i left this morning to belmont via bus from harvard square. i called my father who said he would come pick me up but i was already on my way. biking would've been faster but it was just too cold, i learned my lesson from yesterday. temperature was currently in the single digits but would increase into the teens later today, but that was still too much for me.
at the station i decided to take the 78 bus which would take me directly to sancta maria, where my parents were staying with my grand uncle. the bus got here just a few minutes after i arrived and took less than 15 minutes for me to arrive at my destination (10:40am). i took one of the side doors and went up the elevator to the 5th floor.
i'd last seen my grand uncle on monday (christmas day). he didn't talk but still seemed lucid enough to smile at the nurse who changed him and gave her a thumbs up. when my father tried to feed him he wouldn't eat anything and barely drank at all. yesterday he was moved to hospice care. everyone else had paid him a visit except me, and i wanted to make sure i saw him one last time before he was gone. he seemed pretty out of it, gasping for air through his mouth, his eyelids staring up at the ceiling. my father said even though he couldn't respond, he could still hear us. it was at that point my grand uncle stuck out his arm and grabbed my hand tightly for several minutes.
afterwards i was pretty out of it. i'd seen him deteriorate over the past few weeks, but this was the worst i've seen him. one of the nurses brought some food for us (simple turkey sandwiches) but i didn't feel like eating. there was a phamplet left on a table explaining "the end of life stages" which i found helpful, only because i've never experienced death up close before, there was a lot i didn't know. i turned on the television to NBA TV, thinking maybe my grand uncle would like to watch a game, but he could only stare up at the ceiling, so i turned it off after a while. eventually i did eat a sandwich. around 12:30pm my mother called for a nurse to give my grand uncle a few drops of morphine administered orally to lessen any pain.
so we sat around the next few hours waiting. waiting for my grand uncle to die. that sounds like such a terrible thing to say, but that was exactly what we were doing. when you love someone, you can't let them die alone in their final hours. you put everything on hold and you wait. my father was reading a book on his tablet. my mother was knitting. i kept looking out the window. the view from sancta maria from the 5th floor is probably one of the most breathtaking views of cambridge and arlington. from up high, it's as if we were floating in the air, looking down on everything. snow covered roofs. empty trees and evergreens. smoke from chimneys. and a smattering of birds, who were flying below us. it was also snowing. because it was so cold the snow fell like dust, sometimes you couldn't see it, while other times it seemed to be everywhere.
just by chance, it was also my mother's birthday today. she wanted to get some blue ribbon barbecue for dinner, but i was in no mood to be celebrating. sometime later i went to ask the front office for their guest wifi password. apparently wifi is not a big deal here because i had to go down to the 4th floor to get the password. even though, from where we were in the building, the signal was weak. i did discover if i faced the cambridge houses across the parking lot i could get access to xfinitywifi, which i receive through my xfinity/comcast subscription. on the phones the signal could be a little spotty, but for some reason my macbook pro could get a very strong signal, and i was able to get online to the blue ribbon barbecue website so my mother could see the menu. i also bought a solar panel foam raking head.
the room was mostly quiet except for the wheezing noises of my grand uncle breathing. the heater would kick in intermittently, creaking the ancient pipes, and filling the room with heat and radiator noises. my godmother and her son alex came to visit briefly as well in the afternoon. my godmother was walking with a cane after breaking several toes in a kicking accident.
apparently my sister had stayed the night keeping my grand uncle company, only leaving when my parents relieved her of duty this morning. but she came back around 3pm, which gave us enough time for a break. the plan was we would grab dinner and get my sister something, then bring it back to her so she can end her shift and my father would take over keeping my grand uncle company for tonight. we left by 3:30pm.
so for a few hours our lives was back to normal. my mother with her netflix and knitting, my father taking a nap in the bedroom, me outside in the backyard checking out the snow coverage on the solar panels and letting hailey out to use the bathroom. the panels generated zero electricity today, despite some more melting, but apparently not enough. it wasn't that cloudy today, there should've been some activity, makes me wonder if the panels have gone dead from lack of usage.
