15 years ago today, my maternal grandfather passed away. I’m a bit sad that I don’t even have a picture of him to show you. Back in 1998, I didn’t have a camera phone and it never occurred to me to snap a photo of him. I would go visit his grave, but it’s 3,000 miles away at a hill top that looks towards Mt. Rainier.
In our family, we remember our elders on the anniversary of their deaths. When my great-grandmother died, we had this elaborate table with incense and her picture. As a child, this was a little weird, but I loved the food we would get to eat after. Those little round beef patties were so delicious. I don’t remember doing this for that many years after she died since my grandparents became Christian. They used to be Buddhist and we had a Buddhist funeral ceremony for my great-grandmother. It was so fascinating and bewildering as an 8 year old.
When my grandfather died, I was in college and across the country. I was not even going to come back for the funeral because I was in this really strange Jesus thing where I was wiling to “give up my mother and father to spread the word of Jesus.” I know. I was young, immature, and just stupid. I regret that I was even in that space. It was weird time for me. Anyway, I did end up flying back home to be at the funeral and to spend some time with my family.
I felt like I was still too young to understand the finality of death. My grandfather had been suffering for nearly 10 years – he had multiple strokes, needed a kidney transplant, and was not in the best general health. He had been a long time smoker and drinker until he came to the States AFTER he had to get his kidney transplanted. Towards the end, he was not able to eat, but had to be tube fed. He dreamed of bacon cheeseburgers and ice cream – he really did! When he died, everyone in our family felt relief for him by commenting that he would be able to eat all those things in heaven. I don’t know if heaven has bacon cheeseburgers, but I would imagine it would. It felt comforting to me to believe that, even as a college student.
My grandfather was one of my primary caretakers since the day I was born. I am pretty sure I had not appreciated him nearly enough.
I loved watching a show he called “Come On Down” with him. (Later on, I found out that the show was actually called “The Price Is Right.”) He always had the best snacks at their house. He drove my brother and I from their restaurant to school every day and picked us up. He made sure we were safe and well fed, bringing us whatever we wanted to eat from the restaurant. I still have memories of him putting the chocolate frosting on the doughnuts he used to make for the restaurant. He knew a lot about cars and so many other fix-it things – in my eyes, he was this Korean MacGyver. But I also have memories of him on the dialysis machine, visiting him in the hospital after his strokes, his unsteady gait and silver cane, and finally the end days where he was being tube fed and could not really talk.
My grandmother told me that the day before he died, he kept asking to hear a hymn about going home. He knew it was time to go and he could finally be free.
I still meet my grandfather in my dreams time to time. I wish that Ninjette could have met him – he would’ve loved her like crazy. She has a little bit of his spark in her eyes when she smiles. It’s been 15 years, but I still miss him.