For Lao Ye

My grandfather was a happy person: constantly cheerful, loving, and full of life and energy. Or so I thought. In truth, my lao ye was struggling inside; a smile masked what he sincerely felt. For the time in which our lifetimes overlapped, I was oblivious to his depression. It seems like all my memories with him now have a hidden backstory.

I have only seen Lao Ye and my grandma, Lao Lao, twice in the last five years. They resided in a suburb not far from Beijing, China. 

When I was younger, my grandparents would come visit for months at a time to assist my parents, spending time with my sister and me. I loved those months. I fondly remember learning how to play online card games with Lao Lao and shaping glutinous rice balls with Lao Ye. Whenever my grandparents packed their bags to return home, I would cry and hold them tight, never wanting to let go. I knew that two years would pass before I could be with them again.

The Tuesday before junior year, I had slept soundly and felt ready to seize the day. My parents then called my sister and I into their bedroom. Their voices were serious, their faces somber.

They soon notified me of Lao Ye’s passing. He died in his sleep the night before, with chronic depression being one of the main factors of his death. It was peaceful, my mom said, tears streaming down her face. My cheeks turned warm and crimson as I felt tears pooling in my eyes.

Maybe it was the stress of caring for Lao Lao, or the grief of my great-grandma’s passing last year. I don’t know. What causes me the most pain is knowing that Lao Ye was unhappy during his last few days here on Earth.

Honestly, I was less shocked by the news of the death, and more so with who had died. My lao lao has dementia and recently underwent brain surgery. When my parents called me to talk, I was sure that it was about her. I walked into the room ready to be told of Lao Lao’s passing. In my mind, I already accepted her as gone.

The reality startled me.

Lao Ye was the first of my grandparents to die. He was third-oldest of the four, so I always figured he would be around for a while — at the very least, here to see me graduate. I didn’t expect him to leave so soon. When I saw him in Italy during the summer of 2019, I hugged him goodbye with the intention of being with him again.

When I think about my grandfather, I imagine someone living, breathing, tangible. I haven’t fully internalized that he is gone. The next time I go to China, he will not be waiting at the airport terminal. Lao Lao won’t have a companion, and she will soon forget my face.

I often think that if I had noticed Lao Ye’s suffering, he would still be here. If I had spoken to him and cheered him up the night before. If I had recognized his deteriorating mental health as much as I did with Lao Lao’s physical health.Unfortunately, time cannot be reversed. I can only reminisce and honor Lao Ye’s legacy. I looked at photos of our last trip. I made glutinous rice balls. Most importantly, I am taking care of myself: making sure that my fragile mental health stays intact. I know Lao Ye would want me to do that. And I do so, just for him.

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