Five People You Meet in Heaven

I’m about half way through The Five People You Meet in Heaven. The concept of the book is inspiring – its beginning starts with the end of Eddie’s life (the first page reads, “The End,”) – the things he did on his last day on earth and how his life ended. It progresses into Eddie’s passage into heaven, where he meets five different people (and learns many lessons) who have in some way been affected by his life, directly or indirectly. The book forces us to think about the interconnection of all of our lives, not just with the people we know and have interacted with, but even the people we pass by on the street or at the gym, or even people whose car drives by us. Each of us affects someone else’s life in ways that we may never learn of during this lifetime. I’m sure Ed affected and touched lives of people he never even realized. Maybe it would have made a difference in his life if he had known, and maybe he’d have the confidence to still be here today.

One thing I do know is that if I only met five people in heaven, he’d be one of them because of how much he has impacted my life. When I would meet him in heaven, I’d run up to him and embrace him and cry tears of happiness. Then, I’d yell at him for leaving me for all this time to make me wait until this moment. But that moment would be more than worth it.


In a reading I asked my cousin to do, he read 1 Corinthians 13 at my brother’s funeral:

“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears.11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

Whether you are Christian or Jewish or Muslim or Buddhist or atheist, I think it would be universal to say that those words were eloquently stated.

I picked this reading for the service because after going through different Bible verses, I really felt that this encompassed Ed. All he ever wanted to do was shower me with love and affection, through gifts, actions, and words. I finished the book Where is God When It Hurts? today, and a quote in it from Jean Vanier stood out to me. The question asked was, what can we do to help those who hurt? Who can help us when we suffer? Vanier responded, “Wounded people who have been broken by suffering … ask for only one thing: a heart that loves and commits itself to them, a heart full of hope for them.”

It’s really true. When we are hurt, we just want people to be there for us – with us in person, and if not physically there, with us through the phone, through letters, cards, and e-mails. No one wants a generic “we are thinking about you,” without the person actually reaching out to say it. We don’t want people reaching out months later saying, “Sorry I never reached out. I just didn’t know what to say.” Those of us who hurt just want love.


Life ends; love doesn’t

I woke up this morning to see Chris scrolling through his Facebook feed to read a post by his best friend’s sister. They recently lost their dad to cancer, and the sister posted a quote from the book The Five People You Meet in Heaven. I don’t know the quote off the top of my head, but the basic gist of it is that when death comes, it hurts everyone who loved the deceased. It’s as though a part of you dies when that person dies. But it’s important to realize during this mourning period that although that loved one’s life has ended, the love that you shared with that person does not end. Life ends, but love doesn’t. Love will continue on forever.

It was really touching to read that and made me feel hopeful about my future on this earth without Ed. It also made me remember that this is a book I’ve had on my to-read list for a long time, but because I don’t actually keep a physical to-read list, I kept forgetting about it. I just downloaded it on Kindle today and will be reading it this week. Funnily, when I opened it to the first page, the protagonist’s name just happens to be Edward. Oh, Ed.



One drunken night and another nightmare

My team at work had a team-bonding event last night, so a number of us went to Lucky Strikes for bowling, dinner, and a lot of booze. It was six men and one woman (that’s me). Of course, I felt the need to keep up with everyone else’s drinking, and although I know I have a pretty high alcohol tolerance for an Asian woman, they, of course, wouldn’t know this. I stumbled home pretty drunk, and ended up feeling emotional when I got back because I realized that it was the first time since my brother passed away that I’ve actually had this much to drink.

I woke up this morning with a massive headache and remembered a bad dream I’d had last night. I came home from work one day to see a pile of beneficiary information from State Farm about all of my brother’s accounts since he’d named me his primary beneficiary. There were so many forms and accounts that I felt overwhelmed and broke down crying, still in disbelief that my brother was dead and that as a result of all this, I actually had to deal with all of his financials.

In the past several days, I’ve felt the most hopeful I’ve ever felt in the last two months since Ed left us. But in the last day, it’s as though there were moments when it just hit me that he’s really gone, for real, and it just hurt so much. It’s as though the initial pain of learning that he was gone just came back again and wanted to torment me.

Maybe this happened because he could see from heaven that I was being too reckless last night. Or maybe he wants me to have fun, but not too much fun that I forget about him. If he thinks I’m going to forget about him after just one drunken night, he is obviously crazy.

Last wish

On my way to work this morning, I read this article about a girl’s last wish before she died to have a pumpkin latte that was not fulfilled, and how her parents fulfilled that wish by buying 40 lattes for strangers, just asking baristas to scribble their daughter’s initials with a hashtag, #AJO, on the cups. The employees were so moved that they bought another 50 free pumpkin lattes. It didn’t end there, either – this ended up launching this huge Facebook and Twitter campaign that resulted in tens of thousands of acts of random kindness (including having bills paid anonymously just for the sake of it) happening everywhere. While reading it, I just started crying. It’s one of the most touching things I’ve read in a long time.

