My Special Friend
by Annette Stafford
My Special Friend - Remembrances of Hona Hon
When Jill asked if I would say a few words at Hona's funeral I felt incredibly privileged. I hope today I do justice to Hona as I honour a friend and say Goodbye to someone who touched my life in a big way.
Not long after my first introduction to Thornleigh Church I noticed Hona striding down the stairs outside the front of the church carrying a large cardboard box in her arms, almost as big as she was. I offered to help this tiny woman with this great big box but she whizzed past me and yelled out 'No thank you, I can do it myself"
After my husband Alan and I had attended Thornleigh Church a few more times we accepted an invitation from Hona to lunch at her house. We were very warmly welcomed and Hona, who was in her eighties at this time, was preparing and cooking for quite a large gathering. I asked, whilst she juggled a dozen jobs at once, if I could assist her and Hona replied "No thank you, I can do it myself.
It was not long after that lunch that we were invited to another lunch and this time, while offering help I made the mistake of walking into her kitchen. On this occasion she didn't mince her words. She said them in a way however that was not at all offensive but it was direct "No thanks, I can do it myself…..Now Get Out" I immediately warmed to this feisty little lady and it was from there that the seeds of our friendship were first sown.
In those early days of our attendance at Thornleigh, Hona seemed to make it her personal mission to look out for us. She availed herself readily acting in the capacity of 'mentor' to assist with any questions or problems that Alan or I might be having with our new study. I realized once knowing her better that she was on her very best behaviour during those early days. We noticed after a short time that Hona had quite a crusty outer shell which, I think, purposely served to protect a very soft and special inner lining.
It was when Hona was in the San Hospital for a short stay one time and I'd visited her one late afternoon that our friendship took on a deeper form. That afternoon at The San I stayed for a couple of hours and for some reason we talked on subjects I would not usually have felt comfortable sharing. I talked openly to her about an event in my life that had caused me some pain and Hona listened attentively. She, too, opened up in the most surprising way about some of the emotional pain she had experienced in her life and without going into detail it allowed me an insight into my own experience from another perspective which, in time allowed me, to let it go. It was an amazing experience and we never spoke again about these things but it sealed a bond between us of mutual trust. During that stay she ended up with an ulcer on her leg and I later visited her in the rehab hospital. Hona told me when I walked in and sat down that I was watching history in the making - meaning that I got to see her in a pair of trousers. Hona did not wear trousers!
In 2006 Alan and I made a very important decision in our lives - to be baptized. Hona, Ora and in fact all the Hons and the Wongs had played a major role in our decision to choose Thornleigh Seventh-day Adventist Church as our church of choice and Hona was really looking forward to it. Prior to baptism in the same year however, Hona suffered a stroke that was to change her life forever and rob her of much of her independence. She lost considerable movement after the stroke and had to undergo treatment in a Rehab facility. Alan and I felt disappointed but understood that Hona could not be present on our special day.
Our Baptism day was cold, windy, and rainy yet through sheer determination and a 'never say die attitude' Hona surprised everyone by turning up. Our faithful friend had pushed herself to be there and it meant so much to us. Hona always gave us the best of her friendship in that way.
She was quite different to any other woman I had ever met. One day as I was looking for something for her in her bathroom cabinet I came across a jar full of oil. It looked like it had been there for years. She told me it was olive oil and she used it as a face moisturizer because it was both cheap and effective. She hated waste and she didn't like to throw anything away. Whenever Alan and I returned home from holidays we would return to a Welcome Home card Hona had sent to us. It had been recycled from ones she had previously received and she used 'white out' to reinvent the card for us. I used to joke with the people at the bank when I changed the hungry money coin to notes that they must give me back the paper bags because the lady who collected the hungry money ironed the paper bags for reuse. They actually believed me because the folds on the brown paper were so neat. All the plastic bags in her drawers were folded so neatly it was always a shame to use them. Hona liked organization and order and at her home everything had its special place.
That's where sometimes Hona would get upset with me because I played havoc with her order and she was quick to tell me when I had put something back in the wrong place and there were times when Hona got particularly tetchy with me mostly because of my forgetting her wish to do things for herself. On those occasions there wasn't a time when Hona didn't ring later to apologise or write me a little letter to say she was sorry. I know from knowing her that Hona never meant to cause any hurt - she was just trying to straighten me out.
I sometimes joked with Hona after watching her being so sweet and polite to others especially upon first meetings that how come I was never the recipient of such goodness. At these times she always told me to Shut Up and then she would giggle.
