I was snowboarding in Jasper when I heard the news of my grandfather’s death. I was not prepared to hear the news. I felt a sting in my heart. Tears rolled down my cheeks as I made a phone call back home to speak to my parents. I wanted to hear my mom’s voice; I wanted to ensure she is alright. It wasn’t until I ended the phone call that I realized I was very upset. The next day, I tried to look for flights back home. At first, I was confused over what to do. The next thing I know, I bought the plane ticket and I was driving home from work to pack for my trip.
Grandpa had third stage skin cancer. It started from his right thumb, which got amputated to prevent the spread of the cancer growth. Unfortunately, the amputation was not a full cure. The cancer continued to spread from his hand to below his armpit. I last saw grandpa when I was back home for a visit in August 2009. My boyfriend’s parents and mine made an ad-hoc decision to do a day trip to Malacca, and so they too got the privilege to meet with Grandpa. At that time, Grandpa’s health was already deteriorating fast. He was able to walk about but kept himself inside the room most of the time. I believe he was in a lot of pain. When it was time for me to return to Canada, it felt odd saying my goodbyes and well wishes to Grandpa. It was as though it may be the last time I get to hug or pat him in the back and say to him, “Please take good care”. But I tried to brush that feeling away, and so I left home convincing myself that he will be alright. I told myself that I will be able to see him again during my next trip home, Chinese New Year 2010.
Grandpa left us on 13 December 2009. According to my parents, he fell in the bathroom while taking a shower. The injury caused him to lose a lot of blood. At the hospital, they tried to do a blood transfusion, but it wasn’t helping. Mom said grandpa was trying so hard to breath through the oxygen mask, trying to stay alive. Mom told him that it was okay to let go; he won’t need to suffer anymore. I believe in the end, it was a peaceful departure. Everyone helped Grandpa by chanting a Buddhist prayer.
Mum says she misses him very much. I miss him too. Grandpa used to buy us lots of delicious food to eat. I guess it is his way of showing affection to his grandchildren. Other than red packets during Chinese New Year, it was always the hainanese chicken rice dish, loh mai gai, fried noodles, or biscuits and snacks. When I was 13 years old, Grandpa and Grandma came to stay with us while my parents went on vacation. It’s sad that I don’t recall much of the event, but I’ll keep the bits and pieces of this memory close to heart.
The Chinese tradition believes that on the 7th day after a person’s death, the deceased’s spirit will return to the house for one last visit before he leaves Earth. Loved ones may be able to see him for the last time through a dream. Although, none of us dreamt of grandpa that night. The Buddhist monk told us it is a good thing because that means he is ready to leave Earth and continue his journey to reincarnation. Only deceased spirits who have unfinished business are unable to let go and try to communicate to family members important feelings or information through dreams.
We went through Grandpa’s possesions in his drawers to sort out important documents, cash, or jewelery that needed to be kept safe. Grandpa kept all the Canadian money that I gave him during Chinese New Year. He was a man of simple needs. Other than buying lottery tickets and food, he does not spend on luxurious items. We browsed through old photos of him and other family members. He always had a cheerful smile.
I’m glad to have made this trip home and pay my last respect to Grandpa. I never really got to know him, but deep in my heart I know he loved us very much. Some say that it was not necessary for me to go through this trouble because he is my maternal grandfather. I ignored such comments. In this lifetime, I will only have one maternal grandfather; he is still family. In this lost and confused generation of luxury and status … I think we have deluded ourselves too much until we forget what is most precious in life — family ties. Perhaps, I am more sensitive on this topic because I’ve been away from home for far too long. I have never appreciated family relations until I left home for university and work.
“Life is suffering”, is Buddhism’s first principle, the Buddha’s first noble turth. There is suffering, there is a cause for suffering, there is an end of suffering, and there is a path of practice that puts an end to suffering. The demise of a loved one is never easy to accept. Tears and sorrow take over our minds and we think of death as a bad thing. Sometimes, we beg for the deceased to not leave us. In Buddhism the human realm is actually a test. We do not go to heaven until all sins from past lives are cleared. Why do we say children born into this world, even though pure and innocent, have already sinned? That is because there is karma to be repaid in the human realm. The least I can do for Grandpa is to sincerely pray and do good deeds on his behalf so that he need not reincarnate into the human realm again.
I attended two sessions of Puja, which prays for the peace of departed souls. It was an eye-opening experience. I want to learn more. Grandpa, we will miss you dearly. We pray for your safe journey onto a different realm and may Buddha’s teachings guide you towards the right path of enlightenment.