The idea of grandparents is very important to me, and I got most of my imagery from what I see on TV. Grandparents fly into town to see their grandchildren and spend time with them, whether it’s baking cookies or taking walks together. There are lots of hugs and kisses that go around, and grandparents promise to come see their grandbabies soon.
I didn’t have that. Due to circumstances or traditional values, I’ve never been close with any of my grandparents.
My grandfather on my dad’s side passed away when my dad was a teenager. I’ve asked him what his dad was like, but my dad always gets lost in thought when I do.
My grandmother on my mom’s side passed away when I was in second grade. My family used to fly back to Taiwan every year until I reached middle school (or secondary school for non-US folks). As far as I could remember, grandma was always in the hospital. Sometimes she recognized me, and sometimes she called me by my mom’s name. I communicated with her through hand gestures because she couldn’t speak anymore. It wasn’t until later that I learned she had Alzheimer’s disease, and on top of that, brain cancer. The one memory I have of her is when I visited her in the hospital. She had lost all her hair by then and wrapped her head in a scarf because it was cold. She couldn’t remember who I was, but smiled so brightly when I held up a mandarin.
That year was especially hard. I had never seen my mom cry before. To me, my mom was always the hardass who whooped my ass. It was shocking and devastating to see her cry. At that age, I cried because my mom was broken.
Out of all my grandparents, I was closest to my grandfather on my mom’s side. He immigrated to America after grandma passed and lived with my uncle about an hour away. He never stayed over at our house because he was traditional. By that, I mean sons were always more important than daughters, and it was a huge no-no to stay at your daughter’s place. If my uncle didn’t live in the U.S., my grandfather probably would not have immigrated.
I saw him a couple of hours every month. My parents would give him an envelope of money (which is one way that Asian children show piety to their parents), and my grandpa would take a couple of bills off the top to give to me and my sister.
My grandpa enrolled himself in a nearby adult English school. He spoke to me 90% in English – I believe he was secretly using me to get better at English. I used to lay on the floor, half of me in his room and the other half in the hallway, and just watch him practice English.
He passed away when I was 22 years old. My mom texted me the news. I was at work, crumbled at my cubicle and cried. I cried for my mom’s loss because she loved her parents so much and they were both gone. I cried because I was 6,000 miles away and couldn’t give her hugs, but I was glad I was so far away because I couldn’t bear to witness her devastation either. I cried because he was the only hope I had to having that grandparent that I always wanted.
Then I only had one grandparent left: my grandma on my dad’s side.
Whenever I came to Taiwan with my dad and sister, we would always go see her. It was hard to get to her because she lived in the countryside, and we would spend an entire day just to get to her. She lived in an empty 3-story house because all the kids and grandkids moved out. The was an old-school TV in the living room with a few chairs and stools around. We’d sit around the TV, and my grandma would ask my dad in Taiwanese if we ate yet, and to bring us to that restaurant with oysters because we loved it.
We took the one and only photo together the last time I was there.
Just like my grandpa, I got the news of my grandma’s passing at work. This time I didn’t have my own cubicle because I was in an open seating area, so I went to my car to bawl. I cried once more when I was leaving work because Kesha’s song “Rainbow” came on, and I imagined my grandma walking on a rainbow to a better place. She better be.
I’m currently writing this post on a bus in Taiwan. My dad and I landed at 7:45 AM and caught the first bus that would take us towards Lukang, a city in central Taiwan. My dad’s knocked out a couple rows behind me. I wonder how he’s feeling.
To all my grandparents: thank you. Thank you for being the parents of my parents because they’re fucking awesome. I don’t know you guys that well, but I know my parents. You guys taught them to be resilient, strong, curious, and independent, which are traits they passed along to me and my sister. Rest in peace, and I love you all.