A few hours ago, I watched The Farewell with a few friends then cried almost the whole metro and car ride home. The film is about a 30-year-old Chinese American woman named Billi who returns to China to say goodbye to her grandmother, who only has a few weeks left to live. In one scene, Billi confronts her mom about her grief and tells her that chasing fireflies with her grandmother is one of the only happy memories Billi carries with her from her childhood.
Similar to Billi, spending time with my grandmother is one of the only happy memories from my own childhood. I grew up in an abusive household, my mother yelled at me all the time, at points I wanted to kill myself and then I developed anorexia, blah blah you can read the rest of my blog for the whole shebang. But I remember my grandmother’s endless warmth so well: the gentle way she would cut my fingernails for me before I knew how, how she would sit on the toilet seat with a towel so I could dry myself when I first learned how to shower on my own, the way she would hold me and make space for me to cry every single time my mother screamed at me.
In The Farewell, I noticed a few scenes where male characters would openly cry. I wondered, did they learn how to cry because they had mothers or grandmothers who taught them, too?
My grandmother died almost two years ago. I always come back to Gail Caldwell’s quote about grief, about how “we never get over great losses; we absorb them, and they carve us into different, often kinder, creatures.” My grandmother died almost two years ago, yet I still feel her with me every day. I feel her presence when I practice therapy, when I make space for others to cry and to learn self-compassion like she did for me. I feel her presence when I talk with my own therapist, the one I did not give up on finding because my grandmother taught me what genuine caring looks like and not to settle for anything less. I feel her presence when I put effort into my friendships, with my friends who provide me with the most wonderful emotional support and sustenance.
I turned 24 this past May and I’m still growing, I guess. I started my third year of graduate school this past week. This past Tuesday I cried in my therapist’s office because I failed to live up to my own hyper-perfectionist standards, I’m still processing and feeling sad about my most recent crush, and I’m trying to figure out what it means to maintain friendships in a heteronormative patriarchal society.
But in my moments of angst, I think about my grandmother, and I remember my purpose on this earth and what I care about most. I don’t care about winning prestigious awards, or having a thin body, or getting a man to love me. I care about being the best, most compassionate, most effective therapist, teacher, mentor, friend, and potential future father, so I can give to others what my grandmother gave to me.
For the rest of my life, I will work to become someone just like my grandmother. No racists, emotionally constipated men, or femmephobic fools will stop me from achieving my dreams. To my grandmother, to myself, to the world: just you watch.
Who or what do you turn to in moments of crisis? How do you honor the people you love who have passed away? Also, tbh, I *think* Billi said she was chasing fireflies with her grandmother but it might’ve been chasing something else, oops. Hope you are all well and starting off September on a good note.