room, meeting Father Andrew Wong along the way. In his room, Archbishop Yong reminisced about the old days and enquired about some priests, including those with ill health.
"I could see that even in the home, the ‘shepherd’ mode of him hadn’t left him", Father Luke observed.
"He was a shepherd till the end",
confirmed Sister Geraldine Tan. n