On December 8th, 2001, the first wife of my grandfather, the woman whom I've always affectionately called "Skinny Grandmother" passed away at age 93 on the other side of the world from me. Her other named was "Ma-Ma", the revered first wife. By whatever named I call her, I will always love her.
I remember her best by a second-hand memory. My mother once told me I once boldly told my grandmother that when I grew up and got a good job, I would give her money. She had laughed and told me by the time I started earning money, she would be starting school again, reincarnated into a child by that time. When I was 16 and working at Sony Animation, I sent her a few hundred dollars to honor her hand in raising me as a baby. I was told she was very proud of me.
When my mother and I immigrated to California, she gave me the softest fleece blanket of red blossoms. I kept it on my bed for cold nights. Through the years, I had sent my grandparents tapes of my piano performances and signatures on the bottom of Christmas cards. I had taken them for granted, that they'd always be there.
When I visited to Hong Kong in the summer of 2000, the first time in 11 years, I could barely communicate with them. My Cantonese was horrible, but they still loved me. I could see it in their eyes, their smiles, their words of affection that at least I could understand and listen to.
I can only hope that somewhere, my grandmother will understand this, and be proud of me. I love you, Yeh-Yeh, Ma-Ma, and Ah-Ma. The roots of my heart will always be playing mah-jong with you two and Tin Chi with Yeh-Yeh's laughter if I won.
At 10:30am, November 16, 2002, I woke up. I had been visiting with my friends in San Diego and I drove home at 2pm. When I arrived home, it had already been too late. My grandmother had died just as I was waking up... she had waited for my mother to arrive and treat her well with a makeshift Chinese last rites before she passed away.
My maternal grandmother had a vicious life. Everyone on my mother's side had escaped the Vietnam war by the skin of their teeth. My mother's maiden name is effectively dead: all my uncles took the names of dead men to get out of Vietnam. My grandmother was lucky enough to be a refugee and come to America first, allowing blood ties to get my mother and I to America.
For the first few years in America, my grandmother allowed my mom and I to live with her and she took care of me afterschool. She had a hard job and walked to my school to pick me up everyday, buying me food and encouraging me to eat anything I wanted. She spoiled me rotten. She spoiled everyone rotten.
My mother and I didn't move far away and we'd visit a few times a month. I always had a large, sloppy kiss for her cheek and her eyes would crinkle to nothing as she smiled. I loved making her laugh because she looked sad otherwise.
Since the year 2000, she had been plagued with disease and surgeries. Smoking had taken its toll and diabetes held her body in constant pain and decline. I kept trying not to cry in the hospitals, especially when they wouldn't allow me to hold her hand during her bout with pneumonia. Her hand was cold unless I warmed it, I thought. When it was clear that nothing would help her, I prayed for her to slip away quickly, so as to spare her even further pain.
Now that she is gone, I still do not regret my wish. I only regret that I didn't get one last kiss, one last good-bye. But I guess that is how it always is and I know that she knew I loved her well.