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I had a very different Christmas in 2015. I was home alone. I didn’t bother with the Christmas tree and the sparkly stuff that some find much excitement in what makes a season “Christmassy.” Perhaps, its because I am cynical, or possibly because of the early-bird culture of Christmas marketing. I don’t need a tree or sparkly bobbles to remind me of the birth of Christ. We didn’t even bother with presents this year, which is a first, but I did treat my parents and myself to watch the new Star Wars: The Force Awakens. [absolutely amazing film!]

Meanwhile, in the days before my solo Christmas festivities (cue Andre Rue music on the violin), my parents were contemplating travelling to Hong Kong for a very defining journey. I couldn’t go, even if I wanted to. I only started my new job recently. And besides, I wouldn’t be able to secure adequate holidays, on top of the usual public days we have each year. My Mum doubted whether to go or not. Confused, hurt and worry dampened her heart and mind. My Dad being our family knight was happy to go with Mum. Since my Mum is a big worrier, which is ironic, because she has a deep faith and relationship in the LORD, she was more concerned about money, flight availability and Dad’s health (mainly travel insurance).

After sourcing the Internet for legit deals, and with the need to compromise Christmas with my own family, I suggested they both depart on Christmas Day and arrive back on New Year’s Day. The best cattle seats in the house at the best price for those prime dates. I insisted that both my parents should go. Not because I wanted to have the house to myself, even though I would be at work most of the time anyway, but because it was fitting for them to go ASAP. Deep down, I was more concerned that Mum needed the emotional support, and in ways, it would be good for Dad to be there for Mum’s family, as Dad loves Mum’s family so much (especially so for Mum’s mother).

The great urgency that was mounting on our minds and hearts was the desire to be with my Mum’s mother (a.k.a. my Chinese grandmother). Her health was failing. Since the summer of 2015, my Chinese grandmother developed some mysterious problems which I am sure was caused by a broken heart, which is the best short form that I can accurately describe.

The interesting physical change was when we learned that one side of her face fell sullen like that of a stroke. Seemingly, it wasn’t a stroke but something else that caused one side of her face to melt like a wax candle. I was 90% certain in my limited medical knowledge that it was a stroke. Her health had deteriorated rapidly within the space of a few weeks. It felt like a domino rally was triggered, and then the penultimate diagnosis around 2 weeks ago before Christmas… a confirmed stroke.

Lately, I heard from Mum’s conversation to her family that Mum’s mother (whom I shall now refer to as PawPaw, which is the cantonese term for “Grandma” or “Grandmother”), was resting in bed at a regional hospital in Hong Kong. She was previously based at a residential care home, which at the time proved wonderful, especially when the family secured a move from private to public, because the steep medical bills were causing a financial strain on the whole of the family. In recent days, PawPaw was reported to be resting in bed with no disfigurement to her face, and more importantly breathing on her own without an oxygen mask or tube. She was however on IV fluids for food, and I assume pain killers like paracetamol. However, PawPaw could no longer communicate in ways that the family would take for granted. She could somehow listen to conversations and hear the voices of her children and medical staff, but she could only find the physical strength to stretch her toes or kick her feet.

Fortunately, all of Mum’s siblings and my parents were able to source the extra money to make last-minute arrangement to fly out to Hong Kong to see PawPaw, which is really special indeed. I know it has been difficult for most to make immediate arrangements, as quite a number of Mum’s family already travelled to Hong Kong only a couple of months ago. It is not cheap to travel to Hong Kong, unless you can secure a bargain and travel at the right days and season.

