From the monthly archives:

March 2010

On the road

March 29, 2010

in random

Someone wise told me that having kids will help move the grieving process along. Not easier, but along. She is absolutely right. Your kids force you to face the reality. They are your reality. Your present. Can’t dwell on the sadness when your kids demand that you be there for them. There are responsibilities. Things to be done. Life does carry on.

Of course, having kids also gives you a different perspective because of the unique, innocent way in which they understand it, talk about it.

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I showed Mr. Monk, my 7-year-old boy, the pictures of my aunt and me.

“Is this your aunt?”

“Yes, it is.”

“Who is that? Oh, is it you? You look….”

“… Like a boy?” I volunteered.

“Yes… But you are so adorable!”

Then he asked whether he could have one of these for his picture frame because he wanted to have a picture of my aunt in his room. When I asked him which picture he’d choose, he said he couldn’t decide because he “likes both of them so much!” I suggested the one with me waving,

“Ok. I like this one too. But maybe I should show it when you die because it is like you are waving goodbye.” He said matter-of-factly.

This was before I have found a chance to tell him that my aunt has passed away.

I laughed. In a way, it made perfect sense!

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Different people grieved differently. I wonder whether for the littlest people, strong emotions like this actually may take a long while for them to process as the concept of death is quite abstract, until you have a chance to figure out what it means “materially”.

We told our kids on Saturday that my aunt has passed away. Mr. Monk who had cried with me when my aunt was unconscious in ICU did not say anything. Not a single tear. His older brother actually got upset at him for being cold-hearted.

Last night, Mr. Monk came up to me with tears streaming down his face, hiccuping,

“I am so sad your aunt died. That means I will never get to see her again!”

He cried himself to sleep while I hugged him.

Today on the phone (I am out of town on a business trip) he found out that I will be going home for the funeral. After the initial crying bout about how he also wanted to go to the funeral, to say goodbye, he asked,

“But you will take pictures, right?”

“Hmmm. Ok. I can take pictures of my family.” Fully aware that’s not what he meant.

“No. I want you to take a picture of your aunt.”

“Hmm. I don’t think I can.”

“Why?”

“Hmmm. Because she is… she is not alive any more?”

“Oh. You mean you don’t show her in front of the church there?”

“No. Honey. I am sorry. We don’t do that in Taiwan.”

“Well, will you take a picture of the funeral then?”

“….  I will take pictures of my families when we get together, ok?”

“Ok.”

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My cousin told me that it is actually kind of a silver lining that because of her mother’s passing, family members have been stopping by to my aunt’s house to pay their respect which becomes a great opportunity for families of different generations and relations to catch up, and even for some of them to meet and greet each other for the first time now that the baby is no longer a baby, the young man no longer a young man. The house is now filled with people at all hours, exactly how my aunt would have liked it before she fell ill. My cousin and my other “like-sisters” have been keeping vigil, catching up, consoling each other, and even sometimes joking and laughing, remembering things that my aunt said or did.

We both agreed that my aunt would have liked that. She would like that.

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I never really look at it this way: I had an unusual a non-standard childhood. My family was poor. It just felt normal to me since I did not know any other way of living. I never gave it a second thought that I slept in the same room with my parents next to their bed on a comforter folded up on three dining room chairs lined up side by side. To this day, I require minimal space when I sleep; I never realized the cause and effect. I did not know to be embarrassed by the fact that my mother worked as a hotel “concierge” who happened to also clean the rooms and change the sheets. I was always well fed and nicely clothed, with lots of fancy stuffed animals and chocolate and candies from Japan. I later learned that my classmates in grade school thought my parents were college professors and we were wealthy.

What do you know? Kids are dumb.

It had never occurred to me how generous and kind it was for my aunt to take me in and to bring me up when my parents couldn’t take care of me themselves. They had to hold down jobs that did not allow raising a young child: odd hours, overnight schedules, long stint abroad, while their older boys though old enough to look after themselves, not old enough to care for another child.

It was the most natural thing. I had never once felt not being part of my aunt’s family, probably because I was not the only niece that she took in. There were always quite a few children living in her house. Some for a couple of years; one cousin was under my aunt’s care until she reached her adulthood. I stayed until I was in the second grade: I remember threatening my mother that I would walk back to my aunt’s house whenever she scolded me. I believe I did quite a few times much to her annoyance.

There was always a lot of food. Elaborate dishes. My aunt was an accomplished cook, capable of whipping up an entire banquet of twelve full courses on her own. Extravagant dishes worthy for a wedding party. My mother subsequently accused me for ruining her interest and drive for cooking because my taste buds were so well-trained (Spoiled!) during those years that there was simply no way my mother could ever match it.

