In January this year, right after my father’s death, I wrote a blog piece Before Your Left. Grief is taking its own curious course in me. Now again, two months later, I’m sitting down to dedicate a moment to my father.
In Chapter 6 of Carol’s Lives – “Tim, Keep Her”, I had a paragraph about my father:
Maybe Tim was referring to the fact that he was over ten years older than me. But ironically, my father and I are not that close. He provided for our family and worked hard, he was physically there, but emotionally and mentally he was a distant figure. We get along well enough and interact fine when I visit, but there is often a reserve between us. It may be that we are so different that I failed to really understand my father. Or perhaps, my father has never given me an opportunity to understand him.
Since I left home at the age of 18, I only saw my father out of the context of his own life. I remember how I noticed him getting more and more silent at the dining table, especially when we went out with other relatives, like my brother’s in-laws. I came to accept that my father’s character had changed. Like other family members, we all came to peace with it. After all, it seems easier to make peace with someone who talks less.
Until, that day when we buried our mother. I noticed father drift off to the side and he struck up a conversation with two young workers at the cemetery working on some stone carving. Father asked them questions, curious and interested, engaged and light-hearted. I was observing him from a distance, surprised at father speaking with strangers with such ease and confidence.
A few days later, I accompanied father to a local bank to deposit some money. The moment we walked in, I regretted not wearing more formal clothes. Almost all the people working in the bank came to greet father. And he knew all of them by name! Father introduced me to them with pride. I couldn’t believe what I saw. My father, smiling and alive, friendly and expressive!
Noticing the unreserved side of my father helped me open up speaking with him for the rest of my stay. I realized; all it had needed was for me to open up. I wondered why I had unnecessarily waited for him to do it first.
That was August 2019. I then planned to be back in China the first part of 2020, to spend more time with father. I had my ideas of what we’d do and how I’d relate with him. I was looking forward to it.
The COVID pandemic prolonged that plan. Dates shifted, although plan was not changed.
Dates shifted again, and again…
Something couldn’t wait. Father’s situation gradually worsened, based on occasional notes from my brother.
January 2, 2023, right before China loosened its COVID restriction, my 84-year-old father took his last breath. It was lunch hour. He suddenly collapsed from his wheelchair in a care home, right in front of the caregivers and my brother. They all thought he went weak in that moment, but maybe only he knew he went dead.
They lay his body straight on the ground. CPR was performed, but it just appeared the time had come.
It all happened so quickly, or should I say, easily, that there was not much to think about or talk about. A drama-less death, just like the drama-less life he lived in his last years.
Maybe Tim had an intuition, when he was making the promo video of Carol’s Lives in 2022, he inserted the picture for my father into the tapestry of images and films in the video.
Can you see it?