Tuesday, February 26, 2013

My Time with Yeh Yeh

My parents often tell me that when I was born, my grandpa, or as I call him Yeh Yeh, was so excited that he rushed down from Oakland to San Jose where I was born only to realize that he had forgotten to pick up my grandma.  Once he remembered, he was too afraid to face grandma (I would be too) so he had my dad drive all the way up to Oakland to pick her up.   Growing up, he always exhibited the same type of excitement when he was visiting my brother Bryce and my cousins, and myself.  He was always so proud of each of us.  My grandparents would often take Bryce and me out and where ever we went, Yeh Yeh would often tell people, "these are my grandsons!  They are good kids."  He would crack a smile and then follow it up by saying "I have 7 grand kids and they are all very smart!"  Even over the past couple years when Yeh Yeh suffered from dementia, I would visit him and he would look to my dad with a sense of excitement and say "This is my grandson.  Have you met him?"  Even though it saddened me that he could not draw the connection between my dad and me anymore, I was touched that he still carried that same level of excitement when I visited.

I never understood why Yeh Yeh was so proud of us.  Maybe it's just one of those unwritten rules that states that grandparents must love their grandchildren unconditionally.  Personally, I hope he was proud of us because he saw a little bit of himself in each of us.  

When we were kids, our grandparents spoiled us.  They always sneaked us a red envelope every time we visited.  They would buy us toys when my parents wouldn't.  And they would take us to fun places like the zoo when our parents were busy with work.  They would call us "smart boys" and Yeh Yeh would tell us to eat our veggies "so that we can be strong like Popeye."  

As we grew older, he told us stories about when he immigrated to the States.  How he had very little and how he worked hard so that he could send money back to his wife in China.  For a period of time, he lost contact with her due to the Japanese invasion during World War 2.  During that time, he didn't even know if she was still alive but he remained hopeful that she was.  After the war, he learned that his wife, our grandma was still alive and he sent for her to join him in the States.  His loyalty and devotion to our grandma is remarkable.

He once told me how he put his children through college and how he helped them buy their first house.  I remembered at the time wondering why he was bragging, it was so unlike him. In retrospect, I realize now he was trying to tell me to take care of those that I care for most.  Our grandpa touched a lot of lives during his lifetime.  After he became successful in business, he sponsored others to come to the states.  He set them up with jobs at his stores in Oakland and sometimes he would provide housing for them.  He gave those families the same opportunities he received when he immigrated here and many of those individuals went on to become successful themselves.  

As adults, we still received advice from Yeh Yeh.  One Christmas, when my brother was still single, he told him that he should "go to church and find a nice girl."  We laughed it off but his intent was genuine. He was really worried about my brother even though there is never any reason to.

The past few years after he was diagnosed with Parkinson's and Dementia my dad, my cousin Nicole and I spent most Monday evenings (his caregiver's day off) with him and we would visit constantly.  We saw him slowly regress into a state of constant confusion due to his dementia. Even though it saddened me to see a man who had once taken care of and looked after so many people require assistance 24 hours a day, I looked forward to every Monday.  It was my time to return the favor for all the times he took care of me growing up.  It excited me every time the caregiver told me that Yeh Yeh was happy that I visited.  Recently, the family took him out to Dim Sum for Chinese New Year and that evening, he kept the caregiver up to midnight talking about his day and how happy he was to see his children and his grandchildren.  

This past Friday, February 22, Yeh Yeh passed away at the age of 93.  He lived just long enough for my family and me to get back from dinner.  His breaths slowed and we realized this was it.  Bryce and I held his hand and we spoke the last words to him we would ever say to him.  I said, "Thank You for giving us so much"

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