The International Writers Magazine:
with Dignity & China memories
guess we will never know what really matters about our lives and
what doesnt until the day we literally lie on our death
bed and count the days!
Nobody teaches you
how to face your mortality when you go through all the struggles of
becoming an adult (whatever that means), and when you first discover
a grey hair on your head or simply marvel at the energy of a young person
running next to you on the treadmill, the shock can not be easily passed.
But the biggest knock on the head happens when you witness someone you
love dying! And when that happens, whatever matters in your life will
never be the same!
I made a visit to my childhood friend Gina recently; we have known each
other since the first grade. She and her family are a big part of my
fond memories from those days, particularly her mother, she was a career
woman, always elegantly dressed and spoke beautiful Mandarin which Gina
obviously inherited (she has long been a respectable anchor woman on
local TV channels). Her mother is dying of cancer! She appeared very
frail when I saw her but carried herself with a sense of pride and spoke
humorously as usual! I brought a bouquet of carnations for her and we
chatted for a little while, I told her what I remembered of her from
my childhood and about a trip she took us to, she dressed me up with
a pair of pink pants and a pink hair band on my head (which my mom would
never dressed me with) and we took pictures in a park. Those pictures
store permanent in my memory I told her, and before I left, she said
she would take me to the park again and put on a pink hair band for
me next time I come visit!
Later Gina wrote me and tells me that her mother was in good spirit
after I left, she didnt say much but she managed to have appetite
to eat (she couldnt eat most of time)! A person so proud as she
is, Gina says, there was a great comfort knowing her best self had been
witnessed and remembered!
The last days of my father were quite different; he was 80 at the time,
suffering from one of the worst pain caused by liver cancer. He was
a man with much passion about life, he wanted to savor every little
thing he enjoyed, he requested all kinds of his favorite food that doctor
forbid (he cried out "What difference would that make I am dying
anyway!") he asked to go people watching in the market and for
excursions on long bus rides. His sense of taste was long gone by then
and he could hardly move about without help! He was a man with a big
appetite for life, and the one he had certainly didnt fail him!
He also conspired to put an ad on newspaper to find husbands for his
three daughters "Must have a doctor's degree" he asked for...
(We found the piece of paper in his drawer after he died, and that has
remained a favorite excuse for me staying single till now).
My aunt had five beautiful daughters; she married to her high school
teacher at a young age and was a dedicated house wife and mother for
most of her life. The last days of her life she asked to move to a hotel
and stay away from home and hospital, she wanted to be surrounded by
her daughters and grandchildren, but not the husband! She wanted for
a divorce! I am not sure why or whether anyone really took it seriously
but she was determined even though she knew her days were at the final
count down! There were never big dramas I remembered from their family
but surely the determination for a divorce came from a long cry of a
My other aunt was a dutiful wife of a Catholic priest (please dont
grill me about this, I dont know what church or ranking of the
position her husband served, but he did serve in the church all his
life). She was a model for every role she played in her life, other
than being a priests wife, she was a dedicated mother, a loving
primary school teacher, a dutiful daughter and daughter-in-law
she earned herself the way for departure that most people would envy
a heart attack took her life in the middle of sleep! "Angels
have descended and took her" the church people we met in the funeral
I had a memorable ride with her to the train station just before she
died; she spoke of the trips she took in recent years to the various
countries and remote places in China (including the first plane ride).
She spoke with such excitement that she could hardly contain herself!
She was half-retired by then, family burdens were more or less released
from her, she was free for the first time! I remember watching her steering
the car with an intensity as if she was steering her life for the first
time, she spoke of wanting to live her own life while she can (she quoted
a line from a TV commercial without knowing it, it was very cute!).
It must have been the merest little peek into her heart which was going
through intense life reflections, perhaps the deaths of husband and
her sisters strikes a chore in her heart that was ignored for too long.
I felt like she was a dear friend sharing her heart felt feelings with
me, not the aunt that I used to know, and I do believe that angels took
her to spare her from watching her mother (my grandmother) died, with
a bonus of some fun at the end of her life journey.
My grandmother was the toughest woman I know, she lived until she was
106 (or 105 or
no one knows). The abandoned first wife by my
grandfather who was the mayor of the town at the time, supposedly a
respectable gentleman and was with a well off family background! He
brought home a mistress one day who quickly took over everything my
grandmother had to live by, and when he died, the family was buried
deep in debts and the mistress was nowhere to be found. There were a
lot of juicy details to the drama of course; none of us could forget
them because grandmother made sure we dont. She lived by herself
in the same house, at the same village for the rest of her life and
her daily ritual was going to the family shrine in the morning, burning
incense for the ancestors and then talking to my grandfather in a bitter
sweet tone of how he had mistreated her ... for most of the day no matter
what she might be doing!
She carried this ritual all the way through her life, I mean all the
way! In the last days of her life when she could hardly remember a thing
that happens 5 minutes ago, she could recall clearly events about "that
bitch" happened 70 years ago, she would tell the stories over and
over again! The secret of her longevity, we wondered, might be that
she wanted to live to tell for as long as she could and thats
the only thing that matters! In old days, the Chinese government would
build a stone gate to honor her!
My mother had a simple order for me while she was in the hospital "Go
back to school!" she said! I was at my sophomore year in a university
two hours bus-ride away from home. The next time I was called to the
hospital, she was already in coma, without another word from her, she
passed away in three days. I made it to the graduate school at Yale
for my mother five years later.
My baby brother was muted by the respirator in his last days; it might
have been part of his plan because he had always wanted everything to
be perfect, a perfect death might just be it! He was gay in his whole
life and we didnt know about it until we found out that he was
dying of AIDS in the hospital! In fact, I think he had plan to die on
the day he was sent to the hospital against his will, before that day,
there was no telling, no revelations, no shouting for helps of any kind.
He didnt ask us to doing anything for him, didnt ask to
see anyone, didnt mention a word of the things he left behind,
didnt cry, he was that strong it kills me.
When the last day came close his digestive system deteriorated so badly
we couldnt even inject liquid food to the tube, one day he wanted
a pen to write and asked for OREO cookies, he managed to put on a smile
and asked too for hugs from us. His will power carried him that far
to complete him by dying a dignified death he had planned, but at the
end, he was just a little boy, a baby brother of us
what he wanted us to remember.
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