written by Anna Cheung
Grandpa did not look too bad when I went back home for summer break. He was pretty stiff, but he could still sort of walk with his cane; he was still feisty and sharp. Yet, every time I saw him, he got worse. Red rashes climbed up his chest. Movement became difficult and painful. I lifted his legs out of the car for doctor visits, pulled him up to stand, squatted to help him sit. Eventually, he couldn’t walk anymore. Then he fell due to extreme muscle fatigue and was hospitalized.
His symptoms worsened. The blood tests came back negative. Google only created more unease and questions. After two months of confusion, fear, and frustration, the doctors diagnosed him with terminal lung cancer.
Throughout his hospital stay, I did my best to visit him. I would drop in during breaks at work and surprise him. He always had such a wide smile on his face when he saw me in my super cool EMT uniform.
While he was bedridden, I often assisted him in exercises and soft tissue massages. This was the only way I knew how to show I loved him and could possibly serve him. “Hey, Grandpa, your muscles are getting bigger,” I would say, giving him a warm smile, trying to give him hope. “No, at this point, your muscles are bigger than mine,” and I knew he was right. Before me laid a skin covered skeleton outlining what my handsome 6 foot Grandpa use to be.
Sometimes you could see him reach out to grab for something that is not quite there. “Gong gong (Grandpa)?” He would shake his head and snap out of it, and you knew that the cancer was slowly metastasizing to his brain.
I made one last visit to Grandpa to tell him that I was going to go back to UCLA and to say goodbye. I think we both knew that we would never see each other again, which, I think, is why he told me that he could die happy knowing that he had a granddaughter like me. Though having a language barrier had been hard, I knew he knew I loved him, and that it meant so much to him. I like to think that the amount of tears I shed that night when I realized that it really was goodbye, helped decrease the severity of California’s drought.
I flew back home in the middle of the quarter to attend the funeral.
The day after I returned UCLA, I volunteered at the hospital in the medical intensive care unit (MICU). One of the nurses said, “Hey, you are going to help me clean and bag this patient who just passed away.”
My entire body seized up. Please no.
But I forced myself to follow him into the patient’s room.
A Chinese grandma about 70 years old lay on the bed. Next to her were her two daughters. They looked so much like my mom and my aunt, tired, exhausted, and out of emotions.
The heart shattering wail arose from the husband, reminding me of Grandma’s cry of pure pain at Grandpa’s funeral. It was all that I could do to not cry with her. I kept my head down to prevent the nurse from seeing the accumulating tears. I kept cleaning the dead, warm body. I knew that pain of losing someone who had always been there since you were little and whom you love, and I am so sorry for your loss.
Though it is so easy to be wrapped up in our own lives, how small my concerns for classes were at that point as I zipped up the post-mortem bag. How trivial was the fact that I partially amputated my finger and couldn’t play basketball. Right in front of me, it was evident that nothing of this world mattered more than someone’s soul. I don’t know if this family was Christian, but it reminded me that anyone who is not a Christian was going to hell. How painful of a reminder that was to know that some of my family and friends are on that path. My mom had reached out to Grandpa for the past 20 years, and it was only when he was diagnosed with cancer did he really see and understand how much he needed Christ. Twenty years is a long time, but thank you, Mom, for being a true example of what it means to be persistent and faithful.
I share this story with you GOC-ers, not because I want your pity. God has been so good to me because I will be able to see Grandpa again. I share this story because I want you to know the importance of being faithful and to push you to continue in being faithful to those around you. It may be hard and seemingly fruitless, but Galatians 6:9 states “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” Don’t grow weary. Push yourself to start those tough conversations, ask those hard questions, and sit through the awkward tensions. Other people’s souls are worth it.
If you are not a Christian, please consider what is going to happen when you pass away. I know it’s easy not to think about it, but one thing that we know for certain on this Earth is that we will die. I’ve seen 3 months old babies, 15 years old teens, and 30 year old adults pass away. I urge and invite you to find the answer to where your soul will be after life.