- February 19, 2018
My Grandma Shuk-king Cheng passed away on January 28th at the age of 97. I woke up to a text from my Dad. I’ve had this sinking feeling in my stomach since. And I’m not going to lie. I knew this was coming but that doesn’t make it any easier for me to accept. I didn’t want her to die and I wasn’t ready for it, even though I thought I had mentally prepped myself for it.
This was my paternal Grandmother. In Cantonese I called her “Mama.” Of course it’s not the same tone as the word for Mama (Mommy) but I think I often confused people when I spoke about Mama.
Mama was born in Hong Kong in 1921 and went to Belilos School. She lived in Hong Kong for many decades until she immigrated to Canada after the death of my Yeye. She gave birth to 10 children and buried 3 of them. The Cheungs were a prosperous Chinese family. They owned several businesses, including a shipping business. My father and his 9 siblings, were all born in Hong Kong. Mama immigrated to Toronto with the rest of the family after my Grandfather Yeye passed in 1983.
My memories of her are many, but very scattered. Living in California, I would see her sporadically and talk to her on the phone once every few weeks, until she lost her hearing and moved into an assisted living facility. I remember her coming to visit us in Sacramento when I was small. As she got older, she never left Toronto so I would call her. I would talk to her about school and my job, and later I would chat about my daughters.
Mama had met Roxy when we came for my cousin Jessica’s Toronto wedding in 2015. My last memory of her was when I had returned to Toronto for Kenny’s aunt’s funeral a few months later. At the time, I didn’t know it but I was pregnant with Carissa. We came to see her at her assisted living facility which was attached to a hospital. It was very hospital like and the whole ward was full of elderly people on their way out. Roxy was 3 at the time. She was a bit scared by all the old people.
I remember Mama talking about Yeye and Uncle Kevin, Dad’s younger brother, my favorite Uncle who passed away from cancer. She told me she was ready to join them. She could barely hear what I was saying. I showed her pictures on my phone and tried to enlarge them so she could see. As I left, I knew it would be the last time I would see her alive. I kissed and hugged her goodbye by the elevator and Kenny held me as I cried.
The minute I realized I was pregnant, I also knew it would be a long time before I could travel to Toronto again. Since she was living at the assisted living facility attach to a hospital, she wouldn’t answer her room’s phone because she couldn’t hear. So to talk to her, I would have to have one of my relatives call me from their cell phones while they were visiting her. Or my Dad would call me when he visited so I could talk to her.
My Grandma gave birth to 10 children but buried 2 of them in childhood and 1 in adulthood. As a Mother, I cannot begin to imagine what this was like for her. I only know that when we lost Uncle Kevin, I genuinely grieved too. We all did. When Uncle Kevin passed, part of the fabric holding our family together melted away.
I am trying to cope but the grief is deep in my family. My Dad is grieving too. The visitation and funeral were heartbreaking. The burial was held outside in the snow. Since the temperature was frigid, I told Kenny to stay in the car with the girls. But it was agonizing not having Kenny by my side as they lowered my Grandma into the snowy ground. Usually I love being in Toronto but this time, I hated it. Everywhere I went, especially Auntie Susan’s house where Uncle Kevin and Mama used to live, reminded me of the past. I thought the sinking pit in my stomach would go away when I came back home. It hasn’t. I’ve had trouble eating and sleeping.
My sister and I have been messaging our cousins on Whatsapp. During and after the visitation and funeral, and even now on Whatsapp, I feel my cousins grieving too. While we all know that Mama is a better place with Yeye and Uncle Kevin, we can’t help but remember the times we spent with her. I think I also feel guilty. Since we lived in California, I never really got to spend an extended amount of time with her. I always saw her for a few days while I was in Toronto and then I would fly back home. I know that she knows I love her.
Kenny and I are still not fully over the death of his Mom. So I think this makes my grief over my Grandma even worse, if that makes sense. Kenny’s Mom was truly a Mom to me. So dealing with her death and having the death of my Grandma to deal with is a lot for me to bear. I know that it was Mama’s time to go but that doesn’t make it any easier.
I’m trying to help Roxy. Roxy understands that when people die that their souls leave their bodies and go to heaven. At least that’s what we tell her. But Roxy has seen her Grandmother and her Great-Grandmother that she loved pass away, and now she tells us that she doesn’t want us (me and Kenny) to die. So how do I cope with that? How do I help my almost 6 year old daughter deal with death and also cope with her fears of losing her parents.
We adopted Roxy in January 2014. Roxy lost her birth parents and her foster parents. She has lost 2 sets of her parents in her short life and she knows very well they probably aren’t dead but she won’t see them again. Roxy wanted me to promise her that me and Daddy wouldn’t die. I told her the truth, that we will try very hard not to die until we’re very old. Roxy cried and her words broke my heart. “I’ll be good Mommy. Just don’t die.”
I know that over time, we will heal and our lives will normalize again. I’m going to be honest and say that I’m going to need some time to process my grief. I’m having a rough start to 2018.
I will honor my Grandma Shuk-king Cheng by honoring the God who made her and by being the best wife, Mommy, daughter, granddaughter, niece, sister, cousin, and aunt to my family and to our friends. Mama’s legacy will live on. I know that when I look at my baby girls Roxy and Carissa. I’m not going to lie. Our family is hurting right now. Kenny, me, and Roxy will need time to continue processing my Mother-in-law’s death, as well as the recent death of Mama, my Grandma.
Please pray that God will give us comfort and peace. Please pray that all members of the Cheung side of my family (my Dad’s side) will be able to find purpose and meaning in life without my Grandma. I thank you all for your thoughts and prayers. *HUGS*
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Dr. Jacqueline "Jax" Cheung grew up in Sacramento, California. She is a Christian Wife, Proud Mom, Major Foodie, Sacramento Native, Elk Grove Resident, Feminist, Adoption Advocate, Blogger, Freelance Writer, and Cat Lover. Jax is the owner of the award winning Jax Chronicles Blog & Adoption Ministry. She is also the Editor-In-Chief of the Elk Grove Tribune, and freelances for Sacramento4Kids, and many other publications. Jax is married to Dr. Kenneth Cheung (Kenny). Jax and Kenny live in Elk Grove, California and have 2 daughters named Roxy and Carissa, and 3 cats named Mochi, Miso, and Mango. To follow her journey please like her Jax Chronicles Facebook page, follow her Instagram @jaxchronicles, follow her Twitter @jaxchronicles, or check out Jax Chronicles Blog & Adoption ministry.