Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Simply at Peace

My grandmother passed away a little while ago. Unfortunately, I had to play a tournament in Europe, but I'm thankful that my family waited for me to return for the funeral; it was just a couple of days ago on Monday. It was a simple Catholic service, and though I had written something, I did not get a chance to share it. Perhaps it's for the best because I cannot do a Chinese version of it, but I have decided to share it with everyone. I know I haven't updated my blog in a while and this is not the best thing to come back with, but athletes are people too, and this is something we all have to deal with in our lives:

My grandmother was a simple person. She lived by herself for some time after my grandfather passed away, but she eventually let us live with her. I don't even remember how long we've lived with her. I would say a good 12 years or so.  She was a simple person, being preoccupied with a daily routine. She would do her own things and could take care of herself, even helping us by making dinner for a pretty long period of time. This continued on for a while and she was always quite lively. She would sing at when she was in a good mood, she would tell you about the things she heard on the radio or saw on TV.  Though not always the wisest, as she could not grasp the possibility of things being inaccurate by the media, she was well intentioned, with all that she had experienced.  Things got redundant pretty soon,  but I  realized that she had limited interactions,  so I always did my best to lend her an ear.  It probably helped that my Cantonese was terrible, it still is, but the point is that I couldn't really talk.  I could only listen.

With time, things changed.  Everything took a turn for the worst after one event.  She was up early outside, it was icy.  She slipped and fell and hurt her back and wrist. Things weren't so simple anymore but she was still a simple person.  My stepmother did her best to take care of her, but pain really took a toll on my dear grandmother. Pain itself is physiologically pretty simple, ascending up those unmyelinated Type IV sensory fibers, but psychologically it wasn't. Simple tasks became difficult, there was no more singing. She got better but the pain manifested itself through frustration and all it took was one argument to tear my family apart. Then things became simple again, simple but different.

It was interesting though, because there were times when my grandmother simply forgot about her pain.  If you ask her how she felt, she would shake her head and tell you that she was in pain, but there were times she would forget about her walker and proceed to walk unassisted to the living room to watch her TV show. It really seemed like a case of mind over matter and she forgot about her pain. Unfortunately that one argument was never forgotten; it became habitual. It became a more or less a permanent rift between two sides. I was merely an observer and I saw both sides of the story. Neither side was really able to talk about it, despite my encouragement for communication. One side was afraid, the other side was stuck in traditional thought. My grandmother was simple and she told me that she could say things that she didn't mean. I voiced her implied apology, but it made no difference. It got too complicated.

Complications elsewhere became evident, with the first deep vein thrombosis (DVT).  More unbearable pain came for my grandmother and more complications began. After trying blood thinners and such, the clots came back anyway. That warranted another hospital visit and increase in medication.  Then the breathing problems came...

It got complicated. I just took a respiratory physiology course, but it was about exercise,  not so much pathophysiology. I did a paper on Cystic Fibrosis, a recessive genetic disorder, so that definitely wasn't useful. Breathing is important, for we need oxygen. I believe that "chi" has been mistranslated in Western alternative medicine; I believe it is a "life force".  Oxygen is a life force, we need to breathe.  But things kept getting complicated.  She didn't go to the hospital for a few days after the breathing difficulties. Why? Because things were too complicated?

And that was the last time I talked to her, seeing her struggle to get into the car to go to the hospital. All I could tell her was "Take it easy" and "You'll be fine". A suggestion was all I could offer in a hope that she could forget her pain again, but she really was struggling; the pain was too great. You could hear the shallow breathing, meaning she wasn't getting the oxygen she needed. Her heart rate would increase to handle the extra load of breathing and simple things like walking would be complicated. Everything would get more complicated until it would be simple again: when she would stop breathing.

That came pretty shortly, with more blood clots and emergency surgeries. She couldn’t take the pain anymore and things kept getting complicated. My grandmother was a simple person, and in the end, even though her condition was so complicated that doctors had never seen anything like it before, the end result was simple. She passed away peacefully, after she was put into a sedative coma. Everything became simple again and she was now simply at peace.

As a grandson who spent quite a bit of time around the house, I will miss that simplicity. She would always ask me if I have eaten, and she would sometimes offer to cook. Depending on the day, sometimes I would let her cook something for me because she genuinely wanted to do something, and to deny her would probably be the wrong thing to do. Despite her dislike of the Japanese and what they did to the Chinese back in her days, she seemed to appreciate the sushi I gave her when I would make the odd order. She would wonder why I wouldn’t sing when I played the piano, but it’s okay. She lived a simple life and she was happy, and I would have to be the one to work around it when things got complicated. I understood that well, and I would say we had a pretty good relationship for the rest of the time we shared together. I hope I have made you proud as an Olympian, though a part of me regrets that I couldn’t have become a doctor. Perhaps it wouldn’t have made a difference anyway, because she would simply have been proud of whatever I became. At the very least, I’m proud that she read about me receiving a Diamond Jubilee Medal in her Chinese newspaper, as she saved the page and told me to keep it to remember. The house is quiet again, and there will be no more Chinese TV blasting in the background, no more singing, and no more traditional Chinese advice.

I know my grandmother has interacted with different people in different ways, but this lesson is what I will always remember her by:

                You can live a simple life and do complicated things, but do not let life get too complicated because you can’t get over something simple.

Thank you, Grandmother, for all the time we have shared and may you rest in peace.

Until next time. Thanks again for visiting.