“Laolao has left us”.
The news didn’t come as a shock. Grandmother had been ill for some time, unable to remember close family members and bed bound. The one reason she made it through 2018 was her doting husband who dressed her deep bed sores inflicted by the hard kang (old style bed) until they healed and fed her patiently spoon by spoon. I had previously asked grandfather-in-law what kept his love going and growing for someone who no longer remembered her family. “I care for her as she once cared for me”, he reasoned. I learnt that after he was orphaned at a young age he took part in an arranged marriage to a girl older than himself. The age gap although not great was enough for laolao to care for him like a mother would her son. She became his mother before she became his wife. In Chinese this is called “niangqi”. Laolao without a doubt had married the right person. Through sickness and in health he stood by her side. Even now she has left and we have invited him to visit us, he has chosen to stay in their crumbling courtyard on the mountain. He will remain there until he feels that she has safely traveled to her place of rest.
We didn’t manage to attend her funeral but for this I have no regrets. Over 10 years ago now I started to make sure we did everything we could when we could. I prefer to make the effort while they are here to enjoy the moments with us. I helped her tick off boxes on a bucket list she didn’t even write: the great wall; the summer palace; a ride on a Ferris wheel; deep sea world; a trip on a plane; a visit to the ocean etc.
The last time we saw laolao in the village and waved goodbye as we headed down the mountain, it suddenly occurred to me that it might be the last time so I stopped, “go and give her a hug” I persuaded my husband. He ran back up and hugged her a proper goodbye. It was a beautiful farewell.
Why then is the title of this piece “Almost No Regrets”? My two regrets are:
I hadn’t found the time to send out laolao a care package I had promised my daughter she could prepare. Never delay a phone call or parcel to an elderly relative. Don’t take their existence for granted.
I never prioritized finding out about laolao’s family history. Due to the lack of records, laolao has taken her family’s past with her to rest. However, I will put her and grandfather-in-law proudly at the top of my husband’s side of our family tree. Laolao will not be forgotten. If you are even just slightly interested in family records, investigate your Chinese side without delay especially if they have countryside roots.