Wednesday, February 08, 2012


There was a death in my family recently.

A very significant one.

I wrote about death a few months ago, but I'm revisiting the topic now. It's something you can't really understand or grasp until it's staring you in the face. You hear about people dying all the time, either by accident, premeditated murder, war, tragically, and so on...and while you can feel sympathy for the people affected, you can't really empathise until death falls upon someone you know.

It's surreal night I'm on the phone with my mom talking about my uncle visiting my grandfather, and the next morning there's a voicemail on my phone saying he's passed.

It's funny, I can't even recall his name...I just know him as Grandfather. Out of all my grandparents, I knew him the best. I still have vivid memories of me visiting Taiwan as a kid, and him taking me to buy videogames (Mega Drive, that's wassup) on his scooter. Zipping through the mean streets of Tainan at 70+ years old is no joke...and did we zip. We also had the same taste in food, (braised pork belly and minced pork) and I remember him taking me to buy it to eat each morning.

As I grew older it became even more apparent how much my grandfather cared for me by his actions. It's one of those things you kind of understand, but don't really appreciate and fully understand until later. I'm the only grandson on my dad's side of the family. I thought it was kind of cool, hence the tattoo on my back...but seeing how I was raised in America I didn't really get how important it is in the grand scheme of things.

Pin for the eldest grandson

In Taiwan, as it is in several Asian countries, sons are very important. It's pretty traditional and old school, but it is what it is. Sons eventually head the family and have the capacity to pass down the family name. Daughters can get married off and take the name of their husbands, and if they have any sons those sons will pass on the name of the husband. So with that, grandsons are placed on the same level as sons. This was made very clear to me during the funeral ceremonies for my grandfather.

The Sons

During the ceremonies, each family member wears a pin and wears different garments signifying their role within the family:

Sons get white string on a net backing, daughters get a blue string on a net backing, eldest grandson gets a white and blue string on a net backing, daughters of sons/son-in-laws get a blue string, daughters of daughters get a yellow string, and sons of daughters get a green string. Seeing as I was the only grandson, I got the blue and white pin on a net backing.

In addition to the pin, the eldest grandson has a significant role in Taiwanese funeral ceremonies. These funerals typically take ~10 days, with each day containing different ceremonies to partake in. I arrived in Taiwan just in time to "lead" one of the ceremonies. The next couple days I found myself in the center of many ceremonies, and it was a little overwhelming because I wasn't sure what I was supposed to do. A side effect of this is since I was focused on what to do, I didn't really grieve properly. There were moments during the funeral where tears welled up, but nothing significant. I felt like I had to be strong, and my mind was focused on following directions. I kind of wish I didn't focus so much on directions, as I still get these moments when I'm alone.

Chen Family spread over 4 continents

My grandfather's death put a lot of things into perspective.

Life is short...very short. You really need to make the most of your time here, and do things that will have a positive impact on others. Small or large actions, it doesn't matter...if you can make someone's day better at all then you're moving in the right direction.

What's the point of living if you do everything on your own or for yourself? You may accumulate things, you may accumulate experiences, but at the end of the day it's the relationships you develop with others that matter at the end.

You can choose a lot of things in life, but you can't choose your family. They've sacrificed so much to make sure you live a better life than they've had. Make them proud.

The past few weeks have had a pretty big impact on me that I haven't fully digested yet...but a reevaluation of my priorities will be in order. Changes will be coming...hopefully for the better.

RIP Grandpa, I love you.


At February 19, 2012 at 5:04 PM , Blogger Amy said...

condolences amigo


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