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.