The difficulty of knowing how to react...

Updated: Sep 28, 2021

The day of the funeral was like any other childhood memory that I have: short snippets in time, yet, very vivid. During the funeral, I remember sitting front row at the ceremony. Not really fully understanding, but also crying my eyes out. I remember a lot of people coming up to my sister and I to give remorse... seeing their sad faces and telling me to stay strong. I stood there with tears in my eyes with the flashback image of the dug up grave.

In Chinese tradition, it is typical to have a meal after the ceremony. This was to celebrate the deceased person's life. As a kid, I thought this was quite weird. The thought of celebrating death was so insane to me. Why would this be a happy moment?! Why are we eating around the dinner table like it was just another day?! My father placed a bowl of rice for the seat across from me. It was all set up prim and proper with the chopsticks stuck inside the bowl. The others that attended, started placing various side dishes on the bed of rice and I thought to myself... What is going on? There is no one there to eat it! Dad explained to me that this was for Mom, and at that moment I tasted the reality of death.

During the times when my Mother was sick, school was my solace. I was able to escape the world of stress, sadness, and sickness at home, in order to hold on to what I thought an ideal "normal" life. This dichotomy that I played ultimately led me to react to Mom's death by way of avoidance. Even as I grew older, I would go to extremes to avoid the topic of my Mom in any way. If my best friend asked me where my Mom was, I would say she is at work as we played in the basement of my own home. The worst feelings was when Mother's Day rolled around every year. As my friends were talking about what they would get for their Mom, I thought about where I would be, visiting my Mom at the grave. The continued lies to my closest friends had presumed as I could not bear to be sad nor be pitied by them. Because I gained traction with these ongoing lies, there had come a point where I had to tell the truth. As these truths came out, they became very awkward and ultimately traumatizing. This then fed the cycle of questioning why I told the truth to begin with.

Looking back at those moments of lying is nothing I am proud of. However, at the same time, I give myself empathy as I didn't know how else to react. Thinking back to these memories I wish that I had someone to talk to. As a traditional Chinese family led by my very stoic father, feelings were never shared and it was not a norm to talk about. Even between my sister and I, I would feel uncomfortable telling her my deepest sense of emotions.

It was only until first year university (7 years after the death of my Mom) was when I truly started accepting and opening up to the conversation. Young Jenny, I don't blame you for not knowing how to react.

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