25 June 2012

My grandmother's name is Chiang, Wah-Oi

From an early age, I interacted with my grandmother on a daily basis. Both my parents worked, so I was left in my grandmother's care from Monday to Friday every week. After school or on weekends, there were only more lessons awaiting me. The only time we ever sat down as a family would be during meals, and even then, not a word would be spoken. Needless to say, there wasn't much of a bond. My grandmother spoke only in Chinese, and in a dialect I never understood until my late teens. As a child, I could not understand her random outbursts of anger as she chased me around, whipping me with the feathered bamboo stick. I was sure I was being an obedient granddaughter, and yet, as I quietly sit in front of the television watching anime after I finished my homework, she would scream in that alien language and reach for the bamboo stick once again. When she finally broke the bamboo feather duster on my back, she went out of her way to replace it. Unable to find one, she settled for a plastic-coated metal rod, with synthetic fibers in the colours of the rainbow as her grip. All the while, I watched my brother grow up in luxury.
This treatment, in combination with neglect from my parents, resulted in my holy-shit-fucked-up-decisions-suicide-attempts-death-threats-hallucination-filled way of life, until I was put through psychotherapy. I nearly regretted refusing anti-depression drugs, and several times I felt I would have been better off accepting the suggestion that I go to a foster home. But by the end of my high school career, I was glad I stood my ground.
By my 21st birthday, I had pretty much come to terms with my anger. I began to understand that as the first Canadian-born in the family, my parents and relatives had a hard time figuring out how to raise me. I cannot forgive everything that's been said and done, but I am grateful that everything happened the way it did. If it wasn't for the series of events, I would have not turned out the person I am today. Frankly, I like me today.
On Friday June 8th 2012, my brother informed me that my father and grandmother were both admitted to the hospital. My father's left eye was blind, filled with blood from a broken internal blood vessel. There was a possibility that the retina was torn, or in the worst case scenario, a tumor had formed. Although there is yet a closure on his case, he is steadily recovering.
My grandmother fell ill, was in extreme pain, and could not walk anymore. It was confirmed that she had Degenerative Disc Disease. She was admitted on a Friday, but the specific steroid that she needed was available through a certain pharmacy only on weekdays. She suffered through the weekend, just to realize on the Monday that it takes another 24 hours for the steroid to take effect. It was not until Tuesday that she was relieved of her pain.
I struggled to get through my days of work at Dupuis, and managed to keep a smile on my face through the entire auction on Sunday June 10th. Immediately after my shift on Monday June 11th, I rushed to Scarborough Grace General Hospital to see my grandmother.
My heart was crushed when I walked into the room. For a second, I could not recognize the tiny and frail existence in the gurney that was my grandmother. She looked nothing like what she did when I saw her a month before.
Since my brother was born 20 years ago, my grandmother hadn't held my hand even once. I was taught that I must follow without a sound, else I suffer the consequences. Yet, after 20 years, my grandmother took my hand as she lay in the hospital gurney, and told me that she was proud of me. She told me she no longer had to worry about me, and we both began to cry. My hand being held by a family member, and my grandma no less, was an indescribably overwhelming feeling.
At that time, there were many things I felt I should have said. But I didn't. And I regret it.
She was discharged from the hospital, just to be re-admitted within two days due to irregular heart beating. Heart failure.
I went to visit her, and she could barely see or hear me. She'd stay awake for less than a minute at a time, with a total of about two hours a day. For what little time she kept her eyes open, she would repeat that we were good grandchildren, or that the hospital was doing a terrible job of helping her.
The doctors of Scarborough Grace attempted to forceably discharge her, claiming that there was nothing more they could do for her and that they needed to free up a bed. What A Bunch Of Bullshit.
I walked by plenty of empty beds and rooms down the hall, and the point of her staying in a gurney was so that we had the facilities available to provide her a comfortable death. We only managed to argue for one extra night of stay before we had to take her home.
Friday June 22nd, grandma's mind was becoming confused. She was awake for a total of an hour each day, and was beginning to confuse other people's identity as her own. Earlier on the Friday morning, she had a fever. With each time she opened her eyes, she told me that my mother, aunt, or uncle had a fever. She also believed that my cousins and I were still in school.

