A Tribute to a Human Being

Requiescat in pace 1

Hi all! Unhappy Thursday. Today marks the funeral of my third and last grandfather. He passed from this world and on to the next on May 3rd at 21:32. By sheer willpower or good luck, he held onto life until his last son arrived and saw him one last time, then he breathed his last. All his sons and their respective spouses were present along with two of his five grandchildren, my sister and myself. Throughout his last few weeks in this mortal realm, I visited him every day and fed him meals. The staff at the care home didn’t have time to spend two hours feeding him, so I fed him. Either it’s me or dumb luck, I have this ability to make the most non-compliant person want to eat. Sometimes you just have to be patient with them. But as time passed on, he declined rapidly and soon lost the will to eat or the ability to swallow. With his organs failing him and the lack of nutrition, he wasn’t long for this world.

Right now, I’m annoyed and frustrated, not at his death but at the lack of inaction on the parts of my father’s brothers and my relatives. It’s like they don’t even care and it’s true, they probably DGAF. My dad and I worked furiously planning the funeral and in picking a plot of land for the burial. My dad is a solitary, stoic man who sometimes takes on too much work but doesn’t complain about it and still manages to finish everything on time. But for this emotional journey, I didn’t want him to be alone, so I requested that he delegate tasks to me and that I would delegate tasks to the appropriate people and keep tabs on them.

Here is the eulogy I prepared for his funeral for those who couldn’t come:

A Tribute to a Human Being

Hello, as many of you know, I am the grandson of the recently deceased. For most of my life, since I was a baby, I’ve lived and eaten with this man. Nearly 30 years of living with the guy, and I barely know him. I know right? Bad grandson. But we all know what happened and we don’t bring it up often. And I know some of you here today harbor ill will and feelings towards my grandfather. You’ve ignored him and treated him like he’s a persona non grata. And that’s fine, I’m not blaming you. I too harbored ill will against him. But this is a celebration of life, so let us not focus on what we were taught and instilled in us but let us celebrate what he did and what he accomplished.

Yeung Chi Kwong , was born on November 11th, 1926 in Chung Shan, Canton, China to Yeung Yuk Wu, his father, and Chan Foon, his mother. I remember his birthday easily as it’s also Remembrance Day that day. I remember one year we gave him a birthday card, just randomly, he was overjoyed at it. But sadly I don’t recall ever doing it again.

As an adult he worked as a club manager for a, shall we say, gentlemen’s club, if you get my drift. The owner left all the affairs of the club to him to manage, so he effectively ran the show and quite successfully. By all accounts, he was a generous man and was constantly surrounded by a large entourage. Mostly these people wanted free meals from him, as they’d gather at the table where he was at and he’d foot the bill. But it goes to show he was a man of importance and was respectable and respected, even if they were sort of using him, he didn’t mind that. He essentially had the power to make it rain dollar dollar bills. Going back to his line of work, which was shady at best, he never got into the gangs and the Triads. He was an honest working man and took no bribes and cheated no one of their money. He did his part and did it well.

In 1991, he emigrated from Hong Kong to Canada. He acquired his citizenship on March 1st, 1996. I remember being there at the SUCCESS auditorium for his citizenship ceremony. We then took a picture with an RCMP officer. He proudly framed and put that picture on his desk for as long as I can remember. He came to Canada and lived with my family for about 22 years until he moved to the care home. To supplement his pension, he’d work at a factory bending metal wires and working with machinery. For most of the time that he lived with us, he and I shared a room for almost 10 years. We never really talked much. But I remember him taking me to preschool and making sure I was dressed and ready for school every day and then we would walk to school. He’d change my sister’s diapers and have me help out. And then he’d put her in her stroller and take us out for walks and to school. He doted on my sister and constantly gave her gifts. Me? Not so much but what difference does a child know, right?

When we grew older, and mom drove us to school every day he’d go out on daily trips to Chinatown by himself and have coffee and breakfast and lunch and come back in the evenings with the papers for my dad to read. He was independent. He was a fan of hockey and always watched all the games. I’m not sure which team he cheered for, but the two sports he enjoyed watching were hockey and football. I remember in 2002, the FIFA World Cup was taking place in Korea and Japan and South Korea got to the semi finals. If I recall correctly, the match was at 5 in the morning and I asked him to wake me up so we could watch it together. I was so sleepy I kept nodding off, but ultimately South Korea lost the match against Turkey. But that was a time well spent together. Also going back to sharing the same room for 10 years, he was a great snorer. And he always had a radio on beside his ear either playing radio shows or Buddhist mantras. At first I couldn’t get used to it, but overtime, I got used to his snoring and in fact, when we moved to our current house and I had my own room for the first time, I couldn’t sleep at all because the sound of his snoring was missing. But again as time went on, I got used to the lack of snoring. In fact I think I may have inherited his snoring capabilities. According to legend, I snore so sonorously, that my parents down the hall from my room with their door closed can hear me snore. Genes, they’re a powerful thing.

