Portrait by Tao Nguyen

Friday, October 28, 2011


It’s been a couple of weeks since my last blog because I’ve been preoccupied with my 96 year old mother. She just passed away yesterday and in truth, it’s a blessing she’s now at peace. Just this once, instead of picking up where I left off and proceeding in chronological order through my novel, I want to skip ahead to a section of GOOD FORTUNE dealing with aging and death, since this has recently been foremost in my mind.
On page 161 Tong speaks to his son, Wu, about growing old. Wu has expressed alarm over his father’s frail health and Tong wants to reassure him.

“Son, I appreciate your concern about my health, but you must accept the fact that all men grow old. I cannot prevent time from passing, and if I could, I wouldn’t want to. Life has its own rhythm that conforms to our daily existence. It changes with us as we grow and mature. For most of my life I have worked hard, and now, I am getting ready to slow down my pace and take the needed time to rest. I have earned that right, which did not come easily. Do not deny an old man the reward he has labored toward his entire life.”
Until that moment, Wu hadn't realized how much he had taken his father for granted, or that he wanted him to remain healthy and vigorous so he would never die and leave him, like his mother. Even though they clashed for years, his father was always there, a solid presence he now recognized he would lose. This sudden realization forced him to acknowledge that as much as he wanted to change the course of life and keep his father forever young, he knew it was beyond his human power to do so.
Accept the change; that's what Father is saying. I’ll try, but it feels as if he is asking too much of me.

As I stood by my mother’s bed holding her hand watching her struggling to breathe, I observed her fear when she was moved because she had lost her sight. At that moment, all I wanted for her was peace. I stroked her face and reassured her that I was there and everything was all right. She had changed drastically from the mother I remembered. Most of her hair was gone, her eyes were clouded with blindness, and she was helpless and weak. Over the years I had often referred to her as a force of nature because she was so strong and stubborn. She out lived my father by 18 years and became quite independent in her old age. At 90 she had a date book, a cell phone, was enrolled in a college writing class, went shopping and got her hair and nails done every week. Her vision in one eye was failing so she immediately hired a driver to take her to her various appointments. Now 6 and a half years later she was stripped of her independence and that broke my heart. Like Wu, I struggled to accept the change in her.

Tong continues his attempt to soothe the worry from his son.
“In due time, your own sons will become grown men who will feel all that you are experiencing now as you observe how old and withered this body of mine has become. If you can learn acceptance of old age and how it transforms those you love who were once strong and full of spirit into frail tired souls, when it becomes necessary, you will be able to guide your boys with love and compassion as they struggle to accept the changes they perceive in you, when you follow in my footsteps.”

And so it is with the circle of life. Death is a natural part of the cycle and if we are fortunate enough to live long, as we age our bodies change in many ways. Acceptance of transforming from vigorous youths into seniors with aching joints, thinning hair, blurred vision and loss of energy are just a few things we might experience as a lesson in acceptance. Instead of viewing these changes as negatives, we should embrace them with the knowledge and appreciation that we are still able to live, laugh and love. Being mindful and living in the moment without lamenting about what was or what is to come is important to practice. Mindfulness meditation is a form of meditation that teaches us to do this.

On page 324 Tong makes a promise to Wu that after he dies, he will still guide him. “In the same way that Grandfather has watched over me, I will be there to guide you when the time comes. Death cannot separate us; it will merely change our mode of communication.”

Whether or not you believe in life after death, when a loved one passes away it is a comforting notion that they might still be able to watch over us. Several of my friends have told me they received messages from deceased loved ones in their dreams. One friend even used a teaching method in one of his psychology workshops that his departed girlfriend showed him in a dream, which turned out to be quite successful.

On page 326 Wu contemplates the loss of his father.
Although Tong was physically removed from Wu's life, every day poignant memories of his father came back to him along with the stabbing heartache that each recollection brought with it. Each memory was precious as a perfectly shaped pearl, when all strung together, formed an invisible necklace Wu wore with grief and pride around his neck. It seemed as though he could reach up and feel them, could rub the pearls between his fingers, sensing their roundness and smooth firm texture as he recalled what each one represented.

Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross wrote in 1969 in her ground breaking book, On Death and Dying, there are 5 stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. When you experience the loss of a loved one and go through all 5 stages of grief, think of your memories as the pearls in Wu’s invisible necklace. My hope is that you will ultimately accept the loss with grace and that your heart will be at peace.

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