Sunday, April 08, 2007

An unexpected homecoming

Instead of making movies, eating hot dogs, and telling stories around the bonfire last night with my friends, I spent a mildly awkward evening in Chicago getting ready for my grandfather's funeral (my Angkong, my father's father; visitation yesterday, Mass today, funeral tomorrow). My brother and I kept volunteering to go on grocery runs because being in the house was just so depressing. And since my twin baby cousins have displaced me from my room, I'm trying to write my AHS capstone paper in the middle of the night while sitting on top of a foam mattress crammed into the corner of the loft - it's not tall enough for me to sit up straight while typing, so I'm lying on my stomach to use the laptop, with my books and papers propped up on my luggage so I can read them. I'll get back to campus a little past midnight on Tuesday, just in time to be really hosed.

Ah, life's unexpected moments. Those reminders of how fragile the equilibrium of staying alive really is.

I feel a little guilty that I don't feel more sad, and that I feel mildly frustrated at the timing of this - it's not like someone can choose when to have a heart attack. But the truth is, I'm glad it happened this way. He was old, he'd lived a grand and full life in relatively good health, he'd just gotten to see the children of his youngest son (which he'd been waiting for for over a decade), he went quickly, without very much pain, and he was with his wife and my mother outside on a beautiful day nearby a good hospital, not alone in a house in the Philippines; no what-ifs, no "if only I'd been there"s, no "if we'd had a doctor around it wouldn't have"s. The best of all possible ways to go. You don't want it to happen, but you know something will happen eventually, and since it's got to happen, then - well... this is really the best way it could have happened.

My brother and cousins and parents and uncles and aunt seem to agree. My grandmother's been hit hard, though. I've never seen her this quiet. I'm not entirely sure what to do; she says she can't come to my graduation now that she's lost her traveling companion, but I think that coming and being with the family will be better than sitting by herself in the big empty house they used to share. Four years ago, I thought all four of my grandparents would be able to see me graduate this coming May. (I was the first grandchild to go to college.) Now I'll be lucky if any of them come.

Another thing this has made me notice is how far I've drifted from my family's particular variant of Catholicism. They hold onto it so strongly; it's like a lifeline now, with everyone talking about God's grace and the communion of saints and talking about spiritual messages and His will. We even have a novena, printed in small booklets on the countertop, in my grandfather's name. (Proceso. I was going to get him a food processor for his next birthday and use sandpaper to erase two letters from the label as a joke.) It's not that I don't believe in the things they're doing - it's that I don't feel the same need to hold to it so tightly at this time, or use Catholicism as a citation for the words I'm saying. And I feel strangely irreverent and detached, and feel like I should feel more guilty for that, feel more grief over this... feel less able to cope with things, more confused over what's going on. But it's - well, this happened. We miss him. It was his time to go. It's not ours, yet. We keep living. Life goes on.

The winter after Guakong (my mother's father) passed away after a prolonged battle with Alzheimer's, we stayed with my father's parents in the Philippines for the holidays. I told my Angkong that I wanted to learn Tai Chi in memory of my Guakong. (In our dialect of Chinese, you call your paternal grandparents Angkong and Amah, and your maternal grandparents Guakong and Guama.) Angkong took me out to the shopping mall later that week, early in the morning when the parking lots were filled with people practicing boxing, dancing, qigong... and Tai Chi. He introduced me to the Tai Chi teacher there, and I was able to learn most of the Short Form that day.

That's the first memory that comes back now - that and the evening, when I was still in elementary school, that he sat down after dinner with the grandkids and told us stories all night about his exploits in WWII. Or his 80th birthday/anniversary party in the Philippines when I was in high school which was a "small, intimate gathering of family and close friends" which occupied an entire ballroom (we ran out of chairs). My grandfather loved parties.

My dad and his siblings are flying to the Philippines with my grandmother next week for the burial. Dad's taking his vacation days to do this, which means that the family summer trip to Italy that we've been planning for a year - my parents' 25th anniversary, my college graduation, my brother's high school graduation - is off. I'm okay with that. I was looking forward to it, but these things happen.

And now I'm going to go and catch up on the gigantic backlog of work I've accumulated.

1 comment:

Katherine said...

My grandmother passed away over spring break and I didn't return to Olin until Tuesday after spring break. I remember feeling the same way--guilty that I did not show more remorse, happy that I got to see my extended family but sad that it was under those circumstances. Both of my parents are from a remote area in Arkansas and my extended family has resided there for 100+ years, but it seems so strange that I did not feel much of a connection with that area whenever I visited.