Our bedroom is like a sauna after being baked in the sun all afternoon. Last night I slept on the couch in the living room because it was much cooler. At 5:40 this morning, while I was sound asleep, Joshua started crying. I rolled off the couch and stumbled into his room, and began the morning ritual. I changed his diaper, then took a bottle from the fridge to pop in the warmer. I held him and sat down in the rocking chair while I was still half asleep, and opened up my Hotmail account on the iPod to check my e-mails. There was a recent e-mail from Dad. I opened it.
It was an one-liner e-mail. Grandpa passed away an hour ago.
While my brain was slowly trying to make sense of the e-mail, my heart sank. Grandpa has been fighting an assortment of infections and illnesses lately, but he was just released from the hospital a couple of days ago because he was doing better. How could this happen?
I read the e-mail again. Grandpa passed away an hour ago.
There are many things I grew up knowing as a given. For example, if it rains and you don’t have an umbrella, you get wet. It’s simple and straight forward. No one ever questions it. And having my grandparents in my life is like that. My grandparents are there, and they love me. It’s a given; it’s simple and straight forward. No one ever questions it. I can always expect to walk into my grandparents’ home and be loved and fussed over. It’s been this way since the day I was born. I don’t know any different. I don’t think I know what the hell it means if one of them is not there. And today I learned that one of them is not there anymore. It shook me.
4 months ago, Cliff and I took Joshua to Taiwan to see my grandparents. I wanted Joshua to meet his great grandparents. Grandpa was very happy that we went to visit. Even though he was weak and fragile, he asked to hold Joshua. I sat Joshua in his lap, and Joshua just kept looking at Grandpa’s face and touching it. It was a very sweet moment. Grandpa kept stroking Joshua’s fat little feet, and asked if I remembered the games we used to play with my toes when I was little. Of course I remembered. He always referred to my toes as peanuts, and he’ll pretend to eat my toes and I would not stop giggling. I think that game went on until I was about 7 or 8.
Grandpa was a military fighter jet pilot. I always asked him to tell me his pilot stories, but he always said there wasn’t much to tell. He was never prideful of his abilities. He manages to always turn the conversation to be about me. He wanted to know things I am interested in. I guess I’ve always just taken that for granted, and end up talking about myself all the time.
While I am sitting here, digging deep into my memory of Grandpa, all I could remember is how he loved me. I don’t even know very much about his preferences or beliefs. When I was 4 or 5, Grandpa made a clock out of scrap plywood and whatnot, and taught me how to tell time. Every night after bath, we’d play the pretend-to-eat-my-toes game. He made paper origami cranes and airplanes for me. Maybe it was his military training; he always made the origami’s with perfect precision on the folds. When I said good-bye to him at our last visit a few months ago, he took my hand and rubbed it all over his face while mumbling my name.
When I got old enough to read, sometimes he would ask me to read him something he couldn’t see, like a label on a package. Sometimes he would ask me to help him fix something by bringing him the tools. Sometimes he let me organize his rubber bands for him. I always thought we made a good team. He never said that. He was not a man of many words. But I knew he like it when I helped.
After we moved to Vancouver, the opportunity to see my grandparents became very slim. Every time we visited, Grandpa always made me tell him about things in my world. He was fascinated by the concept of the internet, or technology, or credit cards, or me riding a motorcycle. As time goes by, his hearing became worse. It became difficult to have a conversation with him without yelling right into his ear. It was also nearly impossible to have a telephone conversation with him.
When I visited Grandpa a couple of years ago, I was getting frustrated that he couldn’t hear what I was saying. So after returning to Vancouver, I started recording stories on an MP3 player for him. I gave him detailed accounts of my Kilimanjaro climb, the work I do, my motorcycle trips, etc. Then I sent the MP3 player to him, and he could listen to my stories with headphones on and with the volume cranked up. This made him very happy because he can hear clearly this way. So we kept recording new pieces for him. Last year when I was pregnant with Joshua, I recorded Joshua’s heartbeat using a doppler. I recorded Cliff repeating some Chinese phrases he learned. I recorded Joshua laughing. Grandpa kept the MP3 player right next to his pillow, where he can reach and listen to it anytime.
Grandpa was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s three years ago, but he was determined to fight it. He memorized phone numbers, dates, birthdays, names, or anything he could get his hands on. He wanted to make his memory work. He had colon cancer in his 80’s, had surgery, and recovered from it all. He had been in and out of the hospital with various illnesses in the past few years, but he fought on. He never quit. He never gave up. He never said “that’s enough”.
Today, he left peacefully. Mom told me that he gurgled a bit, and went quietly within a couple of minutes. I don’t think Grandpa ever gave up. I think his body gave up before he did.
When someone who loves you dies, are you still loved, or is that love gone? I can’t seem to make sense of what my world is like without my Grandpa. I miss him so much!