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Valentine’s Day

Feb. 14th, 2014, Joey’s last Valentine’s Day. It was the second day he was back to school after the second surgery. Chemo failed and hair started to grow back. Yet he smiled big. Being back to school brought him so much joy.

Valentine’s day, another vulnerable day. Heart, heart, heart. The heart-shaped candies, classroom party, the Valentines we make…hearts everywhere.

However, on the hearts, I see
a crack,
a tear,
a wound,
a hole,
a knife

I see a heart of
brokenness,
incompleteness,
million pieces…

When a child is born, a mother’s heart is no longer her own. When the child is happy, her heart smiles. When the child is sad, her heart worries. When the child is ill, her heart aches. No matter what, a mother’s heart remains strong, for the child.

When the child dies, a mother’s heart dies.

Her heart hurts all the time and it has never felt whole since the moment the child died. It keeps hurting. Her heart longs for finding the child in the heaven. She asks her Lord, “Can you see me when I cry? Do you know when I will die?”

Time can not ease the sorrow and the pain, nor can it force the heart to heal. The heart dies.

Yet, there is one thing that never dies. As the mother searches frantically the child’s photos on a Valentine’s Day, she sees a beautiful glimpse of heaven from the child. She says the prayer, “Today I celebrate the love we shared together and know that our love lives on forever.”

Love never dies. Love is eternal. Death has separated us only in body but not in heart. May love revive the heart, so it could be full of gratitude and the grace of God.

So with a broken heart, I will continue to speak up, even I can not predict how long it will take to heal.

With a broken heart, I will continue to run. I may limp. I may wobble. I may wonder around. But along the way, I will cling to the hope that God just may redeem this heartbreak and give me glimpses into who he is.

“Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm; for love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame.” Song of songs 8:6

Leaves

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Every day driving in and out in a hurry in the neighborhood, I never actually stop and see the colors of falling leaves. I take a walk today, with the leaves crunching under my feet.

I look up and the death is all around.

The dryness, decay, loss, disorder, chaos, faded hope…In every change, in every falling leaf, I see pain. The leaves are souls begging to stop changing colors, begging to take a break, and begging not to fall. A leaf floats gently through the air. What it is like to detach in death from the tree? Is it simply feel lighter as if the energy is somewhere else?

I’m lost in this sadness.

I keep walking and see this tree. I am stunned.

Each leaf looks different, but each has multiple colors: green, yellow, orange, brown, red and even blue. You can see as if the change is happening right in front of your eyes. Then I see the sunlight. Yes, the light. The light is shining through the leaves, making them more luminous and colorful.

Tears roll down my face. How can the death be so beautiful?
The dead leaves gathered at the foot will turn into compost and provide energy for the tree. The life of the leaves can not return, yet the energy is in eternity.

Is human death and grief the the compose for human life?

Suddenly, I see more than the death. I see possibilities. I see life. There is no beauty in the death of a child taken by cancer. There is complete brokenness and endless pain. But the journey doesn’t end there and the legacy of the child lives on. He still lives in the souls of those who are left behind. And this is joy and life that comes from death.

I wipe my tears and I see the divine colors of compassion, kindness, mercy and justice shine on through.

Dream

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Woke up from the dream, with teary eyes.

I dreamed about Joey, the third time in two years. Only the third times. I don’t understand. How could you think of someone every day, every minute, every second, but he only appears in dream 3 times in the long painful two years? He was so healthy in the dream. There was no needle, no chemo, no pills, no cancer. He was perfect.

But I opened my eyes and he was gone. I panicked and lifted my hand, trying to grab him back toward me. I hated it I woke up. I hated it I am back to the reality. I burst out crying. David ran to the bed from the next room and asked, “What’s wrong, mom?” I hugged him so tight, just as I hugged Joey in my dream.

Now I try to remember what he looked like, what he was doing and what he said to me. He looked younger than 10. He didn’t say anything to me. He carried a backpack. He hurried to somewhere. He was real.

How could a dream and the reality so close? It’s so close that I am exactly the same, either in dream or reality, standing, wondering, fearing, crying, pleading, falling apart, and dying. The best thing is that fleeting moment when I don’t know the difference, the difference between reality and fantasy. My entire soul believed that he is back.

I wish I could be hypnotized. I wish there was a magic wand putting him in my dream, so I could touch his skin and hug him. I wish he could tell me how he is doing without me. I wish I could be forever in dreams.

