Tuesday, April 10, 2012

death and taxes and facebook

My grandmother died this week. She was 97 years old. I found out on Facebook. My parents were in Bhutan at the time and I was extremely stressed out about having to be the one to tell my father. It was the one time I wished we were on the phone instead of a video.

I have mixed feelings about getting this type of news over social media. On the one hand, I understand why it was done this way. We have a huge family, and when you're grieving, the last thing you want to do is to make a hundred phone calls, or even four. It was effective. But even though I want Facebook to be full of meaningful personal milestones, when it's actually used for this, I always feel completely put off by it. It's a complicated relationship we have, me and Facebook.

Anyhow. A eulogy for my grandmother. We couldn't speak the same language. I never learned Chinese and she never learned English. Our interactions were always strange. She would talk at me and someone else would translate, or not. I think the last sentient interaction before her stroke was when I tried to tell her I was studying political science (in Chinese) and she laughed at me. I don't know if she was laughing at such a ridiculous choice of study or at my poor intonation. Probably both. Until then, I had always been afraid of her.

Even though we never had meaningful oral conversations, her presence was powerful. She would reign over family gatherings like a silent queen, but when she did speak, everyone listened and obeyed. I learned from her that if you demand respect, you will often get it. I learned how she commanded her empire of 11 children, 29 grandchildren, and 5 great-grandchildren.

As a writer, it's hard for me to admit that sometimes words don't mean a thing. I don't know how our large family is different now, but it is. We're a diverse bunch, spread out and with varying religious and lifestyle views. But the one thing that we all had was this woman and our subservience to her. Without her, everything seems a little less unified.


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