On Wednesday 30th December 2016, when I was preparing to wake up to get ready for work, I received a few text messages from Dad in Hong Kong giving his usual updates and sharing some bits of banter. I received a peculiar text message towards 6am to say that a missionary from a local church had popped by to visit PawPaw to pray with her and the family. Seemingly, it was a long prayer and when they reached the end to say Amen, PawPaw muttered something, which my parents assumed was… you know, to acknowledge God’s authority and make agreement of His promises of a prayer of intercession, as you do. Dad mentioned that PawPaw looked so calm and at peace after the prayer, that he thought it was time. A weird thing happened seconds later when the family members left the room, as the alarm from PawPaw’s stat machine was sounding. Dad had thought she had eventually stabilised, but since my Dad is the only white bloke in a room full of cantonese speaking locals (including family), the latest text that I received was to clarify that PawPaw had indeed passed away.

The most powerful thing that I want to bring home and share in this reflection is that the family and the local missionary shared a time of prayer and reading of the Scriptures. In fact, the missionary lady was reading Psalm 23 which is PawPaw’s favourite passage of Scripture (and a common favourite as believers grow older and know their own “timing”). The very moment that everyone intercessed in agreement in God’s Word with a very affirmed Amen, PawPaw had actually breathed her last. The fascinating thing is that PawPaw passed away peacefully and of course, made her peace with the LORD. The encouraging highlight to recognise from this difficult time of griefing is that PawPaw has been a born-again believer for a good number of years. In fact, it was my own Mum who introduced Jesus Christ to her mother, which then filtered to the majority of the family, except for one.

When I shared this specific revelation to my line manager at work, he was inspired by this moving testimony, which he then shared a non-similar experience (as most folk tend to do out of sheer awkwardness), but it was still of losing a fellow grandmother. For me, it’s learning of the immediate family actually seeing that (near visible) spiritual transformation, as one leaves behind a rotten body to be reunited with our LORD and Saviour. And in ways, I am sure her passing encouraged us (if one can comment on such thing) because she is no longer trapped inside a broken body in a suffering state. Revelation 21:1-4 strongly comes to mind… every time.

As for me, well Dad rejoined me for his originally scheduled flight on New Years Day, as he flew solo back home, leaving Mum behind to be with her family to arrange the funeral. There is also a sense of duty, as Mum is the eldest in the family (from a total of 7 including herself). My Mum is like her own mother, always looking out for others first before looking after themselves. And I don’t know how blessed I am to have a Mum who has a servant heart in ways like Christ. Mum may be reserved like myself, but oh boy, does she really love the people whom she loves in her own family circle. And it’s moments that spur inside my heart thinking, I can’t wait to introduce my wife (God-willing) to my mother.

So yeah, I am still processing my side of grieving (which I confess, I find difficult to express), even though I don’t need to grieve a lost body (like that of the empty tomb of Jesus Christ). I do however have peace and immense joy that a dear loved one, a saved soul is with the LORD – and one day, I get to see PawPaw again.

[Update]

My Mum arrived safely via Emirates last Friday, hence I am open to document and share. Dad dropped me off at Glasgow Airport, so I could find Mum when she arrived and escort her to the car with Dad. I have to admit, it was the first time I waited for anyone at an airport, and it was strangely emotional to see Mum. Not just because we haven’t seen each other for 3 weeks (2 weeks for Dad, as he could only stay for a week), but I was grieving with Mum in her loss. Though my grandparents from my Dad’s side (Dad’s parents) passed away for a while, learning of PawPaw’s passing pulled a few new emotional chords, mainly because I bonded with PawPaw than I did with my Scottish grandparents. In a nutshell, PawPaw has the character of being everyone’s grandmother.

I conversed with Mum over the weekend just to catch up on the gossip so to speak, and I didn’t want Mum to stop talking. I was encouraged to learn that the LORD was behind the scenes of everything, from the gentle passing of PawPaw to the funeral arrangements and receiving the best weather and timing during the days and weeks the family overstayed their time in Hong Kong.

So yeah, what other nuggets are worth sharing. Well, I have learned that the LORD *still* looks after His children, no matter how weary we are in our health. God’s grace is sufficient beyond our knowledge and understanding, and only He can give us a peace that can still our hearts. All born-again believers will be reunited with the LORD, where the human conditions will no longer hinder us, for Christ has set us free – now and forever more.

~Richard