Sunday, February 10, 2013

My Grandma Passed Away

My grandmother was critically ill in the hospital. She shared a room with two other old ladies. We all thought that she would not make it and all our aunts and uncles came from far away to see her and told her the same lie that they “just happened to be in town.”
      My parents had tried so hard through their connections to get a special kind of medicine for my grandmother. At the same time, I just finished a comic book about how an ancient young scholar used a magic bag to scare all the ghosts who came to take him when it was time for him to die. He drove them away again and again by simply saying “magic bag, magic bag, collect all the ghosts and throw them far away.” He lived a few hundred years. When the ghosts came back again, he asked them if they wanted to go in the magic bag. They simply left. I did not have this magic bag and I had not been taught any beliefs. My grandmother was the closest thing I had and I did not want to let her die. It was so despairing; I closed my eyes and imagined that I had the magic bag and said the magic words in my mind by my grandmother’s bed and even far away. I drove the ghosts into the magic bag. I prayed for her to get better and it worked. She was better.
      The woman by the window in her room looked like she was in her 50’s, young and strong. She was alone and no one came to see her. I could tell that she was looking forward to see someone she knew since there were so many people surrounding my grandmother. I felt sorry for her and I tried my best to help her too. She was trying to get up to use the bathroom. I told her to use the bedpan and I would empty the pan for her while I took care of my grandmother’s. She was so grateful. She died only two days after she entered the hospital.
      The woman on the other side of my grandmother was there a long time before my grandmother arrived. Her children came to visit her a lot, especially the oldest son. He often lowered his head so that one of his ears was close to hear what she was trying to say. She was very weak and pale. We did not know who he was until my oldest uncle came to see my grandma from Zigong (自贡). He recognized him right away when he walked in. She happened to be the owner’s wife of the salt company where my oldest uncle used to work to support my grandma’s family back in Gongjin (贡井). He talked a few minutes with my uncle alone, said hi to all of us then left the room. His mother died the next day. Life had such a way to arrange for them to be together again. Two old ladies lay side by side, but they could not recognize each other or talk to each other any more. My uncle had never seen them after 1949, so this was a quick and sad goodbye. It was awful to let my grandmother watch the two ladies on each side of her be carried out. She felt fortunate that she was the one who walked out of that room while the other two died, especially the wife of the salt owner. Although I liked the good son who was taking good care of his mother, my grandmother give me the impression that the other family was not our friend, but we had shared history together.  
    As my studies became more intense, my grandmother’s health declined. I had learned to give her injections at home. We still shared a full bed together since she came to live with us. My desk was next to her bed. She still tried her best to help me study. She shooed my brother and my sister away when they bothered me; she peeled oranges and fed me while I studied next to her. She joked, saying that she might not be able to see me in College. I told her she would and I would make sure it happened, as if I had power to chase the ghosts away. She told me she was pleased to move into our house because of me. She was grateful for all the special care I gave to her. She said she could die happy any day. I covered her mouth with my hand and said, “stop talking like that.”
She was admitted into the hospital again. This time she had a room for herself and was not in critical care. My father was on a long assignment (for six months) in Beijing. I took turns with my mom to go to the hospital and care for my grandmother. At the same time, we had a month before the national entry exam. Our three fast classes out of sixteen senior classes were not concentrated enough. The school again chose all the highest possible students in all subjects to form a super fast class or (“Rocket” class). Again my grades allowed me to join this super fast class. Since I had to go to the hospital regularly to help my grandmother, I was one of the few students who rode a bicycle to school to save time. I also rode from the school to the hospital to visit my grandmother.
