I genuinely wish this post didn’t exist–or at the very least, say “Happy Birthday” or “Happy Grandmother’s Day” instead of saying goodbye. This isn’t a topic I’ve discussed very lightly or very frequently. Truthfully, most people do not like to acknowledge this inevitable truth.
Over a week ago, my grandmother passed away–she was 84 years-old, born in late June, and has lived through a multitude of history. Like many of my relatives, she was a Vietnam War refugee escaping the traumatic battles and bloody combats, taking her son (my dad) with her to America on a plane for a better life. Since then, the two of them were able to cultivate a modest but much safer home. This home would evolve to accommodate my mother, myself, and my sisters.
In the extremely early stages of my childhood, my grandmother became one of my main caretakers while my parents worked during the day. She’d feed me breakfast, play ball, turn on my favorite Disney movies, and allow me to run around the backyard and swim in the pool, even if it was a rainy day. She was mildly tolerable of one of my first pets–a labrador puppy–in spite of loving cats much more. It was a relief to her once we needed to give the pup away. However, the puppy’s void would eventually be filled when my sister was born two years after me. My grandmother loved us both unconditionally, but never favored one of us over the other. When we’d end up fighting and tearing our hair apart, she’d shake her head and tell us we were both idiots.
When my youngest sister came into this world, my grandmother became the primary caretaker of her since my sister and I were now able to dress and feed ourselves. My grandmother was undeniably patient–when my baby sister took three hours to finish a meal, my grandma sat with her the whole time and told her stories. She applauded with my baby sister’s stuffed animals when my sister sang original songs and performed multiple one-woman shows. My grandmother prepared the best bagels, bowls of hot soup, and mini banh mi’s on the weekends for all of us. One of my favorite memories was when she explained how her favorite hobby was to go to the beach and collect seashells in a bucket, which is what we ended up doing the next time we went to Zuma.
My grandmother became more reserved to her own company once we all grew older–specifically, once I entered high school and my sisters enrolled in middle and elementary school. My grandma loved reading, watching the news, Vietnamese singing shows, and talking to my father. It was revealed that she had her own quirks, such as wearing the same clothing from decades ago and never getting rid of unnecessary commodities, but I still loved her unconditionally. Even after she got checked in to a local senior residence center when we moved closer to my sisters’ school, she always looked forward to spending time with us on Sundays and special occasions. The happiest I saw her before embarking university was my high school graduation where she sat contently in her wheelchair and got to see her granddaughter become an adult.
Last year’s Christmas was marvelous as well. I learned a rich amount about Vietnamese history and her fervently caring and patient character while she was a phenomenal listener. We did not always agree on a political scale because she leaned Republican while I approached most political subjects from a Democratic perspective. There were new modern discoveries about identity that she did not quite understand, but was open to learning about it, even if she could not agree. The bad news is that university demands a lot of time away from home, my grandmother’s senior residence center only permitted her a few days off, and our family’s individual schedules struggled to coincide.
The days I got to see my grandmother out of the years were sparse. My parents were very responsible about checking on her every week and bringing her any Vietnamese dishes she desired. I always asked how she was doing when calling the family. It was reassuring to know that she was always happy and alright. Death was the last I needed to think about and I had no plans on demanding for its arrival anytime soon. Unfortunately, it does not listen to human commands and just knocks on your door whenever it wants to.
The least I can say is that my grandmother’s death was very peaceful. She was sleeping in the hospital, revived from medical care that the senior residence center could not provide. My dad FaceTimed me three days later where I could see her face with a smile and rested eyes one last time. For some strange reason, I believed the drill would be the same: she’d be checked out very soon and return back to her simple way of living. Sadly, out of all the things I could predict incorrectly, it had to be this. At 12:38 P.M., I received a text from my dad asking to call me immediately. I couldn’t get to the phone until over an hour later. Without saying hello, my dad addressed the burrowing elephant in the room: my grandmother was gone.
Mourning has occurred in the weirdest stages. I never denied that it’s happened and I haven’t attempted to break a wall or set a building on fire yet. Honestly, I’ve operated almost as similarly as always. But the weight still drags on and attempts to bury me in the dirt: the fact I was never there to say goodbye in person. I don’t feel denial or utter sadness–I feel guilty and ashamed. For all this time, I’ve prioritized work and achievement without any insight of making sure those around me receive love. My grandmother wouldn’t remember what grades she got or how much money she generated on the last day of her life, but just how she developed a beautiful and loving family that can find success on their own. I’ve learned that I need to do the same–not having kids or anything of that sort, but plant seeds of compassion and support to others.
The funeral is scheduled in late March. None of us look forward to it. But what’s beautiful is how we will arrange the departure of her ashes: either place them into the sea so she can swim to her relatives in Vietnam, or distribute them in a Buddhist temple where the winds can carry her off to initiate her flight up in the heavens. There are no expectations to what will happen then, but what matters now is that we as a family have united together to cherish her memories. My grandmother may not have always been interactive, but she was always there and will continue to be with us.