How to Say Goodbye

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This weekend, we said goodbye to Grandma and conclude a 2-week ordeal of watching her slowly pass away.  I’ve never had to watch someone die.

About two weeks ago I went to visit her at hospice care. Something was so ominous about that visit. It was the last time I saw her alive. When I came into her room Uncle Tony was also there. She was between asleep and awake. Her food tray lay untouched. Uncle said that she hadn’t eaten all day. There were some days she’d want to eat, and others when she would. And I use the word ‘eat’ very loosely. If she wanted to, she’d eat some puree stuff or yogurt. Uncle and I tried to feed her but she took in very little of the vanilla puree. She’d keep her mouth shut and shake her head no.

On this day we had the opportunity for the two of us to sit, just grandmother and granddaughter. I was saying to her that it was ok for her to let go. I also told her I was sorry that I never got to write her story. I had always imagined that my great novel would revolve around her life. Many times I’ve thought to bring a voice recorder to visit her and ask her questions about her life, about what it was like to live life under Japanese invasion, life as a single mother and starting life again as an immigrant. I think I did it once but I remember it was very difficult because at that point she had trouble hearing me. I felt the guilt that all writers know- the guilt of the unwritten story. But this time my guilt felt doubly weary and heavy, thinking that I owed this story to grandma. I wept at her bedside, believing I had somehow failed her.

When she saw my tears, she frowned gravely and with great difficulty tried to pull her arms up and over the covers. At first I thought she was motioning that she wanted something. Grandma hadn’t been able to talk in awhile. I looked around to see what she could want and she instead grabbed my hand. I wept even more. I was there to comfort her, but little did I know that she was there to comfort me. I held her hand tight and it was still so warm. Her body was wasting away and she was refusing food, but there was still this fire of life in her. This little old lady wanted to be there in that moment to comfort her granddaughter who was weeping over her. I had to laugh out loud at the terrific irony. So I said, ok grandma I’m stopping, I’m stopping, as I wiped my tears away and managed a smiled. She smiled back. I remember thinking that I don’t remember the last time I held her hand.

I feel weary. Chin died not even 2 months ago and now grandma. My heart has felt so heavy. I find it hard to believe that the same God who bestows blessings, is the same one who takes away. One night, I remember asking David why I had to feel such sadness like this. He said, “You have family and friends…” And I wouldn’t have it any other way. To be blessed with family and friends means experiencing laughter, affection, and love. It also means knowing that one day you’ll have to let go and say goodbye. This year, God has taken two of my loved ones, but He also gave me David and He continues to shower His blessings on me. God’s also given me pen and paper to write.

One of the last things I told Grandma was that I would need her help in writing my story. I told her I wasn’t any good and I would need her to send whatever heavenly help she could.

In Grandma’s last moments I’m sure she was thinking about everything she hadn’t done and was maybe filled with a bit of regret. She’s not here now and I hope she’s made her peace with whatever was holding her down. She’s run out of time, but I haven’t. I have a story to write.

96

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What would you do if you lived till you were 96 years old? What would you do in that time? What kind of life would you lead? Would you look back with pride? Fondness? Or shame and regret? Would you remember anything at all?

Grandma turned 96 years old today. She’s at the point where I can’t ask her such heavy-handed questions. But what I can tell you is that the proof is in the pudding. Grandma has  3 sons, 7 grandchildren and 10 great grand children. She’s survived WWII under Japanese invasion, when she put chicken blood on her clothes and blackened her naturally light complexion with dirt so that the Japanese would keep from raping her. She suffered the death of her first husband, who was woefully murdered over an argument regarding a transaction of water buffalo. After that she somehow, she picked herself up and married again and had her last 2 boys.

She left everything she’d ever known and came to the US in the 70s, working with Dad in the burgeoning Silicon Valley, making microchips in a long factory line for semiconductors. A decade later, she welcomed me and JR to the States not only as full-time grandma, but also as babysitter, cook, and guardian angel. Every morning, she’d prepare our breakfasts and lunches and would walk us to school. Promptly at 2:15pm she would stand outside the school gates with her trusty blue umbrella, waiting to escort me and JR home. My friends always thought it was weird that she’d use that umbrella as we walked in the sunshine. I never understood it either. In fact, I have no memory of ever walking in the rain with that umbrella.

