She was the last surviving grandparent I had, outliving my maternal grandmother by over 10 years. Today, the woman I always saw as the family matriarch, passed away. Her last few weeks were coloured by several physical and emotional struggles. I suppose only the very lucky few get the chance to cross over in perfect health and happiness.
My grandmother was 90 this year. She survived the Japanese Occupation in Malaysia, bore 8 children and lost two. She taught herself to read and write Chinese in days when literacy was an anomaly. She lost her husband 24 years ago but I never saw her openly grieve. Resolute, unshakeable, intelligent, confident, and a chain-smoker of Benson & Hedges cigarettes. I never saw her cook either – there was always help on hand.
The loss of her eldest daughter to cancer was devastating and she channeled an outpouring of love to her daughter’s son, the eldest grandson. Nothing was too much. No expense was spared. I felt the favouritism very early on. I learned to understand the Chinese culture of overt preferences for male children.
I wonder at what point aging changes us from who we are to who we were. From an old photo in her bedroom, my grandmother was a remarkable beauty. My childhood memories of her though were probably the same as how grandkids view their grannies worldwide – she was granny-looking. Always stout in her 60s and 70s, she withered to a skeletal frame in her last days.
She loved music, that is perhaps one thing we had in common. However, I did not inherit her specific tastes. I spent days as a child trying to figure out how to change the banshee squeals blaring from her stereo to a more palatable pop station. Chinese operas are not something I voluntarily enter into, but when I encounter one, the music and drama washes me with indelible childhood memories of my grandmother’s life and loves.
How I wish I’d known her better.