I have posted before about funeral traditions in Hengyang, but I've never actually experienced one first hand until last week-end. I was sitting around feeling lethargic and distracted, wondering about the week-end plans, wishing my friends were more initiative. Well, I should know that whenever I feel this way in Hengyang, the feeling lasts about all of an hour before something demanding and unexpected happens. And this day time was no exception.
One of my closest local friends, a mid 20 year old entrepenuer named "Ivy," called me to say her grandfather was "dead" or "dying." I wasn't sure, but I knew it was serious. I offered to accompany her to his house and she surprisingly agreed (I now interpret agreeabilityas a yes in Chinese culture). When we got to her grandparent's place, her grandfather was still alive, covered in blankets on a hospital bed and breathing very heavily. Ivy's grandmother was moaning and bustling around in what seemed like one fluid moment. Ivy's relatives were also busying themselves, taking turns standing by his side, calling Ivy's uncle and cousins who lives in the States, and monitoring his pulse.
Ivy's mom is a nurse, and she is also a strong believer. I had brought the chinese / english book with me, and she read Psalm 23 out loud to her father. She also came over and told me how she had taken him to the fellowship place just two weeks ago, and although he could not talk, his eyes were wide and alert as she shared with him. As I looked over at this old man, clearly in pain, barely hanging on, I prayed that the work had already happened in his heart, and now I asked that the Father might release him from the prison of his broken-down, weary body.
The last time I had seen Ivy's grandfather, had been nearly a year ago when Ivy called me on the phone hysterical and said, "My grandpa's fallen off the ladder and the doctor said he has bleeding in his head." That time, I accompanied Ivy to the hospital where her grandfather was also breathing incredibly heavily and also bleeding from his ear and clearly in immense pain. Since that day, one year ago, he has not been able to communicate and has been largely confined to a bed or a chair. Since that day, he had also had trouble eating and digesting food and never been able to fully recover his strength.
And now, here I sat with Ivy and her family a year later. After about an hour, the family had gotten something similar to skype set up so Ivy's grandfather could see his son in the states and hear his voice. It was shortly after that moment, that his breathing became gaspy and I knew his condition had turned as the family crowded around his bed and started crying and begging him to hang on. I heard clearly, Ivy's mother saying to her father "Ba ba, hao zou" which means basically "Father, may your journey be smooth." And, then he was released.
This moment was the most emotional one I have ever experienced in my time in China. The few pouches of handkerchiefs hardly seemed to be enough for the family. I was reminded not only of Ivy and her family's farewell, but on a personal note, our family's farewell to Grandpa Friesen a little more than a year ago. Although I could not be there for his passing, I got to be there for my friend as she faced the reality. I was humbled, thankful, and melancholy through the experience.
Oh man, there is so much more to write. There were so many things that happened after this moment related to funerals, and local traditions but let me rest here.