When I was three years old, I sat on the balcony of my grandparents’ three story home in Taichung, Taiwan. My legs hung between the bars as I stared out into the brown waters just beyond the fence of the yard. One of my older cousins walked in, and I turned to look at her. I said –
Ama xi ki le. Grandma passed away.
It’s a story that some of my relatives told me. I don’t remember it at all. In fact, I have no memories of my grandmother from my father’s side. But we have photographs, the drawings she made, and stories of her beautiful voice singing in Japanese and Taiwanese.
The grandmother on my mother’s side lived in New Jersey, so I would visit her more often. She raised four children while grandpa sailed the seas as captain of cargo ship after cargo ship. She cooked my favorite dishes that sadly, no one else in the family could replicate. Her hands were soft, her demeanor gentle, and she would greet all the grandchildren at the door with, “Wa gui sun-ah! Gei Ama bao bao. Huggy huggy. My good grandchildren! Give grandma a hug.” She wasn’t the most strong-willed or happy; when there would be conflicts, her reaction would often be, “Bo hat doh. There’s nothing you can do.” However, everyone remembers her unlimited patience and incredible kindness.
I am not a religious person, but when I was a kid, she sent me a First Testament Bible for young children and extolled God’s graciousness. She taught me to pray before meals.
Bei jia de gi de. When eating, we pray.
Gam xia ti be hou. Thank you for all that is good, Heavenly Father.
Mi niu li shiu su, For all the rice and grain you have given,
De xia ji gui gu. We thank you with these words.
During the past years, we saw her show the first few signs of dementia. There was confusion. She would see and talk to people that were not there. Her health declined until her children had to move both my grandparents out of their old home and hire caretakers. Eventually, my grandparents moved back to Taiwan.
Unfortunately, Ama’s health continued to wane. She had a stroke, got transferred to hospice, and was resuscitated from near death. I resented the latter action and how we did not set a DNR (do not resuscitate) order earlier. Though it sounds selfish, I hated the thought of her lying in bed, unable to do anything by herself, and with little response to anyone who came by. It was heartbreaking to see her but not have her see us; To hold her hands, trying to steady my voice, and to have her scrunch her forehead and pull away. The thought of my grandmother dying tormented me each time I heard updates of her situation, contributing significantly to my adjustment disorder, and I cried for hours at a time. Each time, I would say goodbye again, and I wished she would let go peacefully.
But now? I feel more relieved. Despite everything that has happened and how my heart mourns, the tears have yet to fall. On Monday, we got the news: Ama xi ki le.