“I walked in the room, and his feet were not tucked in.” Uncle Seven stuttered. “That was the third time that night, and it was the last time.”
That last time when Uncle covered Grandpa’s feet under the blanket, they were cold, too cold for a February night, in Vietnam, for Tet. Uncle shook the freezing feet and then Grandpa’s body. Stiff. The warmth had escaped. His energetic and modest spirit had gone.
The next day, Tet decorations were taken off. It was the first and last time we ever own such things. I never understood why Mom bought them in the first place, but now I think she might have known it would be the last season we would be with Grandpa.
I was four, or five, or six. Those days were blurry, and the only thing I vividly remembered was Dad’s appearance at the front step on the second day after Grandpa had gone. Dad was working on his Master’s in Thailand, and by then he had become somewhat a stranger to me. When I saw him, I could not tell if I was happy or confused. Him in the living room, I knew everything was serious. That death was serious.
Grandpa was laid in the living room for 3 days. The funeral worn everybody, and even though I understood very little, I stayed quiet and hesitant to talk. I didn’t want to upset Mom. I didn’t want to be the next person in the casket. (Just kidding.) I knew to be quiet, and I preferred to remain so.
My Grandpa was a good farmer, and during his days our land flourished. I stood at the edge of the river he had dug, eyes chasing groups of tadpoles. I wished to be like them, to know nothing of the matter. To enjoy the clean water brought by a now dead person. To have siblings with whom I could share the difficulty of those days and days to come, just like how the tadpoles didn’t swim alone but with companies. In that moment, I only wish to see Tet decorations hanging at our front door. I didn’t even want lucky money. I didn’t even want my Dad to be there.
At one point, I begged my cousins to go back to the house with me. I grew bored of the still stream and was eager to observe the funeral. We were back just in time for the casket closing ceremony. I stood outside the biggest window, hands sweating over the window sill. I pressed my face against the panes, trying to get the best view from the gallery seat. Uncle Seven kneeled beside Grandpa. As he sobbed, my eyes welled up and my throats tightened. My cousins, though, stared blankly at the scene, or so it seems, which made me acknowledge my tears as an embarrassment, so I let out a dry cough and join them as they went inside with our parents.
We buried Grandpa on his land, about 8 minutes walk from the main house. On his grave was the statue of Mother Mary, and beneath it the five stones, representing the five children my Grandpa had. His grave was well taken care of, with new flowers every month and new decorations every season. Every year afterwards, we gather in memorial of his, and when his grave become the shelter where we come to for peace, his land degraded. Where the stream was would soon turned into dry land, and the fruits would bring in little profit.
I was four, or five, or six. I hardly knew my Grandpa, and I doubt him knowing much about me. I didn’t know how the death of a loving husband, father, and grandfather turns the lives of a family, but I know I have taken it lightly because life after his death were back to normal. My Dad would go back to Thailand. Mom and I would go back to the city. Uncle Seven would get married to his 7-year love. And I’d have a sibling and a cousin, both bringing me laughter and anger. This is a sad thing about a life. You go from the beginning to end, and despite the ups and downs, you know life without you still goes on.
But Grandpa, if you can read this, and understand English, know that you are loved. By me, sadly, because your blood runs in me, and by everyone else in the family with the highest respect.