Sunday, October 11, 2009

A life lost, a spirit found.

She never got past elementary school. Actually, she was an orphan and she was passed around from uncle to aunt to uncle. Her mother died, during labor I believe and her father died soon after. I think finally her eldest sister took care of her. No one could afford to put her through school so her education stopped after elementary school and her teenage years were spent working, mostly physical labor and menial work.

One day, when she was 19 or so, she met a charming, smart and sophisticated playboy. He spoke English well and was an engineer. His Germany education and his English speaking background made him quite good looking on paper. He had a promising future. She fell in love and they got married and moved in together in Taiwan.

Together they had four children: Two boys and two girls.

After she gave birth to her last child, she suffered from post-pardum depression. Her children never got to know their mother without depression. As the children grew and the depression didn't alleviate, their father began to fall out of love with her, if he was ever truly in love with her to begin with.

The father traveled frequently while his youngest daughter was a child because a lot of his work was abroad. One year, his small daughter started walking home from school and saw her father walking towards her. For some reason, she was always quite fearful of her father. And this time, as he walked up towards her, he asked "Why do you look so sad?"

She looked back up at him and said, "Because this time, you're not coming back."

"Of course I'm coming back. I have four kids, I have to come back for you."

A man came into my mother's house one day, covered her mouth with a moist cloth probably covered in some anesthetic like ether, and when she woke up she was undressed.

Some time later, that same man came into my mother's house and tried to rape my grandmother. My mom, small and probably 7 years old, helped my grandmother fend him off. The next day they got a rickshaw and moved the entire family. My mom was sent to the train stations to wait for her brothers and sister and to tell them they moved and to go to the new home.

Events like this may have intensified her depression. But my mom always saw something was wrong. Sometimes my mother would walk into a room and find my grandmother talking to no one. And all she thought about was her husband who was in Hong Kong with a new family, having left one fateful day after my mother came home from school. Her broken heart may have pushed her over the edge into schizophrenia.

She is still waiting for him to come back to her.

Half a lifetime later and I am finally going to meet her. This is the woman who inspired me to study psychology. This is also the woman who made me fearful of relationships. And in February, eight months after my grandfather's death, my mother will have to decide whether she will tell her why he really is never coming back to her.

Blog excerpt, December 2007

I wrote that blog entry almost two years ago. A few months later, I finally met my grandmother, a woman whose life came to me in tearful stories and heart-to-heart tales but never in the physical reality until that moment. She had a nervous smile on her face when I walked into her room. I wasn't sure if she knew who I was and felt bashful or if she didn't know who I was and was smiling her way through her anxiety.

Twenty-months after that day, I received cold news of her death. At first I wasn't sure how to react but then the tears came. I am not sure which saddens me more--the sadness of her death or the suffering in her life.

She suffered from schizophrenia. Her understanding of reality was a little different than the communal reality. Or maybe she knew she was never apart of reality at all. Maybe she knew the idea of reality was rubbish and the life she experienced transcended everyone else's. Or maybe she was just crazy. She knew she had a disease though. She refused to depend on medication for the rest of her life, a strength my mom now says she once saw in me. She wanted to deal with her illness by herself and fight through it. She had the type of strength I think most people are never forced to have or discover in themselves. She also had a perception and experience of the world most people only see in movies and never understand firsthand.

Since I was little and knew about her illness, I feared becoming like her. I researched schizophrenia when I was little and I learned about my biological predisposition to mental illnesses. Psychology became an important aspect of my life because of my grandmother. I majored in psychology in college and hope to continue in that field in some way. She may never have been the grandmother who baked cookies with me or spoiled me with birthday presents but her existence and her strength made an impression on my life. Her presence in my life may not have been physical but in a way, her spirit has been and will always be there.

RIP Grandmother Chang

Only in moments when I am alone does her death feel real; when I am lonely, her existence surrounds me...

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