I don’t read books about death. Thus, when I do read about death, such as in Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs by Caitlin Doughty or Being Mortal by Atul Gawande, that’s unintentional. And whenever that happens, I claim myself to be ignorant of the most inevitable fact of life, that we are mortal, and today I thought about my aging grandparents and my half the world away from them.
I know very little about my grandparents. I never grew up with them, despite the assumption that Asians cram a whole extended family under a small hut. I see them infrequently, and we often only exchange the common words. I’m rather taciturn, and so are they. Below is a sample conversation…
“How are you doing, bé Thi?” (“bé” means “little”)
“I’m doing well. How are you?”
“I’m good. Are you studying well at school?”
“Yes, I am. Don’t worry about that.” We smiled.
“Did you sleep well, Grandma?”
“Just like usual. Grandpa woke up early, so we didn’t sleep for long.”
And that’s pretty much it! (You can safely assume that they always ask about my studying and wish me do better in school.) Sometimes we talk about other things, but our quiet nature always leave our talk hanging in the air. I have always been hesitant to ask, and they let me do whatever I want. Even though I love them, I don’t enjoy my trips to visit them that much. I always bring a few books along and lose myself in the fictions world. Days pass without much words exchanged.
It is a shame to say that I don’t know much about my grandparents, or extended family. Whenever I get a question about them, I either can make an educated guess or shake my head for not knowing the matter well. I know my paternal grandfather’s name, because it’s really short, “Le Sang”, and as you can see, half of his name is in my name. And that’s it for all of my grandparents. I can estimate their ages by comparing their age with their sibling’s, whose 80 birthday party I attended last year. I can know so much about the world, yet I still cannot escape that feeling of shame from shying away from my own family.
I have always fear the sudden disappearances. Sudden evaporation of others’ and my own existence. I don’t fear death itself, but death certainly brings many emotions. And it is sad to think that when my grandparents are gone, their marks on Earth would also fade, because I, as their descendant, remember so little of them. I can change that. My only challenge is myself. This time when I go home, I want to talk more, to ask more, and to learn more about them.