Honeybadger Grandma and a Path of Unconditional Love

with Popo and my sister Estella

Popo! In Cantonese, it means “your mother’s mom” as there are distinct words for each grandparent. Popo has always been a part of my life because she was living with my parents when I was born. There has never been a world without Grandma.

I lived at home til I was 19 so for all those years, I saw Popo daily. It was a very challenging relationship because when your Grandma dislikes you, it makes life very difficult. She also fought constantly with my mom because she didn’t want to live with us yet was clearly dependent. Thankfully, she adored my little sister Estella and I could witness her more affectionate side through that relationship.

Grandma with my sister Estella, at her 99th birthday party

For 2 years, I attended university in Montreal so that was the only period of my life where I did not see Grandma regularly. Shortly before I graduated, Popo announced she was traveling to Hong Kong on her own. She was 81 years old but was strong as an ox and sharp as a nail so we cheered her on. On the return flight, she landed in Vancouver and wanted to stay here to be near Estella who was attending Pearson College on Vancouver Island. Our mom found Grandma a place to stay through friends and we were all impressed that Popo was now living on her own on the West Coast!

Grandma at Trout Lake Park, 2007, age 93

Soon, I relocated here to work in the film industry and moved Grandma to Commercial Drive where she could access more things and I could help out more easily. She really enjoyed living on her own, taking transit, shopping in Chinatown and walking around to her heart’s delight. Then my mom and sister moved to Vancouver so we were all part of Popo’s care team.

with my Mom, Grandma and sister Estella

Though Grandma was very demanding and abrasive, we learned to find the humor. My sister and her partner lovingly nicknamed Popo the ‘Honeybadger Grandma’ cause “Honeybadger don’t care! Honeybadger gets what Honeybadger wants”. We focused on appreciating her strengths as she had a strong grip, strong will and strong mind. She was diligently trying to learn English and was still cooking meals and sewing into her late 90’s.

For 25 years, my mom, my sister and I have loved and cared for Popo in Vancouver. With our family’s support, she lived independently til she was 100 years old. After a pneumonia scare (where she would have died had I not found her in time), she requested 24-hour care. For the last 5 years, Popo remained quite lucid and healthy while she lived at a wonderful care home called Villa Cathay, supported by an amazing staff of nurses. She became the darling of the home, as her elegant and resilient spirit came out in these peaceful twilight years.

For many years, I felt that Grandma must have had some significant traumas in her past because of her unique behaviors and views. Also, she would never tell us about herself and was not curious about our lives either. We tried many times to learn more about her past but she was a vault. Instead of needing to be loved or understood by her, or needing to know more about her, we each focused on loving her unconditionally.

Over the last 25 years, Popo came to understand how much we cared about her and softened. She was no longer angry or resentful and she even started to smile genuinely whenever I arrived to see her. We’ve shared countless meals and played countless hours of mahjong (a card game much like gin rummy) with Grandma. My sister’s partner Adam has been part of this mahjong circle for many years and speaks flawless “mahjong Cantonese” and even Shane learned to play..

Grandma staring at her cards while our family smiles for the camera

On Sunday Oct.6, Popo was tired but still lucid, chatting occasionally while laying down. On Tuesday evening, the care home called because she had taken a turn for the worse. For the last 2 months, we’d been through many false alarms but this time, we could see that Grandma was truly entering the last rite of passage. She had stopped eating and drinking. She was no longer lucid even though she occasionally opened her eyes and reached out to some invisible vision in the sky. She could no longer see or hear us and eventually, the only movement was her breath.

We held vigil by her bedside for 4 days with only short sleep breaks each night. We held her hands, caressed her body and whispered loving messages into her ear. We shared blessings, prayed and supported each other through those precious yet difficult days and nights.

On Saturday morning, about an hour after we’d left her bedside for some sleep, Popo took her last breath. We had wondered if she’d leave when we weren’t in the room because that would suit her personality which was so proud and so private. We’d wanted so much to be there for her final moment on Earth but it also made sense that this was how she would transition.

Oh dearest Popo, 105 year old Honeybadger Extraordinaire, we bow to you and we will miss you so so much.

Whatever sorrows or traumas you might have had in your past, you left this world surrounded by unconditional love!

Celebrating Grandma’s 105th birthday, December 2018

You are free now and you shall live on forever in our hearts.

There has never been a world without Grandma.

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