I had another post planned to share but somehow it doesn’t feel right to write about my frivolous travels today.
Today is the day my mother and grandma sent my grandpa’s soul to eternal rest. He passed away two days ago on Wednesday. It came very suddenly and the funeral arrangements were made very fast.
He had been sick in the hospital for a couple of weeks due to a blockage in his brain. My mother already had plans to go to Beijing for Chinese New Year, but prepared to fly back sooner if things took a turn for the worse. However, my grandfather’s condition seemed to be steadily improving, so she flew back as per her planned trip. Within hours of landing in Beijing and visiting him in the hospital, he passed away (from respiratory failure in the end). It was all very peaceful.
It was as if he waited for her to get there to say goodbye. And then he was finally able to rest.
When I received the news, it was a shock but not totally unexpected. I quietly tucked it away until the growing lump of grief rose in my throat and could no longer be ignored. And when a tear finally spilled out, I cried for hours. The really ugly kind… with snot bubbles and scrunchy face. Even though we all should have prepared for the possibility, I guess I’ve been pretty blessed thus far in life that this is the first time I’m dealing with loss and I have no idea what to make of these waves of emotions. I felt so indescribably sad for all those left behind: for my grandma who has lost a life long partner, and for my mom who has lost her father.
When I was all cried out, I dealt with it the only way I knew how. I drew.
I’m not good with knowing the right words to say in such situations or articulating my sadness, so I let everything I wanted to express flow out of my pencil tip unto paper.
When I think of my grandfather, I think of his little red tricycle that he rode to take us to kindergarten everyday, singing songs the whole way. And of his tattered green army shoes (that precede my mother even!) that he still insisted on wearing for his daily morning walks. And of the tree he planted decades ago in the little community park out front that will make sure that his legacy lives on for decades more to come.
I think of his easy laugh and twinkly eyes. And how his speech would be dotted with Japanese words because he grew up in Taiwan during the Japanese occupation and thus was fluent in the language. And of all the strange knick-knacks tucked in random places around the apartment because he was a collector and loved tinkering with finds and coming up with new uses for them. He was sprightly and skillful. He could fix absolutely anything that was broken.
So it seemed to be the cruelest of jokes that he would one day suffer from a broken mind.
The last time I saw him, in May of 2015, he had already been living with varying stages of Alzheimer’s for a few years. He didn’t talk anymore unless prompted and his eyes have lost that twinkle. Though he still knew my grandma and his children, he no longer remembered me. I felt horrible that I, in turn, no longer knew how to act around him or talk to him. To him, I was just a stranger in the house, a face that everyone told him he should know but didn’t. And to me, he was merely a ghost of the clever, vivacious grandfather I loved.
Alzheimer’s is a horrible heartbreaking disease that affects the family members just as much, if not more than, as the sufferer. For the sufferer, it robs him of those precious memories that make life meaningful and unique. For the family, their loved one may be physical there, but there is now an ever enlarging hole where the soul resides. And there is nothing anyone can do but watch the disintegration.
I know this unexpected early departure is a blessing in disguise because it has ended his suffering before the really devastating last stage sets in. He left peacefully knowing that he was surrounded by his most loved ones. It comforts me greatly to know this.
When I think of him now, I will not think of the Grandpa with Alzheimer’s. Instead, he will always be the Grandpa on the red tricycle belting out songs.
I will probably edit/update this post again as I learn more information from my mom about his last moments.