My grandmother and I were really close together. She raised me mostly and had made me who I am.
She was diagnosed with late-stage liver cancer in late December 2019, and we had been told there is not much time left. Mom called me and was weeping on the phone, telling me the news. I asked to video chat with grandma. She was lying on the bed, looking tired, but as usual, her voice was loud. She managed to smile while we were talking somehow. Looking back now, she must have made an enormous effort not to let me worry. At that time, I was in Europe, planning to return for the CES and other business meetings in the States. After the call, I felt like there might a bit more time left. Not much, but probably enough to wrap up my US business commitments before returning to China. At least that’s what I had thought.
My mom called again one day later and said grandma wanted to see me. I knew it was different now. Over the years, Grandma was always considerate about my job, my sleep, and even my diet. She must have been suffering from the condition. So I booked a last-minute flight, leaving the very next day for China.
From the Netherlands to my home town in Fujian, as it turned out, it’s about 22 hours away by flight. During those long hours, I was immersing myself in the past. I couldn’t recall much of my early childhood, but I can always remember the bits about grandma and me. She loved kissing me on the forehead, even as I grew taller and as she appeared smaller.
Some memories were so vivid they were just there in front of me when I closed my eyes, like a movie playback.
To make me eat my food when I was about five years old, grandma would make up stories about the shapes of food such as pickles: I was made to believe that some were shaped like Monkey King, and some were like evil monsters — so that a five-year-old boy would find it interesting to eat more. And believe me, I had “destroyed” a lot of those kings and evil monsters. And I was a chubby kid.
Grandma liked to save food, particularly for me. When I was a kid, she always kept me tons of cookies and treats. And I’d shamelessly indulge myself each time I visited her. Over the years, grandma still managed to save snacks for me, even though I am a grown-up man and no longer even enjoy snacks. She would some times hand me molded snacks with a happy face, as she couldn’t see the expiration date well. Each time, I’d just laugh and tell her that’s not healthy. She then brings the snacks closer to her eyes and mumbles, “how weird, why it went bad quickly.” Visibly disappointed, she had to throw away food.
Grandma was fond of music. She was a very outgoing person. She also enjoyed teaching people to dance. There were a lot of memories where I was her reluctant, awkward dance partner. Every time I messed up, she would laugh and say to me, “Silly, this is so simple…. see, just follow me like this…” Memories like this concluded many summer evenings when I was a child.
Grandma was born in 1937, before the CCP took over China. Being fierce and brave, She had gone through WWII, the Japanese invasion, the Great Chinese Famine, and then the Cultural Revolution. In my memories of her, grandma had always been a very optimistic person too. She always said, “No difficulty is too big to overcome. Things are going to pass, and life will go on.” I heard she said things like that over the years.
My grandma was one of the very first women who attended college before the Cultural Revolution. She was smart and bold. Grandma told me saddening stories about the Cultural Revolution and how she and my grandpa were persecuted just because they were intellectuals. She told me there were times when the “Red Guards” would just appear in our house and ask to take grandpa out for a “humiliation walk.” Many people committed suicide due to the emotional and physical suffering. But my grandparents survived. Grandma usually ended the stories with some conclusion like: “Things are going to pass, and life will go on,” as it was just a little chapter of her life.
After the Cultural Revolution, grandma became a math teacher in high school and community college. She loved teaching me math too! But as a young kid, I had always disliked these “after-school math sessions”. I wanted to play soccer, basketball, or just fool around with my little friends. So I tried to find ways.
Grandma didn’t have good eyesight. She had to wear glasses when trying to look for things. Most of the time, she just had a good sense of where things were. But it’s hard to track a kid who was determined to sneak out and play. My mom always fondly recalled the stories where I’d sneak out of the house and then only to surprise grandma later when she was yelling my name at the balcony. I wouldn’t say that happened many times, but indeed for the one time I can remember, Grandma was surprised and then rushed me to the dining table half-blaming, half-laughing. It was just like yesterday.
Then I went abroad. Grandma and I would talk over the phone or even video chat from time to time, but we hadn’t been spending much time together. Sometimes I would manage to visit my home town and grandma once a year but often it was usually once every few years. Each time when she saw me, she was so excited, hugging me tight, just like a little kid. The saying seems true — as you’ve grown up to be an adult, your parents and grandparents become like kids.
Each time when I’m home, grandma would give me a small piece of paper where she wrote down her “new friends” numbers and ask me to input them to the phone. Without me asking, she usually fondly told me where she made these friends, who they were, and all the gossips that related to it. There were times when I was impatient and didn’t heed the stories. But she didn’t mind — she was just happy to talk to me. Now looking back, grandma must have waited a long time to tell me all the tales of her new friends. Much like when I was in kindergarten, eagerly waiting to share my day.
As I am writing this, all of the fond memories are floating before my eyes. I am incredibly grateful for having such a caring grandma over the last 30 plus years. She had made me who I am.
Thank you; for the unconditional love that you had given me. Thank you; for demonstrating what optimism looks like in the most challenging life situation. Thank you; for teaching me how to be a courageous person, just like you.
My grandma passed away on January 5th, 2020, after fighting late-stage liver cancer.
I love you, grandma. Rest in peace.