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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