Thursday afternoon I found out my grandmother died.
Puo-puo had been ailing for a few years. Back around 2007, we’re guessing she had a series of small strokes, which left her speech slurred. But she mostly like her old self. We went on a family vacation to Las Vegas, and while she was often cooped up in her room, wracked with pain, she was still able to come down at times, play the slots, and join us for meals. When we talk a family photo, I knelt by her wheelchair. Seeing me, she broke into a slow, glowing smile.
It would be another two years before I saw her again, this past Thanksgiving, and I was shocked at the change. Her always jet-black hair was now gray, she seemed to have lost most of her teeth, and she was emaciated. When before she seemed to at least recognize people, now she had no expression.
It was almost harder seeing her that way than dealing with her death now.
What’s funny is that at that time, there were still sparks of Puo-puo’s old self peeking out. She still loved to eat, and scarfed down my brother’s mashed potatoes. She stared a lot at the new people – my cousin’s daughter Mia, as well as MB.
I had the opportunity to see Puo-puo once more this past September. She was the same, maybe worse.
Although we knew it was going to happen soon, Puo-puo’s death is still a shock. I assumed she’d live forever, the matriarch of our family, keeping all her kids in line. The funeral will be very hard. While I can deal with my own grief, it will be more difficult to see my mother’s, her siblings’, my cousins’.
Puo-puo had a long and amazing life. Born at the beginning of the 20th century, she lived through the Sino-Japanese War and the Communist Revolution. She lived in China, Taiwan, and the United States. She bore seven children and raised five. She had eight grandkids and two great-grandkids.
But when I think of my grandmother, I think of the funny things too. I think of her at my wedding, telling people, “I’m the prettiest one here.” I think of her on a cruise ship, shaking her head and grimacing, “Bu hao chi,” Doesn’t taste good, but eating everything on her plate. I think of Puo-puo furtively making sure no one was watching as she hid extra food from all-you-can-eat buffet into her purse.
Most of all I think of Puo-puo’s laugh, big and booming, her eyes squeezed shut as though she could barely contain herself.
So of course my grandmother makes the list of Awesome Things. Even better that she’s number 88, a very lucky Chinese number. We were all lucky to have her.