Rest in Peace IYee

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Me and IYee last year

One of the saddest moments this year has been my favorite aunt passing away.  My “I-Yee” was a rock for us:  she was a big sister and best friend to my mom, a pillar of strength for her six children, and a beloved aunt and friend to the rest of us kids growing up.

The funeral was last month in Seattle and I couldn’t attend due to starting a new job.  That day, I was rather sad knowing that I wouldn’t be there in person to wish her goodbye.  Just only a couple of months earlier, during a Skype chat, I saw her fatigued yet hopeful face, and I knew then it would be the last time I’d see her.

IYee and her six children

IYee and her six children

When the doctor first confirmed her cancer, we were told she would only have a few months to live.  She lived for almost two years more.  All of us felt blessed that we got that extra time with her!

No doubt, my IYee had a tough life raising six kids in a new country where she barely spoke English with a semi-absent husband.  She still managed to remain resilient and optimistic with her words of encouragement and steady presence.

IYee had a way of making everyone feel so good

IYee had a way of making everyone feel so good

My IYee had a wonderful sense of humor and a tremendously positive outlook in life.  Sometimes family members would vent and share frustrations, and my IYee often responded in the most Buddhist way with “It’s okay.  Life is short.  Love your kids no matter what, no matter how different their paths may take them.”  She embodied true openness and love.

Her heydays were in Hong Kong where she grew up as a teenager.  As a young thriving soul, she used to cruise through the Hong Kong markets, arm in arm with her friends.  She frequented the wonton noodle shops and window-shopped with curiosity.  And someone told me that back then, she loved riding on the back of a friend’s motorcycle, laughing and smiling with not a care in the world.  I’d like to keep that image in mind whenever I think of her now.

Two sisters:  IYee and my mom.  Although they were 16 years apart in age, they were very close and talked almost every day on the phone.

Two sisters: IYee and my mom last year. Although they were 16 years apart in age, they were very close and talked almost every day on the phone.

When we received the news about her death last month, we were prepared.  We had known for months that the day would come soon.  Acceptance had come in and through us, and all that was left was the waiting.  But still, on the day of her death last month, I cried.  How can she leave us?  I was then comforted with an image of her younger days when she used to ride the back of a motorcycle with her hair whipping back, the sun warm on her face.  She lived her life, freely and openly with a positive attitude that touched so many of us.

Rest in peace IYee.  We will miss you so much.

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On Seeing John Keats’ Tombstone in Rome

Cemetery in Rome

Cemetery in Rome

Poor guy – he had it rough from the start: his father was killed when he was eight, his mom died of tuberculosis several years later, and he himself lived only to the age of 26 before he gasped his last breath, alone in a foreign country and in despair.

When I was in Rome recently, I visited John Keats’ tombstone in a beautiful cemetary.  I had majored in English Literature many moons ago, and I remembered how my favorite literary era was the Romantic period, particularly Keats’ sombre but heartfelt poems.  Unfortunately, his poetry career didn’t take off until AFTER he passed on, and I believe that all he wanted was for his poetry to be taken seriously.  Keats indeed got what he wanted because he’s one of the best known Romantic poets today.

John Keats' Tombstone in a Cemetery in Rome

John Keats’ Tombstone in a Cemetery in Rome

When I came back from Rome, I dusted my old English lit books and flipped to the section on John Keats, the corners of the pages worn and yellowed over the years.   His words still have an impact on me because he felt so closely to death and was weighed down with the heaviness of his unrecognized art.  Check out the first lines of one of his most famous poems On Seeing the Elgin Marbles, which still blow me away:

“My spirit is too weak – mortality

Weighs heavily on me like unwilling sleep

And each imagine pinnacle and steep

Of godlike hardship tells me I must die

Like a sick eagle looking at the sky.”

Rest in peace, Keats.