Grandma died

The details are scant, as I only found out sec­ond-hand through Darren. They say she was on painkillers and went peace­ful­ly in the hos­pi­tal. It was her pain that scared me most; bet­ter to pass on than live with suf­fer­ing through can­cer and chemother­a­py at her age, I always thought.

It brings me com­fort to know that Mina, her trusty and loy­al maid, was there with her when she died. Also, to know my aunt will be able to go back home to a nor­mal life, instead of dot­ing on my grand­moth­er indef­i­nite­ly after giv­ing up her law prac­tice and leav­ing her hus­band and daugh­ter in Canada.

I called my dad, and he seems to be tak­ing it as well as I am. I learned all my Chinese idioms for death by lis­ten­ing to what he’d say in these sit­u­a­tions. One is some­thing like, “She’s passed her body”, which always sound­ed very spir­i­tu­al to me and plays on the Chinese belief that our spir­its pass from this world into an ances­tral realm. Another has some­thing to do with becom­ing “fra­grant” or the smell of incense. But when he asked if I knew, he said, “Did you hear that grand­ma went?”

I just hope my cousin Priscilla is alright. She’s a pint-sized woman (even by Asian stan­dards) who more than makes up for her small stature with a razor sharp tongue and wit, but she was the most ador­ing grand­child I’d ever met when it came to our ma ma.

All of grand­ma’s kids were already in Hong Kong to be with her1 — many of them fly­ing in from dif­fer­ent parts of Canada — which is a tes­ta­ment to how impor­tant she was. She was the uni­fy­ing force who tied the fam­i­ly togeth­er. Siblings would make peace with each oth­er out of respect for her, and the peace has last­ed.

I’m not sad. I was already sad when I was in Hong Kong last year, on the day I left her. Back then, I made my peace, nev­er expect­ing to have the chance to see her again. Instead, I’m glad to have been able to let her know how much she meant to me (even though I was­n’t sure if she remem­bered, with the sever­i­ty of her Alzheimer’s), to hear her tell her sto­ry in her own words, and to cap­ture her voice and char­ac­ter on video.

When I see her smil­ing and hear her voice, I see an inno­cence about her I was­n’t used to see­ing. She was always a strong, classy lady.

  1. The excep­tions being my dad and Darren’s dad, who were fly­ing out yes­ter­day and next week respec­tive­ly, until they heard the news. They’re chang­ing flight plans for the funer­al. []


  1. My con­do­lences to you and your fam­i­ly. Will you be fly­ing out to the funer­al then?

    • No, unfor­tu­nate­ly, I don’t have the vaca­tion time or mon­ey to go over there.

  2. When I was read­ing about your HK trip last year I was very envi­ous of you because you got to spend time with your grand­ma in her last months. My grand father in his late 80s was fell ill last year too. I was­n’t able to vis­it him. I am very close to him, even though I only saw him three times since I was 13(after I moved to the U.S.). I was raised by him.

    He passed away last year. He nev­er got to meet my wife, and two of my three kids. That’s some­thing I’ll regret for the rest of my life. Since his pass­ing, I con­vinced myself that I’m hap­py for him, that he lived a long and hap­py life. But some­times when I’m least expect­ing, I break down and cry when I’m by myself. I miss him a lot.

    • I admit that I was very lucky to have had the oppor­tu­ni­ty. My grand­fa­ther played a big role in my life too, even though I knew him for only a short por­tion of it, so I under­stand com­plete­ly. There’s some­thing about those first years of child­hood, when you have the atten­tion of a grand­par­ent. I can only imag­ine how hard it was not to be able to intro­duce your wife to him, and vice ver­sa.

  3. So sor­ry to hear about your grand­moth­er! My con­do­lences and prayers for you and your fam­i­ly.

  4. Wow. My respects and con­do­lences. It was real­ly won­der­ful hear­ing about her prac­ti­cal­ly hero­ic lifesto­ry through you. I can’t imag­ine doing what she did, plus rais­ing all those chil­dren. And I agree with you; bet­ter to pass on quick­ly; chemother­a­py is what did my moth­er in, I think.

    Please make sure that Mina is well cared for or has a post with some­one; I hope your fam­i­ly will con­sid­er her well. That kind of devo­tion is rare these days.

    • My first reac­tion was to say that my fam­i­ly maids have always been well tak­en care of, and treat­ed like fam­i­ly when they retire because they con­tin­ue liv­ing with my grand­ma. Then again, back then, nurs­es were also wet maids, so there’s a stronger bond there when you’re actu­al­ly suck­ling the chil­dren.

      I have no idea what’s going to hap­pen with Mina, now that my grand­ma is gone. My uncle and aunt have tak­en Mina’s cousin in as maid, so they don’t need a sec­ond one as far as I can tell. I hope she’s tak­en care of as well.

  5. Condolences for your loss. The video is beau­ti­ful.

    • Thank you. When my fam­i­ly saw the video last year, they thought it was nice, but I don’t think they real­ly appre­ci­at­ed it. Maybe they will now.

  6. Yeah, it’s bet­ter to pass on than hav­ing to suf­fer the pain at her age. She had a long and full life. I’m relieved to know you’re tak­ing it well. Hey, I would nev­er have guessed that you knew these Chinese idioms for death.

    • I think she lived more in the first 30 years of her life than I will in my entire life.

      I also would­n’t have guessed I could still pick up parts of a lan­guage I rarely have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to prac­tice. But I have a love of English, and I think that obsess­ing about express­ing myself prop­er­ly in one lan­guage bleeds into the oth­er.

  7. I’m sor­ry to hear about your grand­moth­er. Condolences to you and your fam­i­ly. That’s great that you have that video of her though, very beau­ti­ful :)

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