But I can’t. I can’t do any of these. I am hopeless. I cry out to my Lord. I plead for mercy. And I will keep on pleading day by day. I pour out my pains before him and ask him. Please, can Heaven have visiting hours? If I can’t have an hour, 10 minutes is ok. No, 5 is fine. I just want to touch and smell him.

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)

In the end, it’s not the years in life. It’s the life in years. There is grace to be found even in death.

Back to school

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Last back-to-school photo

I have been enjoying the back to school pictures this year so much. The day when I woke up, I couldn’t wait to check my facebook. I love to see Joey’s friends grow up. Last year this time, my heart was bleeding, missing Joey terribly. I still feel hurt and bitter this time of the year, but I feel different this year. Maybe because I’m nostalgic: I can’t physically see his friends far away.

Then I realized I had been nostalgic, all the time, since he was gone. I had been addicted to living in the past, even it brings a great sense of sadness.

I went back to Joey’s school several times, sitting by the table on the playground where his painting was, sobbing and talking to him. I drove by his violin teacher’s house, seeing far away as if he was playing music. I walked on the soccer field, back and forth, longing to cheer for him. I knocked on the door where boyscout meets, listening to his laughter. I visited oncology floor, even it hurts like hell.

Luke is right. He convinced me to choose cremation instead of burial, because he knows I would be at the burial site every day, wanting to dig him out and hug him.

But now, I can’t do any of these. His school, playground, boyscout, hospital…Everything, is miles and mountains away.

The only thing I could do is to create those memories near me. So I set up the corners in the house, everywhere, bedroom, living room, yard, stairs. They are my sweet spots. I sit on the stairs this morning looking at the beautiful flowers as if I saw the smile of my beautiful boy. The boy holding a gold heart, the craft made by his friend, the vase from his school, the plaque of “Joey’s place”, a ceramic crane sitting on his lego, all these are from dear friends. Oh how I miss them!

Then I see the sunlight. The glowing sunlight shines though the cranes hanging down from the chandelier. I sense the pure and spontaneous pleasure. How blessed I am to have friends that make saying goodbye so hard!

Love is missing someone when you are apart, but somehow feeling warm inside because you are close in the heart. I say to myself: right here, right now, I want to develop new experiences that create joy, focus on them as they are happening, and share with my friends far away as we enjoy the moments together. It is strange feeling how I hold on to the pieces of the past so desperately while I wait for the future. The times I lived through, the people I met in this journey and people I shared those times with — it’s like a tape recorder. It tells a story. It’s a story of my boy, a story of a life. And the story continues, as I struggle, tumble, stand up and smile.

I miss you all and we will soar together.

Hang in there

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Empty. They are all empty now. All the rooms.

I don’t know how I survived packing up his stuff. I have been dreading this date, the date l have to put away his belongings of 10 years, one by one. His glasses, his treasure box, his shoes, his paintings, his trophies, his notes, his toys…How can I emotionally ready for this? Each item l put into the box, l feel like losing him again. So again and again, and again, until I realized he is truly, permanently gone, whether or not I save his shirts or pens, and that the irreplaceable things I possess are the memories.

I am exhausted and traumatized, as l expected.

Then I see the zip bag. In it there is his hair. Tears roll down my face, tears of overwhelming sadness, yet some comfort. Besides his ashes, l have other pieces from his body, his hair. Oh, how silly l was! Did I think if I have his hair tested for vitamins deficiency that those supplements can cure him? Oh how desperate and hopeless I was!

Now all the rooms are empty and I started to hear the echo of his sound, in each room.

“Mom, I’m home!”
“Mom, where is my glasses?”
“Mom, my stomach hurt.”

Then I started to hear the echo of me crying. I’m sorry I can’t save you. I’m so sorry. This world is just not your place. I’m sorry.

I flip over the album trying to find his photos in California. I’m glad I have so many while we lived there for 3 years. He was happy and healthy. I’ll be back looking for his presence, his sound, his smell, his sight, and his childhood.

I look at this photo of him when we were in a park in the Bay area. That smile, like a ray of sunshine in the darkest days. Those eyes. He came into this world with beautiful eyes to see all that is beautiful, embrace all that is joyful. He was looking down upon me, just like now.

I hear his echo again:

“Mom, hang in there.”

I will, my child, till the day I see you.

Ocean

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I have always been drawn to the ocean. All the cities we have lived so far, there is ocean within two hours of drive. It’s endless. It’s calm. It’s relaxing. It’s full. It’s magnificent. It’s wild. It’s shimmering. It’s mysterious. Ocean is beautiful.