He was also a patient man, whenever I had difficulty with those sliding puzzles. You know the ones where you slide pieces of the puzzle and jumble it all up and you have to move them square by square? Yeah, whenever I had difficulty with them, I’d give it to him to solve and within an hour or sometimes minutes he’d solve it and give it back to me. Or sometimes I had a tangle of strings all in a knot and I’d get frustrated trying to untangle it, I’d, again, give it to him and he’d untangle it all for me. I remember him buying logic puzzles to solve in his free time. You know the ones, where you have to free the ring from the metal bars or whatever, he had a bunch of those and he was quite successful at them. He also had the willingness to learn. I remember this one time he came up to me with this huge vocabulary book, and he pointed at the words “French fries” and asked me how to pronounce it in English. So I said “French fries”, and he tried to repeat what I said “For lunch flies”. And I was like “Gasp! No! You don’t want flies for lunch! It’s Fer-ench Fry-eyes”. I think he may have wanted to order fries from McDonald’s. I’m not sure if he was successful in that endeavor, but he never asked me again for advice. I guess I was a bad teacher and I guess when asked if he wanted fries with that he got what he wanted.

Upon reaching his 90th birthday in 2016, he received letters from the Premier of British Columbia, the Prime Minister of Canada and the Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia on behalf of the Queen. That’s as close as getting a letter from Her Majesty as anyone will ever get. I’m sure it was a great honor and great accomplishment for him. Not many people get to live as long has him and experience life as an immigrant and the different environments and culture shock.

I was brought up with hatred in my heart and I hated him. He was a divisive and controversial figure in the family. But I’m going to bury the hatchet and reconcile my differences with him today. In his last few days, I visited him as much as I could and fed him his meals, mostly dinner. I annoyed him, no doubt, as he kept falling asleep while eating, but I just wanted the best for him. I didn’t want him to starve. I know what it feels like to not eat for days and be fatigued. But food is nourishment and he needed that even if his organs were failing him. He’s still a human being and according to the United Nations General Assembly’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 25 Section 1 it states that “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.” So I tried my best to provide for him his food regardless of his condition. I gained a sense of caring for the man I hate. For the first time I saw him as a human being who needed love and caring. He was a human being and deserved dignity and respect even in death. Although I did not have a good relationship with him, and I hated my grandfather, he was still blood and family. And family means no one gets left behind or forgotten. Lilo and Stitch would agree with me on this point. Without him, none of us would be here today, so go on with your denial, indifference and your hatred but be cognizant of the fact that you are here today living your life as you are because of him and for that be grateful.

I’d just like to finish off with an African story I heard many years ago as a child and it serves as a reminder to us today.

Near the edge of the Liberian rain forest, on a hill overlooking the Cavally River, was the village of Kundi. Its rice and cassava fields spread in all directions. Cattle grazed in the grassland near the river. Smoke from the fires in the round clay houses seeped through the palmleaf roofs, and from a distance these faint columns of smoke seemed to hover over the village. Men and boys fished in the river with nets, and women pounded grain in wooden mortars before the houses.

In this village, with his wife and many children, lived a hunter by the name of Ogaloussa.

One morning Ogaloussa took his weapons down from the wall of his house and went into the forest to hunt. His wife and his children went to tend their fields, and drove their cattle out to graze. The day passed, and they ate their evening meal of manioc and fish. Darkness came, but Ogaloussa didn’t return.

Another day went by, and still Ogaloussa didn’t come back. They talked about it and wondered what could have detained him. A week passed, then a month. Sometimes Ogaloussa’s sons mentioned that he hadn’t come home. The family cared for the crops, and the sons hunted for game, but after a while they no longer talked about Ogaloussa’s disappearance.

Then, one day, another son was born to Ogaloussa’s wife. His name was Puli. Puli grew older. He began to talk, and the first thing he said was, “Where is my father?”

The other sons looked across the ricefields.

“Yes,” one of them said. “Where is father?”

“He should have returned long ago,” another one said.

“Something must have happened. We ought to look for him,” a third son said.