around 5pm i ordered blue ribbon barbecue online ($50 worth, 3 plates of double meats with sides), and my father and i left for arlington to go pick it up before 5:30pm. they were that busy but my order wasn't ready yet, which i didn't mind, since it gave me some time to stock up on the self-serve barbecue sauces. it was only when we got back home did my mother discover they'd failed to provide us the sauces we asked for, so thank goodness i got extra sauces, otherwise we would've had none. but i was a little irked because typically i like a lot of sauce with my barbecue, and i don't like rationing.
around 6:30pm my mother called my sister. she told her we were bringing hailey along with the barbecue, so they could go home afterwards, but my sister insisted on staying at sancta maria with her dog so we didn't bother arguing with her. my sister told us that my grand uncle's middle daughter and her family came by shortly after we left, and were only leaving now.
a short time later my mother received a phone call from my sister. "no, your father hasn't left yet," i heard my mother saying with annoyance. "what?!" she cried. from her reaction on the phone it could only mean one thing: my grand uncle had passed away. everyone got dressed and quickly got in the car and drove to sancta maria, which was only a few minutes away. we said nothing as we went up to the 5th floor, and found my sister crying while two nurses were taking examining my grand uncle, taking his readings. my sister explained what happened between sobs, that everything seemed fine, the grandchildren were reading to their grandfather, and they gathered around to pray before leaving, and when my sister came back to talk with my grand uncle, she saw him chest heaving and then suddenly stopped. my mother was in tears as well, and so was my father, but i held it together, didn't let my emotions get the better of me, although i was a little numb. the nurses were expressing their condolences, all i could feel was detached. they waited for their supervisor to come and do one last check, but it was only to confirm what we already knew, that my grand uncle was gone. the supervisor asked us if we wanted to speak with one of the nuns on staff (this was after all a catholic-run nursing facility though anyone may be admitted) but being we were all non-religious, we declined the offer.
i don't know how i can be so unemotional at a time like this, but i was experiencing it like how a scientist studying how people deal with death, as it was something new for me. the supervisor told us what would happen next: she would contact the funeral home (which my sister had already submitted some information yesterday), who will then send someone to take my grand uncle's body to the home for storage. in the meantime, the nurses will clean up my grand uncle before they arrive. we waited in the empty staff lounge, until my father went to check and saw that they've already finished.
we went back to my grand uncle's room, to say good bye one last time, and to take all the stuff my parents had brought. the supervisor (soleil was her name) came in to tell us she had already contacted the funeral home and they'd be coming in 30-60 minutes. after we finished cleaning, we waited. i asked my father about my grand uncle. when my grandmother fled northeastern china at the end of the chinese civil war with my newborn father, she made her way to shanghai, and made sure to retrieve my grand uncle from nanjing, who was in junior high school at the time. together they continued to taiwan, where they eventually met up with my grandfather.
my grand uncle was the smartest person in my family, taking a year of high school before heading straight to college at taipei university. he then worked as a reporter, and managed to get a reporter visa to go to japan, then to the US, before getting a masters degree in new jersey, before going to japan to get another masters degree there, before coming back to the US and getting yet another masters degree at harvard (some form of asian studies) before finally deciding to open a chinese restaurant in cambridge in 1973, the lucky garden. 6 years later he invited my father to come work for him as a chef, and a year after that my whole family immigrated to the US.
it took less than 30 minutes before the funeral home owner arrived. he seemed pretty nice, explained that due to the holiday, the earliest they could get a service ready would be wednesday, but more likely the end of next week. he asked if my grand uncle was married, or had children, and that they would need to sign off on whether or not he was buried or cremated. my father said he had power of attorney, but the funeral home owner said something that made a lot of sense: power of attorney ends the moment the person dies. the supervisor told us we were all set, and that we needed to leave the room so they could transfer my grand uncle's body. so we said good bye to the staff and took the elevator down to the ground floor one final time.
everyone converged back at my parents' house. i continued asking my father questions about my grand uncle. it was my way to deal with grief, to remember everything about him. coincidentally, my grand uncle passed away at age 89 (he was a week shy of his 90th birthday), the same age my grandmother passed at (10 years ago). my mother said it was ironic that all the time my father spent taking care of my grand uncle, it was actually my sister who was with my grand uncle in his final moments. my sister ended up giving me a ride back to cambridge.