A moving tribute to a man who made a difference to his family and the community he served.

WHY him? Why did lung cancer put an

end to his life at the relatively young age of 70?

As Muslims, we accept that fate ordains every living thing to have an end. Sadness still clouds the immediate family members after his departure last year. Why did he have to go so early when his guidance and advice were still needed?

He was a pillar of strength to his wife, children, grandchildren, siblings, nephews and nieces, and their children. He had a heart so loving and caring that we were all deeply hurt to lose him.

When he was first diagnosed with lung cancer more than two years ago, it was already in the fourth stage. He took the horrible news calmly, but his family and siblings were not so composed. We were shocked and prayed for a miracle that he would be one of those who would conquer the “Big C”. Alas, it was not to be. The Big C triumphed.

I remember during my teens when Grandma asked me to run an errand for her.

Mi, tolong pergi ke kedai dekat dan belikan Atok* sesikat pisang? (Mi, please go to the nearby shop and buy me a bunch of bananas?)” she asked.

Ala Atok, sekarang ni hari sangat panas. Petang nanti boleh lah. (Oh Grandma, it’s so hot now. I will do it in the afternoon.),” I answered.

Kau orang semua bila aku suruh ada saja alasan. Kalau aku suruh Yahya, dia akan buat tak kira hujan atau panas. Kau tengoklah nanti. Dia akan jadi seorang yang akan dihormati. (All of you always have excuses whenever I ask you to do something. But when I ask Yahya, he will oblige, rain or shine. Just wait and see. He will be a well-respected person.)” she said.

Grandma’s foresight was very prophetic. Yahya did become a very respected senior civil servant and later, a corporate figure. Relatives, friends, staff, colleagues and superiors held him in high esteem. The deep pain that is felt at the death of a friendly soul arises from the feeling that this individual has something which is inexpressibly peculiar to him alone. The loss is therefore absolute.

True words can never fully express how much someone means to us. One may hope that time will provide comfort, solace and hope, and will heal the sorrow. Time may even be an inspiration, following the death of a loved one. The value of true love is seldom known until it is lost.

When Yahya breathed his last, the pain was not only felt by his children, widow, grandchildren and siblings, but also those who had known him. To us, his siblings, he was everything a brother should be and more. He was among the best gifts the Almighty God gave us.

He had done so much for me and my family that I felt the pain, seeing him battle the Big C. We are a closely knit family and share each other’s successes, but more importantly, we feel the other person’s pain too.

Mum and Dad were proud parents when he was accepted into the prestigious Federation Military College (now Royal Military College). They were even prouder when he entered University of Malaya, which was the only university in the country then, and whoever graduated from there would be the talk of the town. It was in Klang, which in 1967 was still a small town, and Malays continuing to tertiary studies were few and far between. With another brother doing his army training in Canada, our family was indeed the talk of the community. We just had to live to the standard set by Yahya.

The respect a person earns can be measured by the number of people who turn up for his funeral. The presence of his school and college mates, ex-staff, colleagues and superiors from the several ministries he served in, the companies in which he sat on the board as director, and even those “unknowns”, spoke volumes of their respect for him. Their presence for the final prayers and rites at the Kampung Tunku Mosque in Petaling Jaya made it seem like it was a “Friday prayer session” on a Saturday. Almost everyone followed the hearse from the mosque to the burial site.

Despite the hot weather, his children and their spouses, grandchildren, siblings and in-laws stood firmly, offering prayers and bidding farewell to a dignified father and grandfather, uncle and granduncle and brother, who brought credit not only to his family, but also to those he served and as God’s faithful servant.

In the midst of the sadness, there was his widow, Datin Arfah Daud, calm and assuring those present that she accepted the fate which God had meted out to her.

He had planned a road map for a good family ever since he assumed the role of a husband and later, a father and grandfather. He left, knowing the family had a well-planned future.

It takes a minute to find a special person, an hour to appreciate him, and a day to love him, but it takes an entire lifetime to forget him. Those who knew Yahya will always love him. He cared not only for his own family but those of his siblings, relatives and friends.

Farewell, my dearest brother, Datuk Yahya Yaacob.

*My family hails from Johor where it’s common to call grandmother “Atok”. Grandfather is commonly called “Atok Jantan”.