How we remember them: My grandmother’s shirt

Over the past two years the Kovid-19 epidemic has become a part of the loss of lives of millions. We reflect on how we remember them, how we deal with this loss, and the obvious and invisible things that remind us of what we have lost.

When our grandmother Yu Lee died in 2003 I was diagnosed with grief. I am 22 years old and a senior in college.

My Hmong is an American family refugee. Adults feel the pain of losing friends and neighbors; They lose a country and everything in it. But I was born in a refugee camp, a stateless child, living only with remnants. Since there is love around, it fits.

The biggest big guy I know is our grandmother. In that angry waiting place, I asked her to reassure me that she would never die:

Sitting on the soft dust at my feet, under the glittering leaves, the six-year-old said, “Pog, assure me you will never die.” Our grandmother said, “This is something I can not promise. I, like all living things, will die one day, and when I die, you will be ready to learn to live without me.” I tell him, “But I do not.” Then I cry. First there were tears in my throat, then those organs grew and climbed on my body until I could cry from my mouth. Grandmother asked, “Why are you crying? You. “My grandmother produces;” If so. I will not die. I swear. “

His commitment and his presence was enough for me for many years until 2003, when I encountered him or me beyond the truth and the only thing I could hold in those last days was that some people loved our grandmother. In front of me. Somewhere outside of me, I began to understand that his parents, siblings, my grandfather, his most precious daughter, were a waiting place.

In 2003, I had to learn how to live in a world without a grandmother.

Grandmother left 13 suitcases. It is packed with goodies provided to us: a polaroid camera, a coffee pot, two pairs of espadrilles, a beautiful skirt and a slick polyester shirt, tiger balm and peppermint oil. It is packed with items made by her: small cloth bags with zippers for fixing herbs and medicinal plants, ropes made from cut plastic bags and grinding sticks like toothpicks. At his stall, I appeared with only one shirt on.

At first the shirt smelled like grandma. It smells like peppermint oil and herb, smells like spicy dry herbs, and I remember the dry dust flying around it. Every time in my life I take off my shirt from a different room and smell it.

Years passed. I’m getting old. I got married and I have kids. We went from one house to another. The shirts move with me and hide behind my clothes. I laugh every time I encounter it. I was scared to see the smell and Grandma said the smell was gone, in its place: only mine. Washing powder, and sometimes a little perfume. It has been intact in my room for a long time.

Then, the 2020 coronavirus pandemic struck. I’m more at home than ever before. I can no longer see my large family. Our grandparents, grandchildren, all are elderly. Some of them died of diseases such as old age and cancer. The rest, we want to keep safe. Despite the big world making noise, a new silence came into our lives. We all know that silence is a good thing: it means there is no news, which means everyone is good. One year after the plague came, I began to believe in a small corner of my heart that if we were all away from each other, if we all hid in pursuit, we could all achieve everything. Then the phone started ringing.

COVID-19 infection is here. Our family was devastated. My community was devastated. Then an uncle’s health deteriorated. There is one more. One survived. No one else did. Survivor, his hair, once salted and peppered, turned white like scallop roots in water. The wind of sorrow blew in the direction of the wind. I curled up at home calming my aching heart.

Author Grandmother, Yuva Lee [Courtesy of Kao Kalia Yang]

I have suffered in the past from my father and his brother being intact. I was sad when our family reunited with Daddy. As His medicine bags pass through our homes, His cures provide a cure for diseases of our heart, body and soul.

On a windy day, I went to my room. I opened it and did not know what I was looking for. My fingers go through my favorite cotton shirts, button-down shirts for work, and plain shirts for play. Grandma’s shirt fell to the floor from the hanger. I took it. I can see the dust on its shoulders. In front of the bedroom window, I grabbed our grandmother’s polyester shirt. Although it is black with red spots, light still passes through it. I open the window. The wind blows on it. My nose is opposite the cloth. I started coughing. The air rises and falls on my chest with the mild humidity and dusty smell of last winter for decades from 2003 to 2022.

Old fears are dying. Grandmother’s smell was gone. Instead, it’s not the smell I’ve known and liked, but the smell I want to avoid: the smell of time, the smell of dust, the smell of the seasons. The grief of so many years, now multiplied by the death of my uncle, was the source of my strength in childhood, not because his body died of old age, but of a man who died of an incurable plague. I forgot what Grandma said “Everyone who lives must die.” I’m not six years old now, but I’m not ready to give up the lives of people I love and I know I will never.

There is no way to prepare for grief. It is deep and sometimes takes decades to dig. Our grandmother died in 2003. I miss her so much. I still miss him. Our uncle has just died in this pandemic, but his memory goes far beyond that. When I talk about the last two years, I talk about them.

I’m going to talk about someone who does not make promises to me. I’m going to talk about a person who lived before I was born, lived in a country I did not know, had to become a refugee again in a neighboring country, and then resettled in that country. I’m going to talk about someone who is brave during an epidemic, gets up as soon as the sun rises, works hard in the sun all day and only does it the next day. He plows the land and cultivates what he harvests. Among them, I. He understood that we live and die because his mother raised him and left to raise others. I will talk about his legacy, how we do not know our death, but how we should honor what he left behind in our life.

On the back of my wardrobe, there was a shirt that once belonged to our grandmother Yuva Lee. I will wash this year. Now it’s the smell of my house laundry detergent, the smell of spring, maybe grass, the sun shining, the wind blowing, a magical illusion, the desire to live longer in lifeless people. It was hanging at the end of my clothes line. Every time I opened my room last year, I knew it was there. I know there will be waiting.

One day, when I grow up, I want to wear it. Not all the time, but sometimes, when I go out for a walk in the sun, our grandmother, uncle and I love it. I now agree that like all living things I will one day die. I will leave not only my children, but maybe even my grandchildren. I know that if I live like my grandmother and uncle, they will be ready for a life I do not have. I will die knowing that my memory and my love legacy will go far beyond what they carry, in spontaneity words, in shared memories, the shirt I wear as an old woman. My straight shoulders get tired of gravity, my eyelid skin fades, and the rest of my hair flies in the direction of the gusts of wind and the gust of wind.

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