My Dad passed away in April 2008 after battling his colon cancer for 3 years. I visited him several times in his last months, and it was so hard seeing his health go up and down. As hard it was to see my moms spirits go up and down as at times we were given hope and stripped of it just as quickly.
I was never super close to my parents--we were never the tight family that you see on tv. My parents were struggling immigrants when they first came to Canada, and their days and nights were spent working long hours at the grocery store. We were left to fend for ourselves. Our separation was increased because we never learned to speak Chinese fluently, so we had to get by on our superficial Chinglish. And unfortunately, we grew apart.
But in Dad's last months, we were all drawn back to do what a family does together. Love. Support. Grieve. Our extended family drew close to help give us strength. We were no longer strangers to each other. I was meeting cousins that I never knew I had. I've been gone a long time.
Dad was still noble even as the cancer chipped away at him. He would try to joke to make us feel better. And he finally expressed all the feelings that he always kept close to him. He was afraid to go. He was afraid to leave mom alone. He didn't deserve this. He was sorry that he wasn't a better father. He loved me.
The night my father passed away, I had just returned to Toronto a few days earlier. My sister called and I knew what she would say. He's gone. I felt dazed as I hung up the phone. He was gone.
As I returned to Calgary and we prepared for the funeral over the following days, I felt so heavy. I wrote some words to him to lay on his coffin.
Ba, I’m grateful that I was able to say goodbye to you twice. And now I say goodbye one more time. I told you that you helped to make me who I am today. Your independence is now my independence. Your strength is now my strength. All the gifts you have given me I now take with me wherever I go.
In a way, I feel that we hardly knew each other and now our chance is gone. Maybe it’s because of our culture. I wish I had told you more about my life—the things I’ve done, the places I’ve been and the people I’ve known--if only so that you may have told me the same about you.
What I know is that you sacrificed during your life so that our lives would be better and I love you for that. You worked endlessly, 12 hours a day, 365 days a year, never asking for help from us. You made sure that we had an easy and bountiful life growing up. And it wasn’t until we moved out did you start to look after yourself and Mom. You are a better man than me because of this--I can only hope to someday be as selfless and honourable as you. Goodbye Ba. I love you.
Be at peace and know that we’ll be okay.
The most difficult time was when they closed the coffin and it was the last I would see him. That moment, with my family sobbing around me, will be engrained forever in my mind.
We returned to our house and had what I would consider a wake. I don't think it's really a Chinese thing to have a party, but everyone knew that Dad would want it that way. If he were there, he would be the first to drink and shout "Yam Sing!". He would be the first to turn up the music and get on the dancefloor. It was a perfect way to say our final farewell, with a celebration of his spirit.
So here's a Yam Sing to you Dad. Be at peace and know that we'll be okay.