Hona enjoyed telling Alan and I stories from her past and she really came into her own recounting those early days in Tenterfield with her parents who had "seven girls good as gold and two boys always fighting" to quote one of her father's phrases. She loved her big family and all of its rich history. Her face would glow as she reminisced about precious days long gone and the many people that came into the Hon family's lives. The stories were entertaining but we loved even more to watch Hona in her animated way relive a time in her life which was really special, secure and happy for her.
I once asked Hona if she had any regrets in her long life and she told me that if she could turn back time there would be one thing that she would change. She had felt terribly guilty that one of her sister's had wanted to celebrate her birthday with a cake and Hona had poo pooed the idea choosing instead to let it pass without ceremony. She later found out that her sister had been hurt by Hona's decision and Hona said she never again caused any fuss about birthday celebrations for this reason despite the fact that she didn't feel they were a big deal.
If Alan and I ever strayed from the path in our Christian walk Hona was just the one to put us right back on track. She kept the bar set high on exercising discipline in observing the Sabbath and particularly our conversation on Sabbath day. Hona's focus was always on God and she was a faithful servant throughout in all the time we knew her.
Hona also taught Alan and me much about giving because Hona was incredibly generous and kind. She never took her attention from those in need and she supported many charities. Hona constantly asked me to post letters for her and most of them were donations for charity or letters to keep in touch with folk. Her focus was always on those who were less well off and she gave generously in every way to anyone who was hurting.
The end of the working week was always a highlight for us. Ora, Hona, Alan and I would all come together to open the Sabbath. We called ourselves 'a gang' and we shared many close and wonderful Friday evenings together sometimes singing hymns whilst Hona played the piano. Ora and I would deliberately sing loudly because our voices were quite out of tune and both Hona and Alan would side against us. These sing-a-longs were always much fun and I am saddened by a recent memory where Hona asked Alan and I only a couple of weeks ago when we dropped her off after church, if we would like to come up and have a sing-a-long to which we declined because we were going away later in the day and felt we wanted to go home and have a rest…How sorry I am for that lost opportunity now.
Hona had a great sense of humour . A few years ago Hona encouraged me to come with her as she played the piano and Val Felsch entertained the residents at Prayers On Wheels at Woodlands Nursing Home. Hona loved nothing more than to be active in the community doing God's work. I felt a little uncomfortable when Val asked me if I would like to open up with a prayer the next time I was to come. I spent days preparing my prayer because I had never said a prayer out loud before. Hona constantly encouraged me throughout the week and told me that they were a very forgiving audience and to stop worrying. On the day with a quivering voice from nerves I began my prayer as a woman from the audience oblivious to anything around her yelled out 'Shut Up'. I forged on the best I could and at the end of it, very relieved that it was all over, I gazed over to Hona at the piano. She could hardly contain herself as she held her hand up to her mouth, laughing her head off! I loved to watch Hona laugh - and I made a sport of making her laugh often by teasing her. She also loved to gang up on me with Alan and this really made her laugh. In fact Hona loved to align herself with Alan…He could do no wrong in her eyes. He was her special man and she delighted in telling him often how hard it must be for him to put up with me.
I have a few very special memories of nights spent with Hona when I was worried about her health and I'd insist on staying the night despite her protests. Even in the middle of Winter Hona slept with so few covers and I would get into the bed beside hers with all my warm blankets and doona. Whenever I stayed I'd make Hona put her arm out of her bed and hold hands with me for a little while before we went to sleep. She would really giggle as we held hands and tell me that I was mad. It was during these times under the veil of darkness that I was able to tell her that I loved her and that she mattered to me. Hona never responded with words but would squeeze my hand tightly.
It was an easy friendship with Hona and the difficulty for her was that her body was really starting to let her down. The "mantra" she used to use "No thank you, I can do it myself" was replaced with "I've got no choice" but this time she said it with humour though I'm sure it disturbed her greatly because she relished her independence.
Despite having a very strong will, Hona resigned herself to the fact that she did need some help but she didn't want to be a burden on anyone and there was always a lesson to be learned somewhere in her trials. Hona put herself in God's Hands with gracious acceptance. It was hard to watch as her mobility got more and more compromised and it was an easy thing to do for Alan and me to step in sometimes and help be her legs. Andrew and Jill were always there for Hona and we could also give them an occasional break.
The relatively short journey we shared with Hona has had a profound effect upon both Alan and I and she became a big and important part of our lives. Our children have even joked when we return home after being at Hona's that Hona's last name should be our surname.
It's strange for me to think that this tiny little courageous woman with her big feisty bravado and her huge capacity to love and care for others is no longer in our physical world. And the world has lost a soft little gem, one who faithfully practiced all her life what she preached albeit with a very gruff veneer.
Crossing paths with Hona, I believe was a gift from God and I will miss her dearly but one day I hope to see her again.
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