Ever since his footprints in the sand are gone, ocean weeps. It’s empty. It’s harsh. It’s moody. It’s frightening. It’s unfaithful. It’s murky. It’s wild. It’s cold. Ocean is heavy.

The ocean, with Joey’s reflection, was colorful. Silver at dawn, green at noon, gold at dusk and dark blue in the evening. His ocean has rays of sunlight touching down everywhere. But mine, without his reflection, laughter, boogie board, and the shadow of kite, is boundlessly dark. My ocean is confused and angry.

I only see a stormy ocean a couple of times. I see myself in it. The struggle is so real. The more I stare at it, the more I want to be swallowed, so to end the broken heart.

But I won’t give up the beauty of it. I can do this. I can start over. I can live, not just survive. I will try not to be so lonely as long as I have stars to look at and families and friends to love.

There is one thing I do love more about ocean. Heaven seems a little closer at the beach. I raise my hand to feel the breeze, almost touching the clouds. My soul and spirit fly. I hear the whispering of his name in my ears: may the sunshine dry your tears, the beautiful waves calm the restless soul and the worries drift away.

As the ocean has no end, so does our memories of you, deeper than the ocean.

I miss you so much, the boy who loved to run, build sand castles, and boogie board at the beach.

Pretend

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A friend came to visit and gave little David a present.
David told her:”Joey is away from home for a long time now.”
Then I realized he meant Joey might want a Christmas present too.
David:” Someday when Joey is home, he would say hey David, you’ve grown so much!” Then he told her, “But he is sick.”

Friend looked at me sadly, “David remembers everything.” Yes, he does. He also helps me pretend.

I pretend. I pretend every day and night.
I pretend Joey is studying at a boarding school in a foreign country and will be back soon.
I pretend he travels to a place where is so fascinating that he decided to stay there for a while.
I pretend he goes back to China and lives with grandparents.
I even pretend he was kidnapped by someone, but lives with another family in a remote village.

I pretend he is somewhere on this earth. Anywhere is fine, as long as he is alive.

But today is the day I can’t pretend. Because today is the day children, no matter how old they are and where they are, are back to be with their parents. Today is the day they reunite with parents, hug with parents, laugh with parents, no matter how far they are and what they do.

The empty seat at the dinner table says he is gone. The missing spot at the family picture says he is gone. Even little David realized there are no presents for Joey under the Christmas tree. He is gone, gone. I have no way to pretend, on the Christmas eve.

Christmas eve, I hurt most. But this doesn’t make me hate Christmas, because my greatest comforter, Christ, was born. I don’t need to pretend in front of him. I tell him all my suffering. I tell him some days I just don’t believe prayers because I see too many young lives gone. And he says, “I know all your pains. I’m crying with you.”

Tonight on the Christmas eve, instead of pretending, I say a prayer of thanks. I am grateful for my family not falling apart. I am grateful I could buy Christmas presents for Joey for 10 years. I’m grateful for all the memories. I’m grateful for all the good things after tragedy. I’m grateful for the thriving of survivors. I’m especially grateful for the work with Joey’s Wings.

Hopes and blessings of Christmas never die. I survived a year without him. If all the tears one could have in his or her life has a limit, next year I may cry less.

Tomorrow I would continue to pretend because it pulls me through the absolutely dark days without him. Miss you so much, Joey and happy Christmas.

12/2015

The trip

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Everything here is so beautiful. Physically I enjoy the breathtaking scenery and sense of peace, but mentally don’t. It’s so strange. I feel like watching a movie while watching other people having fun. Their excitement, laughing seem to have nothing to do with me. It still seems to be unreal after a year. The wonder of nature can easily put me into tears – why? Why my child has no chance to experience this? Why he can’t explore the world? Why I have to take a trip without him? How long can I travel alone without him? David’s laughter, only his laughter, reminds me to wipe the tears – this is real, you have to travel without him, because you have other people to take care of in the journey, no matter how painful the journey would be.

Underground river swimming, zipline on ocean, we did a lot of things Joey never had a chance to do. I called out loud Joey’s name when I flew down the zipline into the water. “I will get out of hospital and play the zipline at the Cincinnati Museum.” Joey’s last wish one week before he passed.

Miss him so much. I never think of this question before, but have to face it each moment day and night. What if the person you would die for dies?