It’s Qing Ming and for those first few minutes after we get there, my heart aches and I miss my Kung Kung so so much…I just wish he could have met J just one time.
Just so he would know that I was well taken care of and that I did not want for anything.
That he could sit with J, and that the man that taught me kindness and humility, could meet the man that taught me to be safe again.
They bring flowers and lay out his favorites: bak kut teh and pak cham kai, bak chang and pao, siew yoke and chek hup coffee.
There are bags and boxes of intricate paper goods to be burnt, a belief that it will reach him and take care of him, honoring the man that has spent his whole life always making sure we had the best.
I smile because my grandfather has thought to include carved tables and chairs in the family plot on top of the hill. I am so sure that some part of my mother hen organizational need comes from him and I delight in that part of him that lives in me.
I wait by the side, as my uncles and aunts light up joss sticks and put out gifts to the Gods that take care of his resting place.
I don’t know these rituals, it is complex and steeped in generations of Buddhists before me. Their beliefs are different from mine and I am not forced to participate but I go with them. Instead of lighting “lucky” candles, I help my aunt sort out the mountain of food she has brought.
Instead of getting down in front of the altar, I get my uncle to take a drink because he is panting from lugging the metal drum he will use to burn his paper offerings. He won’t let me help him carry it because he is worried I will hurt my back.
I am the youngest here today, the lowest on the hierarchy totem pole but yet they look out for me when it is really my job to take care of them.
I see my grandpa’s heart in their actions and I promise myself and the generations after me that they too will know this legacy of love.
My grandpa liked to eat early, but on Sundays, he would wait till after we got done with church before gathering up the troops for a big family lunch.
He never held our beliefs against, instead he practiced inclusion. Instead, he led us to make space in what you believe and respect what someone else might believe in.
That above all else, you just love.
My grandpa and I would “talk” in a horrific butchery of English and Cantonese and Fu Zhao (he taught me how to say “itchy butt”) with a little bit of Malay thrown in for good measure.
It wasn’t pretty but we would mime and my grandpa would laugh this big laugh and take the time to teach me the right pronunciation.
On hot lazy afternoons, I would go over and he would humor me with a game of Mah Jong, teaching me how to play a better game even if he was already seventeen hundred steps ahead of me.
In the quiet, he would walk me through the ritual of preparing a pot of Chinese tea and he would tell me about his childhood.
When I moved away, he was always my first stop after the airport. I would walk into the dialysis center to pick him up and he would smile so big. MY GRANDDAUGHTER IS HERE he would announce to the nurses and “neighbors” and friends and these strangers would all nod at me because they knew me from the stories he told.
He would hurry up my grandma to gather all his things, shuffling as quickly as he could to his wheelchair and I would tell him, “Slow down grandpa, we have time.”
We didn’t nearly have enough time but the time that we did have was precious. My grandpa never forgot me, even when I lived halfway across the world, he took care of my homesick heart and gave me a place to belong.
I was Soh Schuen #7, an “outside” granddaughter, but I was his “Li Cher”.
It has been eight years. Sometimes it feels like it was just yesterday and sometimes it feels like a lifetime.
When I catch his empty seat at our dinner table on Chinese New Year or when the fireworks light up the sky, I carry a part of him with me, and hope he’s enjoying the show wherever he is.
My Kung Kung was love, and light, and all my bests rolled into one.
We make this pilgrimage once a year, but he is in our every day.
He is the life we live, the people we are, and the places we have come from.
My happy of the day was choosing to live in his memories over the sad, choosing his big big smile and love, choosing to wear crazy pants for my grandpa because I think it might make him laugh.
Because he has always been and will always be my yardstick and my happy place.
J originally didn’t want to post this for his #100happydays.
It was his first attempt at hearts, and it wasn’t perfectly swirled and shaped like the $10 coffees the baristas ninja out.
He wanted to take it back after he showed it to me.
He was worried that there was some panel of #100happydays judges that were going to throw out his happy and say not good enough.
Oh my heart as I explained to him that his first and his heart was a gazillion times better than any perfect heart coffee anywhere in the world.
J, I love your happy even if it’s 100 cups of coffee posts in a row.
I didn’t want you to do this so I could brag about how perfect and awesome and amazing my husband is (even though he is), I wanted to do this with you because I want to do life with you.
I want to do the hard and the silly, the stupid and the happy, the challenging and the easy.
I want to grow with you, that day #4 heart may look silly to you but who knows what day #89’s heart may look like?
It doesn’t embarrass me at all to post this.
If anything, it makes me prouder of the man I married.
Because he sees hearts in steamed milk foam.
Because his happy and his love is uncomplicated and as simple as a cup of coffee.
You let me write about the dark and the brutal honest and never once have you ever said, take it back.
Take it back because it is too ugly to post.
Take it back because it is messy and incomplete.
Take it back because it is things normal people don’t say out loud.
Instead, every time, you have honored who I am and my journey and every time, you have said, tell your story, write your hurt, I will protect you and I will listen and I am proud of you.
There is no panel of judges.
In this place we have built, there are no rules.
Your happy is my happy.
It’s as simple and as imperfectly perfect as that.
“You don’t really understand human nature unless you know why a child on a merry-go-round will wave at his parents every time around — and why his parents will always wave back.”
~ William D. Tammeus
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