Sunday my Nai went to the hospital again. My brother Brian had mentioned that her kidneys had stopped working, and there was fluid in her lungs. Just the week prior his grandmother-in-law had passed away in their home. The start of the rapid decline was her kidneys failing. We thought maybe it was coming soon.
The week before had also been Lunar New Year. We had heard she had passed out, but came to dinner anyway. We had gotten an orange prepared for her for her blood sugar, though we weren’t sure if she would eat it. She didn’t have much of a sweet tooth and refused most food. She looked tired, and her hair was unkempt, but she was there. She smiled at my baby nephew, and my YeYe tenderly spoon fed her rice. It was good to see her eating. We were all concerned because her health has been poor recently. She’s had stint after stint of visits to the hospital after passing out, or feeling dizzy.
My Nai was asleep when we opened the door. My brother and brother-in-law weren’t sure if we should go in or not. I stepped in a little further just to see her and she opened her eyes.
“Hi Nai!” I said and waved, and I usually did, “Did you eat?” I pointed to the yogurt and apple juice on the side table next to the hospital bed. She offered it to us. She said they were going to throw it away anyways if she didn’t eat it. It didn’t seem like she was planning on eating it.
She seemed pleased to see us. We pulled up chairs to sit with her. Much of the conversation I couldn’t follow. She spoke, and my older brother, Mark, considered and sometimes responded. He tried to translate what he could, but neither of our Cantonese is good enough to converse. I’d been studying a little online, but the most I could say would be “How have you been doing lately?” though I doubted I would understand the response even if I tried. There was a deep pang of regret that it may be too late to learn Cantonese now. She asked about my sister, and where my parents were. She did this every time we saw her. She wanted to know where everyone was and if they were coming to visit.
I pulled out my phone and showed her a video of my nephew. In the video he smiles and coos and laughs. She grabbed my phone from my hand and cooed right back lighting up at the sight of him, saying a lot to my little nephew that I couldn’t understand. She mimicked a child and said “Gong he faht choi! Gong he faht choi!” one of the few things I could understand. It was at the new year’s greetings – one of the few things we had learned from a young age to tell our elders when they gave us our hong bao for the year.
She said a few things to me I couldn’t understand. I turned from her to my brother to see if he could tell me what she said. He paused and said “Do you have any more videos?” I pulled up videos of my nephew sitting up and slowly slowly falling over on the couch. She exclaimed, “Oh!” and he fell over. Mark said that she said that he looked like his mother, Cici, but I couldn’t tell you one way or another.
Mark and Toto mentioned something about lunch afterwards and she told us to go get lunch. She told us to tell my dad (who was coming later) to bring food for us. Mark and Toto had lunch plans, and she told us to go eat. It was noon already. It was actually 11am, but we couldn’t explain. We had had a hard time trying to figure out how to say Sunday just prior. She told us to go. This was how she had always been. Even when we were small children, I remember her telling us our Mama was leaving. We had to leave or she would leave us behind. We would go to the kitchen and our mother was not ready to go.
It was because of Nai that we grew up coming to her house with all of our cousins and aunts and uncles every Friday. It’s because of her that my five year old self wanted a huge house where we could all live together with all of our cousins. It’s because of her that we are so close. In our cousin chat, my cousin Dexter mentioned the doctors recommended she start dialysis. We talked about hosting dinners at their house instead of at restaurants so it would be easier on our grandparents. As we left the hospital I held her hand to say good bye. It’s not like us to say things like “I love you.” so I didn’t. It would seem like too final a good-bye, and I didn’t want to do that.
The next morning I woke up to messages that she had passed away that night. The great matriarch of our family had gone. Nai Nai, I hope you know how much we love you, and what a beautiful family you’ve given to all of us. I’m so blessed to have had you as a grandmother. I hope despite our poor language skills that you’re proud of us, and you’re at peace knowing we’re alright. I’m sorry I wasn’t brave enough to say I love you in person, but I also hope you felt it from our visits, and that you know it in the way that Chinese families know. Nai Nai, I love you.