Today was my uncle's funeral.
It was an odd day of deep sorrow and grief, family time, and nostalgia. I was sitting silently in the chilly chapel and could see the back of my now widowed aunt's head bowed down in sorrow, her shoulders shaking from her quiet sobs. Just beyond her head lay my uncle, now hopefully resting in peace, in a deep mahogany casket. The image was too much for me, and I lost my composure. Oddly enough, it was at that moment that I realized my two other aunts sitting to the left of me had to bury their husbands as well. Death is never an easy thing. And it's especially hard to see such genuinely good people hurt. And it scares me...terrifies me to know, despite all my efforts to deny it, that more and more individuals in my parents' generation are dying.
After the funeral we headed for the temple in Chinatown, and it has been literally years since I last walked through these streets. It hasn't changed much over time, though I know I have. When I was a kid I walked through this neighborhood without batting an eye; this was my reality, and being so young I couldn't appreciate the uniqueness of the area and the amazing heritage it reflected. But now as a 28 year old adult, I walked through the streets and realized what an incredibly sensory experience Chinatown is: the smell of incense, fish, herbs, and burned firecrackers in the air, the sound of loud, Cantonese chatter mixed with tidbits of tourists' conversations and street artists playing Chinese violins.
My uncle would now be honored as an ancestor, and though he is buried in a cemetery in Colma, my aunt and cousins chose this Taoist Temple in Chinatown as his new 'home'. This temple is the same place my Uncle Patrick, my grandmother and grandfather are honored as well. I was no longer spooked by the place like I was before, despite the dimly lit rooms cluttered with lanterns and other objects, the chanting that played in the background, and the walls covered from floor to ceiling with tiles of deceased people, their black and white photos staring back at me through the smoky, heavily incensed rooms. I now took solace in the idea of my uncle and others continuing on in an afterlife similar to what we experience here and felt grateful that the Taoist monks would take good care of them.
After paying homage at the temple we headed to lunch. The restaurant my aunt chose happened to be across from the old Chinese theater my family once visited regularly, and the sight of this old building conjured memories of double feature movies from Hong Kong (Happy Ghost!), Vita Soy drinks and shrimp chips. In many ways I wish we hadn't stopped going there, because no doubt my Chinese would be much stronger now.
We passed the old China Bazaar with the huge dragon and spiraling ramp, which is equally impressive today as it was from a 6 year old's eye. Everything I experienced, everywhere I walked was oddly familiar yet so foreign and novel. I took my time taking everything in, remembering pieces of my childhood and appreciating what a wonderful thing it is to be Chinese American.
In some ways I feel this was my late uncle's departing gift to me: his illness and death brought me back to my childhood and my roots, and I walk away grieving but a little more aware and appreciative of what makes me, me.
Submitted by Anonymous
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