    One morning while I was in English class, reading Hans Christian Andersen's "The Little Match Girl", a colleague of my mom’s showed up at the door of our classroom. The teacher asked me to go out of the classroom to see this person. My mom’s colleague told me that my grandmother had died that morning. My mom tried to leave a message for the school by phone. When I didn’t show up at the hospital, my mom’s colleague came in person to inform me. I felt my head exploding. I was ready to rush to the hospital with my bicycle. My mom’s colleague said she would take me instead because my mom did not want me to ride my own bike. My grandmother’s face was covered with a white cloth. I couldn’t believe that she could just die since unlike the last time, she was not even critically ill. She was better the day before. We were talking about her going home. So, I removed the cloth covering her face, hoping that she was still alive. She was motionless. Then I started to cry and asked my mom what happened. She explained that my grandmother had bad complications. Finally, my mom held her up. My mother wanted me to comb her hair like I usually did at home, before the nurse came to take her away from the room.
I took a week off from school to help my mom make arrangements. We sent telegrams to all of the relatives to come. Unfortunately, my father was also in the hospital in Beijing and couldn’t come. I don’t remember why, but I had the most arguments with my mother and my uncle/aunts that week. I complained about everything they did. They did not do the best for my grandmother, as if I was my grandma’s rightful daughter instead of them. Suddenly, I felt so alone because my mom and all my aunts/uncles ganged up against me, even my youngest aunt. She had always been on my side.
Finally, my grandmother was cremated. I will never forget seeing them push my grandmother into the fire. My grandmother told me a long time ago that she didn’t want to be cremated. My grandfather had his coffin made when he was young. I was never able to go to the porch because I was afraid of the coffin there. My grandfather wanted to save his coffin for my grandmother. He said my grandmother was afraid of fire; he did not have anything else to give her. My grandmother kept a lot of jewels, china, and silk in one of her chests hoping to carry them with her in the coffin. In her later years, especially after she moved in with us in big city, she realized that it was impossible to be buried. There just weren’t any plots available. She told me that she was scared but since my grandfather was cremated, she would follow him, hoping he could guide her.
     The night after her cremation, I had a dream that I still remember clearly today. It took place in the crematorium. I was inside the dark crematorium, where bodies were lined up for cremation. I found my grandmother; first she was just lying there like everyone else. Then she opened her eyes and said, “where am I?” At the same time, we heard her name called from a loud speaker that it was her turn. Two uniformed men came to us; they were carrying her away. I was screaming, “no, no, my grandmother is still alive. No.” Later on during my college years, I still dreamed about her. She was alive with us in regular life.
After that week, I went back to school and found out why I didn’t get my mom’s phone message. We had another “Han Ying” in our grade, the other and only Han in a different class had to share the same name with me. She had a grandmother at home. Instead of me, she was informed that her grandmother had died. She ran home to see her grandmother cooking in their kitchen. She was really angry with the school. The school finally realized that they had told the wrong person with the same name.
I thought I was crazy. I often brought stuff into her bedroom or called for her forgetting that she was gone; I would freeze there for a few minutes with tears in my eyes. My mom did not stop me from whatever I was doing, she knew I loved my grandmother. My mind was not working at all when I returned to school. I dreamed that I was at the national entry exam one night and my grandmother died the next night. For the rest of my studies, I was very passive, I felt that I was a cow with a rope hanging through my nose being pulled by my teachers. Sometimes, I felt stupid. I was often late for class, sometimes late for exams because I had overslept. I was shocked that I could sleep until 9 am without hearing the loud alarm clock that I set the night before. We didn’t get home until late each night, sometimes at 11 PM. My teacher usually walked Wei-lin, Renwei, and me home for safety since we lived nearby, yet outside of the old city gate. There is river enclosed the old city (no longer walls) and a bridge with a gate in four directions. We lived on the east side after passing the bridge where most industrial complexes were. We three girls are now working in US and we are our teacher’s greatest pride, sadly none of us married to Chinese men. Even now, I am still grateful for what the teachers did every step of the way. I really understood why people called the teachers the “engineers of our mind.” They did not get any extra pay for their extra work and just wanted us to do our best. They measured their jobs on how successful their students became, not by how many years they worked. Without them, there were no possibilities for me to come that far.
Photo that we took in memory of my grandma who died in 1978. Me in the back with my older cousin in the middle, and my brother on the other side.  My sister in front of me, and other cousins