Today, Monday June 25th, my grandmother cannot speak anymore. With each time we woke her, she looked at our faces blankly, and fell back asleep within seconds. She hadn't eaten a meal in over 24 hours because she could not stay awake long enough. She chewed her medication, confusing it for a meal.
It won't be long now. Her children are taking time off, and flying to Canada, in order to be with her. I have taken off these two weeks from work, because all I can do is stay by her side.
When my parents, aunts, and uncles bombarded me with their own standards, nearly convincing me that my life was worthless, only my grandmother understood. Perhaps it's because she's been through World War II, and my parents' generation has led privileged lives. The current economic issue is one we've all been facing, imposed on us by the previous generation. In my entire extended family, only my grandmother said to me, "There is no need to rush. These days, just a degree or two can't get you a career. Take it slowly, I know it's hard."
Any day now, she will close her eyes and never open them again.
After all is said and done, I love my grandmother.
I just wish I had told her so on Monday June 11th 2012.

Tuesday June 26th - my grandmother's heart rate improved for one day. She was able to open her eyes more often. At one point during the night, she even spoke. She said she wanted to eat a bite of rice. Because she was choking on any solid food, she's been fed congee and soup for days (which she despises) and so she asked for rice. At this, my mother and aunt told her that they can't give her solid foods. My grandmother then said, "I'm sick of congee. I hate congee. I just want one mouthful of rice, a taste of chinese broccoli, and a taste of fish. Just chop it up into small pieces. I want some rice."
My mother and aunt laughed, and said, "She's funny (being unreasonable), she wants rice!" and they kept laughing about it, even while telling other relatives.
My grandmother was practically begging for her favourite food. She's suffering so much, she looked like she wanted to cry, and I wish I could have snuck in some of that food for her - just one last taste.
I was, and still am, thoroughly disgusted with my family. I couldn't stand to be around them, nor see them treat my grandmother this way. As a grandchild, I had no authority to do anything about it. I returned downtown that night.

Wednesday July 4th - I visited my grandmother in the evening. Her organs were failing her, and she was in extreme pain. The groans and cries came nonstop, and the morphine patches prescribed to her were not taking effect. It was unbearable watching her. Finally, after more than an hour since my arrival, she grew silent for about two minutes. For the entire two minutes, she stared ahead blankly. I was in her line of vision, but her pupils were murky, so I don't know if she even saw me. I called out to her, but she didn't respond, and for a second I thought she was gone. Then a large tear drop emerged from her eye, and I wiped it dry for her. At that moment, I felt like she knew that this was it. And then she returned to writhing and groaning in pain.

Today, Thursday July 5th - I received a phone call from my cousin just minutes to 9:00am. She relayed the message that my grandmother won't last long. Before any of us could get to her side, she passed away peacefully in her sleep. It was a beautiful day for her to be free, and the weather was perfect for her to finally go outside. As we saw her off, my brother and I stood in her backyard, where there was a common area that connected all the houses. Both sides are lined by trees, creating a lightly arched canopy. As I reminded my brother how we spent a lot of time in this area with grandmother, he flew into hysterics. I picked a large orange flower from the cluster of bushes I used to refer to as a forest, and placed it on the barren patch of dirt that used to be my grandmother's favourite gardening spot. Then I stood on a metal sheet that covered a ventilation shaft leading to the underground parking lot, which was my favourite spot as a child 12-20 years ago. Looking up at the blue, cloudless sky, beyond the young leaves of the maple trees, I thanked somebody up there (I don't know who I thanked) for giving my grandmother relief from the pain in her last minutes alive. I thanked them for welcoming my grandmother with blue skies, a cool breeze, and warm sunshine. Silently, while my brother bawled his eyes out, I said my thank-yous and good-byes to grandmother. I don't believe in any higher power, but I don't deny that there could be. It may have simply been my own ego, but I felt something warm in response to my mental messages. I felt it may have been my grandmother, finally happy and at ease, and then joined my brother once again to wail like newborn babies.
Twelve hours later, I'm sitting here typing this, still trying to accept the fact that she's gone, and that she won't open her eyes nor utter a sound one more time. I may be acting childish, clinging onto the feeling that she's still with us. I don't think there exist any words to properly and accurately describe the emotions in situations like these. I was afraid of her, I hated her, I envied her, I pitied her, I respect her, and I love her. Simply put, I really miss her.

Rest in peace, "por-por."