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It was the day of Joan River’s funeral; I laid on the couch thinking about her and then Robin Williams. Both I’ve met only briefly at different intervals of my own life. I was wondering how Joan’s daughter Melissa was doing then I found myself reflecting on the passing of my own father and more specifically on his funeral. Growing up I thought they were a giant waste of money. What good is a lavish funeral going to do them if the person was dead. My father refused to discussed death, he said it was bad luck. When I would try to talk to him about his wishes he would scold me, “Why do you want to talk about such a thing, we should not talk about death we should talk about life” he would yell at me. So we never talked about it. And he lived on, and on.
When he was 92 years of age he called me out of the blue to come home. I knew immediately this was the end. In all the years of school, work and world travels, my father had never asked me to come home. He never wanted to pose an inconvenience to me, and always was able to manage himself. I boarded the next plane home. Within a week he had passed away quietly in his sleep. I was right next to him, holding his hand. I watched his Chinese jade ring turn from dark green to white as his final breath left him. There was something about it that did not feel final it felt like some other form of life took flight for me.It was a moment in our relationship I will treasure.
Suddenly I was faced with planning a funeral. I remember doing what everyone suggested I should do. I didn’t think about it, I just did it and within a week there was a memorial. To this day I don’t remember one thing about it, not one detail. I remember that I sobbed, uncontrollably, with no dignity and unapologetically unapologetic. I think I cried for days actually, and what I came to realize about funerals is that they are not for the deceased at all but the opportunity for closure and to a final farewell, a hui hou for those left behind. At that memorial I released a lifetime of feelings that had made up our entire relationship.
I have decided I will not avoid the difficult conversations that my father often did due to superstition or ancient tradition. My hope is to approach the life lessons with truth, dignity, and integrity. I learned about sex, love, relationships, anatomy and death not from conversations with my father but through life’s trial and often error. It would have been amazing to have had these conversations with him, but it just was not the way of the traditional Chinese family.
My son soon interrupted my train of thought with his romping around the house, talking actively to himself. I watched him quietly for a while realizing that this cycle was repeating itself. Wondering how I could shelter him from the pain of death? In that instant I got up from where I was sitting and began to make rice pudding. A personal comfort food my father cooked on a regular basis. We ate rice with every meal; breakfast, lunch and dinner and even dessert. The very act of boiling milk, sugar, butter and eggs, the scent of vanilla and cinnamon combined with the creamy white rice I was all of a sudden overwhelmed with memories of my father and I cried once more for him.
I wish my father and my son could have met, I can only imagine the pride and love they would have between the two of them. What I know is that my father lives in me. Every fiber of my being is influenced by him every day and I hear his words in my mind and sometimes from my mouth. I know I will be able to tell my son what a wonderful man he was and how his spirit lives on in the simple things like rice pudding.…so we’ll probably have our “difficult conversations” in the kitchen making rice pudding.