Our family business that put me and JR through school was built on her special recipe of spices for our homemade lechon. To this day, no one knows that perfect blend of salt, pepper, lemongrass and love that makes our lechon the most delicious people have ever had. Every day, she’d go through her chores of sweeping up in front of the house, taking out the garbage and whatever else the house needed. I’d tell her that she shouldn’t be doing such things at her age, but she said she liked doing them because she felt strong. Every night like clockwork, she’d plop herself down in front of the TV and watch Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy.

In my early adult life, she worried about my virginity and questioned my choice in men and choices I made in my relationships. To that end she only offered this sage advice regarding my supposed purity: ‘if the flower is touched, it loses its fragrance.’ Is it any wonder that she’d always try to sniff the top of my head whenever I saw her? She was a born a singer and poet. She’d preface her Happy Birthday songs with beloved Ilocano folk songs. And on every Mother’s Day, she’d recite a poem she learned all the way back from 7th grade, about how very important it was to love your mother.

Her small birthday today made me sad. She didn’t remember me again. But as we made our goodbyes and put her to bed, she insisted on escorting us to the door in her walker. She has always been this way. No matter the hour, she always wants to properly bid goodbye to her loved ones. And through this small and simple act, she begins to remember me again. She repeats my name over and over and I am overwhelmed with bittersweet love. She sings her goodbyes, saying how much she’ll miss me. I’m the last thing on her mind before we part ways again. Perhaps that’s what’s most important. What if this would be the last time I would see her?

I shook the thought out of my mind and did my best to sear that moment in my memory. As she said her goodbyes, she pushed her walker forward, dancing and singing. That’s how I always want to remember her, dancing and singing into the light. And I know somewhere deep inside her memory, she will always come back and remember me.

Misplaced Memory

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The other night I was knee-deep in paperwork, trying to look for the pink slip to my car (don’t ask). Sifting through all that paper, was like taking a trip down memory lane. I was looking at stuff that was at least 10 years old. Business cards from failed ventures, from people I vaguely remember or purposely chose to forget. Scribbles of writing on pieces of paper that I probably wanted to work on for later, sadly thrown by the wayside. My birth certificate, old pictures, bills, paystubs, my evolving resume as I struggled to find a job.

Perhaps that saddest thing to see were remnants of relationships long gone. Post-it notes with simple professions of love from John. Old pictures with Cris and his family. I have no want of ever going back to that time, but my heart ached. At one point each of these men were the focal point and the center of my life. And I was that for them. But here they were now, just a piece of a paper in a forgotten pile. Aren’t all relationships destined for this? One day, won’t we all just forget?

I couldn’t breathe and I sat back staring at this sad pile. I thought about Grandma who’s recently been struggling with her own memory. When she went into the hospital last month, I came by to visit her on my own. I hugged her and asked her how she was and did the best I could to make her as comfortable as possible. After being with her for about half an hour, she had a faraway look in her eyes and asked, “What’s your name?” My heart sank. “It’s me Grandma, it’s Virginette.” She looked at my hair, my face, and said, “You look just like my granddaughter. Her name is Virginette too.”

I turned away just as mom and dad walked into the room. I buried myself in a box of tissues and wondering why she couldn’t remember. She could always remember mom, dad, and JR, just never me. I’d never felt so alone and discarded. I knew she loved me but wondered what was so unmemorable about me that Grandma would forget.

I think about that movie, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, where a couple suffers a horrible breakup, and they go to extremes to erase any memory they have of the relationship. I recall there being a time when I wanted to do that in my relationships. I wanted to erase every single thing because it hurt too much to remember. But what happens when that time in life is something wonderful?

My childhood was wonderful mostly because of Grandma. She’d walk us to and from school and would be the one to cook for us and prepare our lunches. Everything she did was out of perfect love. This is what I remember of her and it pained me that she couldn’t do the same.

I will never forget anyone’s who’s greatly affected my life and I’d like to think that they wouldn’t forget me. I’m just having a hard time dealing with the transient nature of relationships and life in general. Nothing is forever, I know, but is it so wrong to crave for something that will actually stick?

As I move forward now, I wonder if I’ll be a shadow of a memory, or a scrap of paper in the bottom pile of someone’s desk. I’m so tired of being someone’s past and not someone’s present.