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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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Throw Up

March 23, 2010

in random

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 musings on throw-up does not offend.

We all know that eating disorder is debilitating and sometimes life-threatening. If you or your loved ones suffer from bulimia, I hope you are not offended by this post either.

Oh, by the way, just to save you from disappointment: I am NOT pregnant.

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If I feel compelled to include a long preamble before I feel comfortable talking about a subject, why do I even do it?

Because I am sick and tired of throwing up. I am sick of feeling sick. And I need to purge some knots and bolts inside my cranium shaken loose undoubtedly when my body was rejecting whatever was inside me, with brutal force. This is my mental throw-up. Again.

Let’s start from the beginning, and I’ll share a secret with you. I can hold my liquor really well, and I believe that I can drink most people under the table. Two tricks: will power is Number One. If you are determined to get drunk, you will behave like a fool after downing a non-alcoholic beer. When I feel the buzz, the glittery invitation to Happy Land, “Just let go!” I tell myself, “Do not get drunk. If you feel like screaming, just smile. If you feel like howling, just cry.” The second trick, the Secret, is GO THROW UP. I am a champion at throwing up. No shit. Any businessman (I used the gender-specific term for a reason) worth his weight in Taiwan (and I suspect in many Asian countries) knows how to force himself to throw up when he finds himself no longer able to hold the liquor. You go throw up, you come back, you keep up the good fight at the table. Drinking and deal-making (or whatever it is that you are going after) come hand in hand. Whoever lasts the longest wins.

As a woman you soon learn the trick. You drink them under the table. You beat them at their own game.

So I have that history with vomiting. To some extent, I see it is a way for your body to help you clear the mental department, get rid of whatever doesn’t jive with your insides. At the very least, your hangover won’t be as bad the next day.

With both of my children, I suffered from what they would call “severe Morning sickness” only that my morning seemed to last the entire fucking day.

I am sorry if I am not writing in paragraphs. I am just spewing out sentences now. A period makes a sentence, you see.

I actually lost weight during both of my pregnancies. More than 15 lbs. in the first two weeks. Big boobs, thin waist. What I had dreamed of having all along. Whoever is up there does have a wicked sense of humor. For my second pregnancy, I threw up from the first month until the day of delivery. So combined, I’ve had more than one year of daily practice, practice for feeling the urge, for keeping it down, for letting it go.

By the end, I was a master of it. It’s almost banal.

My husband called it, Worshiping at the porcelain throne.

By the end of the violent retching, I was literally hugging the bowl. I sometimes invoked the deity in the midst of tears, “What do you want? What else do you want? There is nothing. Nothing left. Can’t you see?” Still, the mythical force inside me tugged at the innards so I dry heaved, gagged, my mouth opened, my rib cage lifted and compressed, air rushed out along with one of the most dreadful, despairing sounds. I imagine I sounded like a banshee. Probably looked like one too.

And surprise, surprise, I have a theory for this too: if men could get pregnant, we’d have found a cure for morning sickness before we’d sent a man to the moon.

Lately my head is constantly inside a toilet bowl. After every meal. I am suffering from perpetual motion sickness as if I could sense the movement made by the Earth.

Somehow my current condition reminds me of the toilet scene from Train Spotting a lot. You know the scene I was talking about. The one when he fell into the absolutely disgusting, beyond description, you have to see it to understand the magnitude of what it means to earn the label “The Worst Toilet in Scotland”, toilet bowl.

My permanent nausea is caused by something decidedly unpoetic: allergy. The chain of reactions goes like this:

Allergy. Sinus. Ears. The little hair in your ears that I always imagine to look like Nemo’s anemone swaying in a vacuum. Dizziness. Motion sickness. Puke.

I walk around all day going about my daily routines, feeling transparent. I could tell the specific locations of my digestive track: Here is my stomach. Here my esophagus. Here my throat. Here my mouth.

Unlike the main character in Sartre’s Nausea who soon started questioning his own existence, the urge forces me to come to terms with my physicality. The whole lot of meatiness. The anatomy. There is no getting away from it. I feel my existence. And it is not really a good feeling to be acutely aware of yourself at all times. I am the red person under a special “Oh no she’s going to puke” detector.

I keep my mouth pressed tightly so nothing would come out by accident. I go about my business: making the kids dinner. Doing the dishes. Gesturing for them to eat their dinner otherwise there’ll be price to pay. Giving them “the look”. At the same time I sense the stuff being squeezed all the way into my brain. Through my cheekbone, the veins, into the temple areas. Behind my eyes.

“Sorry, kids. Mommy has to go throw up.”

“Ok, mom.”

I walk calmly upstairs, change out of my good clothes, turn on the radio, turn on the fan, spray Clorox cleaner on the floor and the rim and the bowl of the toilet, scrub the toilet, flush the toilet. And I get ready for the wave.

The toilet bowls are sparkling clean in my house lately. Because staring at a dirty bowl when I am throwing up makes me nauseous.

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ETA: Wisdom gleaned from Christine‘s Comment: “Lesson learned: drink hard and vomit gently.”

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“precisely ninety-one centimeters from himself”

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You never know what’s going to remind you of your childhood…

January 26, 2010 random

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