In Loving Memory of Yea-Yea

Random Observation/Comment #322: I’ve been listening to “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn on Audible all day. In this novel, Amy is a Magazine Personality test writer.  Here is my version of a question I’ve been asking myself all day:

Q: When your grandfather passes away, do you?
A) Cry upon hearing the news and drink some blue label scotch in loving memory
B) Take the next day off from work and sulk around all day
C) Spend a day listening to comedy specials, watching youtube videos, and doing little productive things to occupy your mind
D) Sit down and reflect on his life and your own.
E) Write because it’s the only thing that helps clear your mind.

see lemons love grandpa

I have done all of the above since I heard the news.  Upon answering the phone, Mom’s weak and murmured “Sai Lo ah…” was enough to set the tone and tell me the whole story without listening further.  Before she told me, I already knew and my mind raced into a thousand directions thinking from all the perspectives of my family.  How’s Dad taking it? Does Angus know yet? What am I supposed to say? Do I call? What will happen to Grandma?

I didn’t really hear much more of our phone conversation and I needed a few minutes to settle my emotions and sort my thoughts.  It was difficult for the latter when all I could do is feel, and all I felt was the loss from another era.  I wish I spoke with him more about his past and how he met Grandma or stories about the tea factory, but alas, by the time I realized the value of parents and grandparents as friends to share stories, it was already too late.

I knew how important stories were around senior year of High School, but by then, Grandpa didn’t place me on his lap and go off explaining any wild moments in history with “When I was your age…”  We didn’t sit around a fireplace and talk about when he was a kid or about how he raised his 6 children. Instead, we talked about me.  He gave me advice about my problems (like I had anything worth complaining about) and told me rights and wrongs.  Why didn’t he tell me the story behind why he thought things were good and bad?  Did he not remember these stories anymore?  Is this what will happen to my accomplishments and revelations from trial and error – just lost in my generation to let others make their own mistakes?  Maybe I asked the wrong questions… Or maybe as the man of the Wan Family, he had already raised too many children to remember which stories were already told.

There’s this gap in my mind with Grandpa’s life that I hope his children will explain in some way.  The Grandpa I know was one well into the ages of retirement.  I saw my grandparent’s lives as a series of routines sprinkled with some dinners and family reunions.  They lived with face and pride knowing they raised successful sons and daughters.  Although Grandpa never bragged, Grandma would surely bring up the successes of her children and grandchildren at Mahjong games with neighbors and friends.  Even though he didn’t say it, I’m sure he was proud of all of us.  I’m sure he knew his legacy and responsibility was well-fulfilled, and he earned all of it with his hard work and sacrifice.

Grandpa was a tea master. Having worked at the tea factory all his life, he could tell the brand by smell alone.  Spending his whole life with one trait will lead to this mastery.  It reminds me of Jiro’s dream of sushi (I guess his documentary would be Man’s dream of tea).  His mind stayed sharp even in his 80s when he could recite any phone number or any number of complicated bus transfers to get anywhere in Hong Kong.  He wasn’t an old man you’d think to help cross the street – he was the person you’d follow and trust.  He was the patriarch that everyone would confer for his blessing.  And with that stature, there was one feeling everyone uniformly had for him: Respect.

In the past few years, Grandpa had a few medical issues from a lifetime of smoking.  He lost most of his hearing and needed a respirator for his labored breathing.  It was difficult to see him that way when I last visited in May 2012, but I knew why he kept his routine.  It was all for Grandma.  Even the few days before he went to the emergency room, he said “What will Mom (Grandma) do? I can’t leave her.”  In context, it was for a late night visit, but I think he knew.  That’s true love: to stay alive when everything else is done and to keep your wife company as they’ve grown old together.

Grandpa had come to accept that his contributions to his family was completed.  He had led a successful life and in the last months had started to become more of a burden living day by day with less purpose and more suffering.  It wasn’t a disease or accident that killed him – he was old and his body could not keep up with his will.  I’d like to believe that death freed him and he died happy.

Grandpa didn’t create an empire with money or property, but he was wealthy. He was wealthy from those who love him and those who will carry and spread the memory of him to generations beyond.  I can only wish my life will be as successful as yours, Grandpa.

~See Lemons Love and Miss Grandpa