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.