Life

Dear Mia and Isabelle,

I have solved all the logistical problems resulting from my death that I can think of – I am hiring a very reasonably priced personal chef to cook for you and Daddy; I have left a list of instructions about who your dentist is and when your school tuition needs to be paid and when to renew the violin rental contract and the identity of the piano tuner.  In the coming days, I will make videos about all the ins and outs of the apartment, so that everyone knows where the air filters are and what kind of dog food Chipper eats.  But I realized that these things are the low-hanging fruit, the easy to solve but relatively unimportant problems of the oh-so mundane.

I realized that I would have failed you greatly as your mother if I did not try to ease your pain from my loss, if I didn’t at least attempt to address what will likely be the greatest existential question of your young lives.  You will forever be the kids whose mother died of cancer, with people looking at you with some combination of sympathy and pity (which you will no doubt resent, even if everyone means well).  That fact of your mother dying will weave into the fabric of your lives like a glaring stain on an otherwise pristine tableau.  You will ask as you look around at all the other people who still have their parents, why did my mother have to get sick and die.  It isn’t fair, you will cry.  And you will want so painfully for me to be there to hug you when your friend is mean to you, to look on as your ears are being pierced, to sit in the front row clapping loudly at your music recitals, to be that annoying parent insisting on another photo with the college graduate, to help you get dressed on your wedding day, to take your newborn babe from your arms so you can sleep.  And every time you yearn for me, it will hurt all over again and you will wonder why. More

Death

I was Daddy’s little girl, his favorite, his precious one, his gold nugget.  He would tell anyone and everyone exactly that, in Vietnamese or Chinese.  It was embarrassing, especially in those teenage years, but I loved him too, even if he was often too nosey and annoying in so many other ways   Perhaps, it was because I was the child most like him, inquisitive and interested in the world and its people.  Perhaps, in me he saw all his own potential and dreams never realized – the intellectual, the fearless world traveler, the money-making professional.  In him, I saw a man who loved me beyond measure, who would spend hours in traffic driving me to and from the airport, high school competitions, study group sessions and the orthodontist, who believed that I could walk on the moon if I so chose,   Sometimes, I felt somewhat bad for my older brother and sister.  He loved them too, of course, but it just wasn’t the same.  (It was widely known, however, that my brother was my mother’s favorite and my sister was my grandmother and the uncles’ favorite, so I didn’t feel too bad.)  During one of our many car rides together, I asked my father, “Don’t you think that it is not right for you to love me more than Older Brother and Older Sister?”  He took his right hand off the steering wheel and held it out to me, its fingers outstretched.  “Look at my hand,” he ordered.  “You see my fingers?  Are they even?  No.  It isn’t possible to love your children the same.”  And that was that.  My father, the sage Chinese philosopher, had spoken.

Anyhow, knowing that he loved me as much as he did, I felt incredibly sorry for him as he stood helplessly by as I left for college three thousand miles away from home and then on my various adventures to far-flung places, the kind of impoverished places that we had risked our lives to escape decades earlier.  He was and is a worrier.  He would sit morosely watching me, shoulders drooped, as I packed for my next adventure, wringing his hands and running his fingers through his virtually non-existent hair.  Sure, I was nervous about my travels, somewhat afraid of what I might encounter, but mostly I was excited and enthralled by the promise and possibility of newness and all the things to be seen and experienced.  I was off to have fun, to grow and learn, to be changed and challenged; my father would be left behind at home, worrying.  His life centered around me and that center was leaving.  I swore then that I never wanted to be the one left behind, even if I were to have my own children, that I was and would forever be an intrepid traveler and adventurer.

It seems that with the latest bad scan results, I will now continue to make good on that promise I made myself so long ago.  I will be the one to die young.  I will be the first among so many family and friends to embark on the greatest adventure of all, the one that involves traveling beyond this life into the next.  Were the choice mine, I would stay longer, to watch my children grow up and to age with my husband, to bury my parents, to see more of this life that I have loved so much.  But the choice is not mine.  It has never been mine. More