Amongst all my aunts and their friends, my aunt was the prettiest. The most talented. She was not supposed to become the work horse of the family. One of my vivid childhood memories was the first time I saw the picture of her and her best friend, both members of some society for young ladies, all dolled up in classic dresses. It was taken at one of their musical performances. She was gorgeous. “Svelte”. That image of her is what comes to mind whenever I see this word. There were fourteen children in my father’s family. Being the oldest girl, as many of these stories went, my aunt was married to a wealthy businessman, twenty years her elder, which brought a lot of relief to the family.

Family lore has it that she spoiled me rotten: always making my favorite dishes, , taking me everywhere with her, showing me off to all her friends. I wanted to think that I was her favorite, but I know that she managed somehow to make all of us believe that we were her favorite. She was always joyful, and damn it if this woman was not loud. Loud and spunky. Her laughter brought life to all the family gatherings, especially at the numerous wedding banquets.

“Is she going?” We would ask each other, relieved after confirming that she would be present.

She was definitely the favorite amongst all the aunts and uncles.

Every time when I went to visit her, she bragged about how the pearl powder she paid with top dollars and fed me when I was living with her still shows its positive influence.

“You have good skin because of it.” She cooed. So we made my husband thank her that I did not turn out to be a complete dog. “But you really should put on some make-up and lose some weight.” What can I say? That’s the way we show love for each other in this family.

Three weeks ago I found out from Facebook that my aunt was taken to ICU. I immediately called home and learned that they had intubated her and she remained unconscious. Since her organs have been failing due to old age and a myriad of health issues, we knew that she would never fully recover. We were told to get ready for the inevitable, but when, the doctor could not say.

Could be months.

I told Mr. Monk about my aunt, and also my contingency plan of going home when the day comes.

“Why do you want to wait until she’s dead? Why don’t you go home now that she is still alive?”

I have been crying on and off ever since. It took a child to see and point out loud the absurdity of this. I fantasized about going home this June to visit my aunt and also to celebrate my dad’s 80th birthday with him, in person. The thought gave me some respite from crying.

Yesterday I got the phone call. Even though I was prepared, I was not prepared at all.

Yes, she has passed away. No, she never regained consciousness. The doctor had known her time was near and had informed the family to gather around to see her off.

The family. Not the “immediate” nuclear family in the U.S. sense. The entire, friggin’, family. There are no second cousins. We are all brothers and sisters. Nephews and nieces. And for some of us, like-daughters and like-mothers. We are ALL immediate family.

And they did. They were there with her when she went home.

On the phone, my mom kept on telling me that I wouldn’t have been able to do anything even if I had been there. That my aunt wouldn’t have known I was there.

Mom is supposed to say things like this. But I know. I will bear the burden of not being there in my conscience.

Forever I will wish that I got took the chance to say goodbye.

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Thanks to the straight (and stern) talks from you, I went to see a doctor today. Just a random doctor since I don’t really have a family doctor. My Ob-Gyn is the only doctor that I “keep in touch” throughout the years. And oh, yes, my dentist. I have been forced to drop quite a few family practitioners in the past when they 1. suggested that I get my tubes tied after I had my second child, 2. ordered expensive tests that still cost thousands after the 80% insurance pay when the disgonosis turned out to be Achilles tendinosis (So no, nothing to do with my nerves), 3. mis-diagnosed my blood clog as a muscle tear.

I gave the good doctor the litany of my symptoms: nausea & vomiting, dizziness, headache, sinus discomfort (but not pain nor pressure), stuffy feeling in my ears. I shared with him my theory of this being allergy-induced since my “condition” started a month ago when Spring supposedly arrived. I appreciated his gallant efforts in not rolling his eyes in my presence. I also informed him of some new development: running nose, a fever, and possibly the worst chill I have ever had in my life.

After all this, his diagnosis? “Are you suffering a lot of stress lately?”

I am a working mother with two rambunctious boys working full time commuting downtown with the company headquartered in another state 800 miles away and a boss that is scheming to either get me to move there or to get rid of me and a husband that travels 50% of the time for work. So yeah. I guess I am stressed.

“Have you suffered from any head injury? Did you hit your head somewhere?”

Why? You read my blog or my tweets?

“I think this is tension headache.”

Hello? What about the nausea and the vomiting?

“Are you married?”

Do I look tired and not care how I look? Yes, I am married.

“You should ask your husband to rub your neck.”

I rolled my eyes.

“Ha ha. Yes. I should write you a prescription to get him to do this, and if I submit it to your insurance, they may even pay him! Ok. Here is what I want you to do…”

Miracle drugs?

