Beyond Words

Tuesday, March 17, 2020 / 10:50 AM

Po-po is turning 86 next month. We had planned a large gathering, as my family often does for these kinds of celebrations, but it's been postponed.

We say postponed, I think, because "canceled" is too harsh. In reality, I think we all know the truth.

Three-hundred and fifty miles away, up north, yeh-yeh and ma-ma are in a nursing home that's been locked down from outside visitors. At 98 and 96 years old, I wonder if they're wondering why the daily visits from family have stopped. I think yeh-yeh must know, at least. He's still sharp and has been reading the Chinese newspapers frequently, when he gets them. Last month when I saw him, he told us there were people dying in China and we should be careful.

One of the hardest parts about this new reality we've found ourselves in is not knowing how long it will be before we can all see each other again. It isn't just the physical distance that keeps us apart right now; it's also the technology barrier – the lack of means to even communicate – and, most importantly, the language barrier.

I used to envy my friends whose relationships with their grandparents were built on conversations that extended beyond, "Have you eaten today?"/"Yes." But my poor Cantonese and my grandparents' broken English ... We've always struggled to really communicate.

And yet I know, without question, that we love each other as much as people who can speak to one another every day. During last month's visit, I showed ma-ma pictures on my phone of Disney trips and my life at USC, and in between drifting in and out of consciousness, she would nod and smile and point to the familiar faces she knew.

Yeh-yeh is more talkative because, by nature of his life, he's had to be. We still joke around in small ways and he remembers how old I am. But he doesn't know what I do for a living or how I spend my days or what music I listen to or what foods I've decided I like and dislike.

But none of that really matters. What matters is that I miss them.

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