Posts tagged with "grandma"

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. []

Leaving Grandma

Grandma’s kids are lined up to visit over the next few months, each staying with her a few weeks at a time. An uncle flew in a few days before my dad and I left, and another aunt has arrived since.

Grandma says the house will be empty when my uncle leaves, completely forgetting that my aunt who’s already there has given up her life to be with her indefinitely. We joke that she’s just another maid to grandma now. Her memory remains patchy; sometimes she’s lucid, sometimes she’s lost.

I wonder if she’ll even remember if I was here.

Leaving was hard. My aunt hugged me long, told me she’d miss me through the lump in her throat, and promptly went to the bedroom to compose herself. Knowing it was the last time I was going to see her, I hugged and kissed my grandma as much as I could. It was an effort not to cry. Even the maid wiped a tear from her eye with the back of her hand, but none of the other men did, and I wonder if they would have, had they not been in the presence of other men.

As we were leaving, she handed me a red envelope, and told us to visit her again soon. It was a relief to know that she’s still unconscious of her terminal condition, but the reminder that I would never see her again broke my heart.

What a strange feeling it is to know that she’s still alive on the other side of the world, while I’m here, unable to be with her. For now, I’m happy and relieved that I had the chance to express myself to her, and film her, and capture her image.

Grandma and Her Parrot

Grandma loves her parrot. We carry it around for her, and she sleeps with it on her bedside table. Whenever she talks to it, I can never really tell if she really is talking to her parrot in an act of senility, or whether she does it to humour us.

A note on the translation: The name “Fat Bird” is really “Fat Woman Parrot” in Chinese. The word “parrot” is a homonym for the last part of grandma’s name, so “Fat Woman Parrot” sounds like it’s referring to her as well. That’s how she got her nickname as “Fat Woman”.

This is grandma on a good day. I love to see her smile and laugh.

Grandma's Story

I’ve been trying to get a better idea of grandma’s life, so I’ve been asking her as many questions as possible in the last three weeks. Her mind tends to drift and she gets lost on subjects; little snippets from the rest of my family sort of fill in the blanks. I’ll add more if I can get anything else out of her.

Grandma was born in Hong Kong, but she fled to Chiu Chow during the Japanese invasion by climbing a mountain with her only son slung on her back. For some reason, she feels a lot of pride about Chiu Chow even though she wasn’t born in that city, and always points out people from there1. As a result, she can speak both Cantonese and the Chiu Chow dialect.

Continue reading “Grandma’s Story”…

  1. She says she recognizes them by their faces. []

A Different Kind of Understanding

The doctor told us she has another 5–6 months. Her colon is so enlarged from the tumor that it’s thicker than her spine, and the procedure was just a temporary solution to prevent further blockages.

How strange it is to “know” how much time there is left. I guess that’s why they call it a deadline. I had already assumed that this would going to be the last time I could see her, but that won’t make it any easier when I have to leave.

I’m grateful to the people who have been sending me their regards. It’s a nice comfort. One of the best pieces of advice came from Charlotte, who told me to “not leave anything at all unsaid to her…leave no questions unanswered, and to not withhold any affection you feel for her”.

I had come to Hong Kong with the intention of telling my grandma how important she was to me. Finding the right words in Chinese to express exactly what I wanted to say.

But trying to speak with her has made me realize that she doesn’t care about any of that. She’s a very practical woman, almost to the point of tactlessness. For almost her entire life, married at 14 and as a single parent of seven kids, she’s had no time for words or feelings.

I’m here, and that’s how she understands how I feel.