Friday, April 3, 2015

Auspicious Grandma

                          Paw Paw's visit to Kwan Di Temple during the lunar new year of 2006.
                      Both Paw Paw & Gong Gong's memorial are now established at this temple. 

One of this blog's early entry was about my maternal grandma or Paw Paw in Cantonese (See “Bác sĩ chy - Doctor Ran Away"), and on March 21st, my family and I scattered her ashes at the Santa Cruz Beach. Just like Gong Gong (Cantonese for maternal grandfather) decades ago, Paw Paw went to sleep peacefully and did not wake up in the morning. My family received a phone call from the convalescent home early Monday morning on March 2, 2015 informing us that Paw Paw passed away at 6:00AM. She ended this very life at the age of 92, survived by her only daughter (my mom), son-in-law, four grandchildren and many siblings, relatives and friends. She lived a very long and peaceful life, an auspicious life.

As her second grandchild, I often visited Paw Paw at the convalescent home that she stayed at since 2007 with my mom and sometimes by myself and occasionally with siblings and friends. Looking back, these eight years of weekly visitations seem so momentary in comparison to my often fast-paced and packed schedule outside the vicinity of the nursing home. Life there is often mundane and follows a seasonal rhythm signaled by the holiday-driven decorations throughout the center. The slowing down of the physical body and the mental processes in the natural aging process of the elderly citizens there set the center core of a slow-paced life at the nursing home. Unlike a preschool center with vibrant children dazzling and running around, many of the nursing home residents are on wheelchair and some are bedridden until a staff or a family member comes around to wheel them to and fro. 

Paw Paw, on the other hand, had always been one of the more healthier residents there. In the early years, she used to walk with a walker and take care of all her personal hygiene (brushing teeth, restroom and bathing) on her own. She was independent and enjoyed her independence. She was a loving and loyal wife to Gong Gong and together they had seven daughters. My mom is the eldest and the only surviving one; six of her younger sisters passed away before the age of thirteen. Gong Gong passed away at the age of 39 and Paw Paw was a widow since. So she certainly had decades of training to be independent.

Paw Paw was introvert in nature and preferred indoor and away from the crowd. Her room 229C
was situated in a corner in the most inner room of the convalescent home. My mom is the opposite. She is extrovert, prefers outdoor and be in the company of people. Throughout these last eight years, my mom had been diligently visiting Paw Paw three times a week. She cooked Paw Paw's favorite Chinese or Vietnamese dishes and bought her cookies, candies, snacks, flowers, denture tapes, coloring books and pencils, and anything that Paw Paw needed and requested. Rather than leaving the laundry task to the nursing home staff, Mom also took Paw Paw's laundry home, washed and folded them, and then brought them back to the nursing home. And each journey to the nursing home was no easy task. Because Mom doesn't drive, she normally would need to take several buses and walk to and from buses stops so a one-way trip is approximately more than an hour long. Occasionally, Mom would get rides from her children, relatives or friends who were visiting Paw Paw also.

Several weeks prior to Paw Paw's passing, her memory was poor and she failed to recognize Mom. During Mom's regular visit, she would ask, "Who are you? I don't remember you." 

Then her memory regained its former clarity two weeks prior to her departure. Paw Paw expressed to Mom, "Thank you so much for all your help. Thank you so much for taking care of me." 
         Mom responded, "I am your daughter. You don't need to thank me."
         Paw Paw answered, "Yes, you are my daughter but I still need to thank you."

Paw Paw often thanked me in my last half year of visits as she no longer recognized me. During my solo visits, she often asked me who my mother was, do I have any siblings and am I married. She often advised me to find a good man. I had developed a routine to bring her home-cooked food, gave her acupressure massage and cleaned up her living corner so that she can enjoy a tidy and fresh environment. Occasionally while massaging her, I would sing songs to her or chant the Heart Sutra and other sutras. This transitory time spent with her always brought a smile to our faces. 

Being in the nursing home environment is an effectual reminder of the sufferings of aging, illness and death. The sights of debilitation, the periodic holler and murmur of the residents, the stench and fetor of diseases-all signals the deterioration of the body. When I first brought Talersak to the nursing home to introduce to Paw Paw, I expressed to Talersak, "You are looking into the future version of me because one day I will be old just like Paw Paw. This youthful look is impermanence." All that arises will pass. This is the law of nature. 

Holding her biodegradable urn made of compact sand close to me on a sailboat in the sea, I chanted several suttas for her followed by the Heart Sutra in Sanskrit before dropping the urn into the ocean. 


"Going, going, going on beyond, always going on beyond, always becoming Buddha."


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