“He went into the forest, but where will we find him?” another one asked.

“I saw him go,” one of them said. “He went that way, across the river. Let us follow the trail and search for him.”

So the sons took their weapons and started out to search for Ogaloussa. When they were deep among the great trees and vines of the forest they lost the trail. They searched in the forest until one of them found the trail again. They followed it until they lost the way once more, and then another son found the trail. It was dark in the forest, and many times they became lost. Each time another son found the way. At last they came to a clearing among the trees, and there on the ground scattered about lay Ogaloussa’s bones and his rusted weapons. They knew then that Ogaloussa had been killed in the hunt.

One of the sons stepped forward and said, “I know how to put a dead person’s bones together.” He gathered all of Ogaloussa’s bones and put them together, each in its right place.

Another son said, “I have knowledge too. I know how to cover the skeleton with sinews and flesh.” He went to work, and her covered Ogaloussa’s bones with sinews and flesh.

A third son said, “I have the power to put blood into a body.” He went forth and put blood into Ogaloussa’s veins, and then he stepped aside.

Another of the sons said, “I can put breath into a body.” He did his work, and when he was through they saw Ogaloussa’s chest rise and fall.

“I can give the power of movement to a body,” another of them said. He put the power of movement into his father’s body, and Ogaloussa sat up and opened his eyes.

“I can give him the power of speech,” another son said. He gave the body the power of speech, and then he stepped back.

Ogaloussa looked around him. He stood up.

“Where are my weapons?” he asked.

They picked up his rusted weapons from the grass where they lay and gave them to him. Then they returned the way they had come, through the forest and the ricefields, until they had arrived once more in the village.

Ogaloussa went into his house. His wife prepared a bath for him and he bathed. She prepared food for him and he ate. Four days he remained in the house, and on the fifth day he came out and shaved his head, because this was what people did when they came back from the land of the dead.

Afterwards he killed a cow for a great feast. He took the cow’s tail and braided it. He decorated it with beads and cowry shells and bits of shiny metal. It was a beautiful thing. Ogaloussa carried it with him to important affairs. When there was a dance or an important ceremony he always had it with him. The people of the village thought it was the most beautiful cow-tail switch they had ever seen.

Soon there was a celebration in the village because Ogaloussa had returned from the dead. The people dressed in their best clothes, the musicians brought out their instruments, and a big dance began. The drummers beat their drums and the women sang. The people drank much palm wine. Everyone was happy.

Ogaloussa carried his cow-tail switch, and everyone admired it. Some of the men grew bold and came forward to Ogaloussa and asked for the cow-tail switch, but Ogaloussa kept it in his hand. Now and then there was a clamor and much confusion as many people asked for it at once. The women and children begged for it too, but Ogaloussa refused them all.

Finally, he stood up to talk. The dancing stopped and people came close to hear what Ogaloussa had to say.

“A long time ago I went into the forest,” Ogaloussa said. “While I was hunting I was killed by a leopard. Then my sons came for me. They brought me back from the dead, but I have only one cow tail to give. I shall give it to the one who did the most to bring me home.”

So an argument started.

“He will give it to me!” one of the sons said. “It was I who did the most, for I found the trail in the forest when it was lost!”

“No, he will give it to me!” another son said. “It was I who put his bones together!”

“It was I who covered his bones with sinews and flesh!” another said. “He will give it to me!”

“It was I who gave him the power of movement!” another son said. “I deserve it most!”

Another son said it was he who should have the switch, because he had put blood into Ogaloussa’s veins. Another claimed it because he had put breath in the body. Each of the sons argued his right to possess the wonderful cow-tail switch.

Before long not only the sons but the other people of the village were talking. Some of them argued that the son who had put blood in Ogaloussa’s veins should get the switch, others that the one who had given Ogaloussa breath should get it. Some of them believed that all of the sons had done equal things, and that they should share it. They argued back and forth this way until Ogaloussa asked them to be quiet.

“To this son I will give the cow-tail switch, for I owe most to him,” Ogaloussa said.

He came forward and bent low and handed it to Puli, the little boy who had been born while Ogaloussa was in the forest.

The people of the village remembered then that the child’s first words had been, “Where is my father?” They knew that Ogaloussa was right.

For there was a saying among them that a man is not really dead until he is forgotten.

And this concludes my eulogy and tribute to a human being, my grandpa.

And with that I conclude today’s post with mixed feelings of sadness and anger. I don’t know what else to say other than farewell and see you on the other side soon.

Requiescat in pace 3

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