“I want to get some blood tests done to rule out the usual: thyroid, glands…”

Really? Why am I NOT surprised?

“And then I want you to get an MRI. I am worried about the headaches. The MRI is going to come back clean, but I want to rule anything out before I talk to you again. So after you get your MRI, call me, and I can talk to you about Tension Headaches.”

Seriously? Is an MRI even remotely necessary in my case?

Like a good Chinese girl (brought up in a Chinese society let me emphasize this), I did not question the good doctor. And really, should I even question my good fortune? I am blessed enough to be covered by a top-notch health insurance plan: the free health insurance provided by my company is a Cadillac plan. It covers everything. No pre-certification required for most of the expensive tests. If the doctor does not even want to wait and wants me to get an MRI before he even talks to me more, which I am actually able to get right away without having to call the insurance company and go through the labyrinth of paperworks, unlike say people on Medicare, should I not be grateful?

Fine. Call me an ungrateful bitch. But here is what I thought as soon as I walked out of the doctor’s office:

Son of a bitch. He is worried that he may get sued if something happens to me and he did not order me an MRI.

How much of the root cause for the rising health care costs in the U.S. is due to the fear of lawsuits?!

(Yeah, I know. You will be wanting to see me eating my foot if the good doctor was right and the MRI does detect something. THAT will solve all the questions about “What the F is wrong with you?!” in more ways than one. And seriously, if something is growing inside my head, you cannot fault me for being a bitch so would you really still want to see me eating my foot?… So the way I see it, either way, my foot will stay as far away from my mouth as humanly possible. Ha!)

All this rambling reminded me of a post from February 18, 2009, “Americans pay $650 billion more for health care than comparable countries…” when there was absolutely no traffic to my blog…  Reading the conclusion I drew more than a year ago,

“In the United States, the ‘average’ consumer of health care pays for only 12 percent of its total cost directly out of pocket (down from 47 percent in 1960), as well as for 25 percent of health care insurance premiums, a share that has stayed relatively constant for the last decade.  Well-insured patients who bear little, if any, of the cost of their treatment have no incentive to be value-conscious health care consumers.”

This sounds familiar but now we have the numbers to back up our suspicions:

In order for any health care reform to work and stick, it is important that we carry out the education and cultivation of a new generation of patients that are “value conscious” and treat the burden of health care, even when they do not have to pay for it DIRECTLY, as ultimately their own INDIRECT cross to bear.

I am saddened and a bit ashamed, seeing how I will be getting an MRI after all, albeit begrudgingly. I am only human – I do not want to bear the unnecessary risk of not getting this MRI just to make a point, especially since it is readily available to me. So that puts us in a bit of a conundrum, doesn’t it?

Foot in my mouth after all.

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Throw Up

March 23, 2010 random

Tweet Preamble If you have a very sensitive gag reflex you probably should skip this post. Or read it with a bucket nearby. To the warriors I know and love, Kate and Elly, nobody could know what you and your loved ones went through. Chemo-induced nausea is no laughing matter. And I hope my not-so-amusing […]

28 comments

“precisely ninety-one centimeters from himself”

March 17, 2010 random

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Vote for the Best Just Posts of 2009!

March 15, 2010 this i believe

Tweet First of all, an apology… . Now on to official business… Alejna over at Collecting Tokens and Holly at Cold Spaghetti host a monthly feature called “Just Posts for a Just World“: monthly roundtables of blog posts written on personal blogs that, in words of one of the founders, “speak to the same thing […]

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If you have mastered one-hand typing

March 12, 2010 no manual for parenting

Tweet If you have mastered one-hand typing. If you have mastered doing household chores with only one hand. If you have managed to teach yourself to use the non-dominant hand because your dominant hand is now dominated by a baby that prefers your arm more than anything else. If you curse at the mailman for […]

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A glimpse of the future…

March 11, 2010 no manual for parenting

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Twelveteen Going on Thirty

March 10, 2010 no manual for parenting

Tweet The best description of what it is like to be a parent is a comment left by suesue on Merrilymarylee’s Weblog: Having a child was deciding to have your heart walking around outside your body forever . My oldest turned 12 this week. 12. That is a full Zodiac Cycle. I am sure it […]

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Warning Signs: To hell in a handbasket

March 8, 2010 a picture is worth a thousand words

Tweet I know that the Catholic Church, and many other Christian churches, has a complicated relationship with Science. So I appreciated the fact that they DO indeed include Science in the curriculum for Catholic schools. In the public schools that my kids have been to, Science has always been taken as a given. There was […]

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