Best. Grandma. Ever.

December 26, 2011

“Yun Yun [my Chinese name], what do you like to drink? What do you want to drink? Go take a look in our liquor cabinet and choose something.”

“It’s okay. I’m not really interested in drinking alone…”

“Aiya. You’re only going to be here for a few more days. Open whatever you want. I’ll drink with you.”


I come from a family of fighters.

Two days after I arrived in Honduras, we took Chat Tai Tai to the hospital because her breathing had become dangerously haggard. Doctors hooked her up to various IVs for medications, liquids, and monitoring. Her vitals were generally stable, at least for someone of her age and condition.

Tuesday, she made it to her 95th birthday, and we brought her a strawberry cheesecake to celebrate. She was barely conscious of the mini party but she did get to sample some of the dessert cream.

I don’t know all that much about Chat Tai Tai’s life history save that she was the (very young) seventh wife of my great grandfather’s (very old) uncle. There is a glimpse into Chinese culture for you. She has been old and widowed and around and trucking for as long as I have known her (my entire life). I have distinct memories of her padding up and down the stairs speaking her unique mix of Spanish and Chinese, and standing at the stove churning out paper thin egg roll skins one-by-one from scratch. She is one of the most permanent fixtures in my archive of Honduran memories.

Wednesday, she started to decline, and the doctor solemnly gave her approximately five hours to live. We took turns watching over her along with the round-the-clock nurses, but five hours passed. Then six. Then several more and she was still hanging on. At night, my grandmother came rushing back to the house kitchen because Chat Tai Tai had torn off her breathing apparatus herself and asked for food! Not to be inappropriate, but this lady is like the cat with nine lives. The legacy lives on…

The next few days, she remained stable and much to our amazement, extremely lucid at that. She could understand and even answer our questions. Her eyes were open and consciously roving around.

Yesterday, her heartbeat started fluctuating between extremes and she moaned quite a bit about pain. Suffering is surely the most difficult part of watching someone die. But still, she clung on.

By this morning, she had deteriorated significantly but fortunately remained resting in a deep slumber–not able to hear or feel anything. We sat in the room for the majority of the day and watched her breathing become progressively more shallow. She passed away quietly before 4:00pm. I think the doctor put it best when he said, “We can all only hope to pass like this: well taken care of and surrounded by family, with dignity and little suffering.”

I am sure there is a lot Chat Tai Tai endured in her lifetime of which I will never know. I am aware that she was the most alert 90-something-year-old I have ever met, and fought valiantly against two hip fractures, old age, and ultimately pneumonia and bed confinement. More than anything she deserved to slip peacefully away, and I think we are all grateful she could finally do so without pain.

I was thinking the other day that our family doesn’t really have Christmas traditions. I guess we do now. Today also marks the exact 20th anniversary of my great-grandfather’s passing. He was another character who kept right along in life.

It has been a somber Christmas, but truly, I am honored to be here celebrating and appreciating life with a remarkable family of truly legendary fighters.

Que descanse en paz, Chat Tai Tai.

[Part 1 and Part 2]

One night, B sent me an email about hanging out. I thought this meant the usual: me swiping him a sandwich at the cafeteria with my extra meal points and then sitting together in my apartment watching terrible television until it was time for him to “go to class.” I consented but was confused when he responded that he was “interested in exploring some new spots in SD” for dinner one night. Was he asking me out on a date?

It looked, smelled, and sounded like a date, but that was never clarified until years later. I guess, technically, it wasn’t supposed to be, but we count it now. I think.

In any case, we ate at an empty raw vegetarian restaurant all the way in Carlsbad where nothing was cooked above 30 degrees. Memorable moments include hearing someone sneeze explosively in the kitchen after we ordered our food (the restaurant has since gone out of business) and me finding significant quantities of brown rice in my hair at one point (awkward).

He paid. He opened doors. And as we drove back to campus, he pointed out my window suddenly and said, “Hey, check out that sunset!” Lo and behold, it was the most perfect purple sunset I had ever seen. B pulled over to the side of the freeway and climbed over a fence. I followed, mortified by the cheese factor and wondering if this had been planned all along (he denies it to this day). We sat on the edge of a cliff and talked life dreams as the sun dipped into the ocean.

Back then, I hoped to book it to Latin America and work with street children after college [author’s note: booyah!]. B wanted to go into investment banking and live in Oregon. Honestly, I was more hung up on the Oregon part than anything else. I was also very much embarrassed by the sappy turn the [pseudo] date had taken (shut up, I was brand-new to the scene). And furthermore, I was reeling from his disclosure that he had already looked at flights to come visit me in Spain, where I was moving in one month’s time to live for a year. Um, weren’t we barely friends? This guy was intense.

Overwhelmed, I ran out of the car and fled to Bible Study the second we got back to campus.

And she was never heard from again. The End.

…jk. Stay tuned.


December 21, 2011

Reuters’ best photographs of 2011.