February 5, 2017

A Letter To My 嬤嬤(Grandma)


嬤嬤, the last time I remember having a real conversation with you was when I was five. We were between the dining and living rooms, by the sofa that used to serve as a divider. Your left leg was hoisted up, with your foot resting on the top of the sofa for balance. You laughed as I tried to do the same with my tiny leg, trying to stretch like you. At seventy something, you were still so flexible and full of life. I leaned on the back of the sofa with my head, watching you arch sideways, hands stretched over your head, one hundred times before switching to your other side to stretch another one hundred times.

About a year before that, Grandpa was walking me home from preschool like he did everyday. We were still living in Brooklyn, then. My Tweety bird backpack swung emptily from side to side as I paraded down the street. I noticed a dark grey cloud in the distant; it stood out profoundly against the sunny sky. I asked Grandpa what it was, who suggested that it might be a fire somewhere. My attention skipped away from the Twin Towers, and my nose picked up the aroma of someone's lunch wafting out their open window. 我很肚饿啊! I'm so hungry! I shouted. Grandma's cooking lunch right now. We can eat when we get home, Grandpa smiled. That's what I remember most about that day. You always took care of us.


嬤嬤, I don't have a lot of memories with you before you were hospitalized. I remember what happened afterwards, but I've had to learn about who you were through stories that Grandpa and Dad told. 

嬤嬤, you were a nurse practitioner, and a good one at that. You traveled to the most rural and isolated areas, healing people who didn't have any access to a doctor. Your patients there were too poor to pay you, but you helped them anyways. You exemplified so much selfless love before you heard who Jesus was. Dad said that throughout his childhood, the house was always full of homemade food, gifts that your patients made to express their gratitude. 

You weren't always a nurse, though. 嬤嬤, you gave up your practice when you came to the United States. You had moved around quite a bit already; Dad said that the communist government was after Grandpa. After living briefly in Hong Kong and San Francisco, you settled in New York City, where you got a job at a sweatshop. Your employer was horrible, and he abused his workers, including you. 

嬤嬤, you came home one day with a bruise on your head. Dad and Grandpa wanted to call the police, but you made them promise not to. You didn't want more trouble, and you needed that job. 
嬤嬤, you went back and continued to work. You were so brave.

Over a decade later, you met me. During those first five years of my life, you and Grandpa were always there when Mom and Dad were working. You took us to the park, you stayed at home with us as Grandpa picked up a slice of pizza for us every Monday, you cooked every meal for us, you even potty trained us.

嬤嬤, one June morning in New Jersey, Wilson and I were perched on the edge of the bed in your and Grandpa's room. We were watching Dragon Tales like we did every summer morning, but that morning, you had a bad headache. You were still resting in bed. Grandpa turned the volume down, and called your sister. She drove over, and before I knew it, firefighters were in your room. Minutes later, Wilson and I stood by the door, watching as paramedics lifted you onto a backboard. Soon after, we were in a car, watching PowerPuff Girls, and on our way to the hospital. 

嬤嬤, we prayed for you every night. My Sunday School prayer journal consistently read, Pray for: Wilson to be nicer, no Chinese school, and Grandma to feel better. It was a long summer, but you finally came home several months later. I was so excited to show you my toys, but Dad said you needed to rest. 

嬤嬤, you never recovered fully, but you made so much progress - you learned to walk again! Grandpa took on everything you were formerly responsible for, including cooking. He took care of you and of us. 

嬤嬤, as I write this, I feel scared. I'm racking my brain, trying to remember what you were like during those middle years, after you left the hospital and before Grandpa died. I don't think I spent very much time with you...I can't come up with much. I remember you marveling at how much taller I had gotten when we were brushing our teeth in the bathroom. I remember you complimenting my teeth when I got my braces off. I remember the one horrifying fall after school four years ago. You were so brave.

Truth be told, 嬤嬤, the last 1.5-ish years with you are stronger in my memory, not only because they're the most recent, but also because that's when I spent the most time with you. Without Grandpa, we had to take care of you and spend more time with you. I got really frustrated sometimes. I wasn't spending the rest of my senior year and college breaks like my classmates. I wanted to be taken care of. I wanted to live carefree. 

But throughout it all, you taught me what unconditional love is. It's sacrificial. It's humbling. It's patient.

嬤嬤, though I only have snapshots of your past, I know in my heart that you've given up more for us than I'll ever know. You took that risk to come to the United States so that your family would have a better future. I wouldn't have been born if you didn't do that. You worked exhausting, low pay jobs after all those years of practicing as a nurse. I've never had to work hard because I needed to make ends meet. Me growing up a little earlier is nothing. It was the least I could do, and I promise to take care of Mom and Dad the way they took care of you.

嬤嬤, you spent the last fifteen years suffering, and this morning, you were finally freed from the chains of this human life. Saying goodbye to you over FaceTime just a few days earlier was so heartbreaking, but you are now finally at peace. No more medications, no more spoon feeding, no more wheelchair, no more pain. You've been so brave. 

嬤嬤, today, you are reunited with our Heavenly Father. Give Grandpa a kiss from me, and I'll see you again one day. I love you so much.

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