It further makes me believe that hope really does exist for a better world, and that there are a lot of people out there that are capable of doing good and thinking of others other than themselves. One day, I’d like to do something like this for Ed. I’m still not sure what it is or if it will be #eyw, but it will be something incredible.



While at the gym this morning, I was watching one of those biographical shows on E! Entertainment about Christina Aguilera. They discussed the song that she wrote for her album Stripped called “Beautiful,” which was a popular hit single, won a Grammy award, and resonated with millions of people worldwide because of its universal message of hope and seeing the beauty inside oneself. I remember when I bought this album for Ed the year it came out – it was his Christmas gift in 2002. He had really enjoyed her first album and was avidly following her music (however, he was not terribly thrilled with her much more sexual and revealing image in the Stripped era).

I always knew when Ed liked a song a lot because he would hit “repeat” so that he could listen to it over and over. This is what he did with the song “Beautiful.” Sometimes, he’d even sing some of the lyrics quietly to himself while washing dishes or doing some other activity in the house. “Words can’t bring you down,” he’d sing.

Words can’t bring him down anymore. No one can bring my brother down ever again. It’s like this song was made for him. Ed is beautiful.


Every day is so wonderful
Then suddenly it’s hard to breathe
Now and then I get insecure
From all the pain, I’m so ashamed

I am beautiful no matter what they say
Words can’t bring me down
I am beautiful in every single way
Yes, words can’t bring me down, oh no
So don’t you bring me down today

To all your friends you’re delirious
So consumed in all your doom
Tryin’ hard to fill the emptiness, the piece is gone
Left the puzzle undone, ain’t that the way it is?

You are beautiful no matter what they say
Words can’t bring you down, oh no
You are beautiful in every single way
Yes, words can’t bring you down, oh no
So don’t you bring me down today

No matter what we do
(No matter what we do)
No matter what we say
(No matter what we say)
We’re the song inside a tune
Full of beautiful mistakes

And everywhere we go
(Everywhere we go)
The sun will always shine
(Sun will always shine)
But tomorrow we might wake on the other side

‘Cause we are beautiful no matter what they say
Yes, words won’t bring us down, oh no
We are beautiful in every single way
Yes, words can’t bring us down, oh no
So don’t you bring me down today

Don’t you bring me down today
Don’t you bring me down today


Where is God When It Hurts?

Chris’s parents sent me two books to help me with my grieving process after my brother passed away. I’ve almost finished the first one. It’s called Where is God When It Hurts? Although the focus is more on how to cope with physical pain and suffering (and how to cope with those who are in pain and suffering), a lot of what is written can be applied to emotional pain, as well.

A lot of very terrible things are discussed in the book. Stories are shared about those with leprosy – a state of complete absence of pain which can ruin your life (whoever thought that pain could be a good thing?). The author talks about a leprosy patient who needs to be supervised when when doing things as simple as washing his face because once when he did this, he turned the water on so hot that he burned out one of his eyes and lost sight in that eye. He couldn’t tell that the water was too hot because he had no pain sensors. Another woman is diagnosed with leukemia, and after telling her husband of over 37 years, he packs all of his belongings and leaves their house within days. The book also discusses the ways in which people show they do care (and how that tends to taper off as the shock of the initial disease/death/etc. wears off). It was hard to read, but a lot of realities like these exist (that I have sadly faced with the latter bit) every day.

But what the book has also given me is a better sense of hope – hope that despite the fact that Ed isn’t physically with me anymore, that I can still prove to him that life was, in fact, worth living; hope that my life will get better and so many amazing things are to come that I have no idea about yet; hope that hope itself can still exist in this life. If we don’t have hope, we have nothing. You need hope to keep moving forward in life and to not stumble or be stagnant. We need hope to have love, and that’s all I really want for this life… and for Ed.

He came back again

I had a lot of trouble falling asleep last night, but when I finally did, Ed came back again.  I had a dream that he was suicidal, and somehow, I managed to get him on a plane to come to New York to be with me. In the dream, we are walking in a big shopping center toward a sporting good store, and we take an elevator to the fourth floor. During this walk, he is calmly explaining to me how hopeless he feels, how he doesn’t see a way out of it. Through his words, I can tell that there is, in fact, some desire for him to truly want help. And I tell him this. I said, “Ed, it’s clear from what you are saying that you do realize you need help and want it. I’m going to help you. We are going to treat you right here. We’re going to find people who can help you, and you are going to live with us in the meantime.” He has an embarrassed look on his face, and he insists that it’s too much to ask and that our apartment is too small for all three of us. I insisted, and I said he could stay here as long as it was needed. I just wanted him to get better and be happy. He consents and nods his head, and I squeeze his shoulder as we disappear into sporting equipment.

I wish this really happened. I’m happy we are talking about this, if just in my dreams finally. We really need to talk, don’t we?

Two months

Exactly two months ago, my brother woke up early to get ready for the day. He took a hot 45-minute shower and dressed. He helped our mother do some prep work on the string beans she would later cook for dinner that night. When our mother asked him if he wanted to accompany her to the chiropractor’s office for one of her regular visits, he agreed. Ten minutes before she was supposed to leave, he suddenly changed his mind and said he would stay at home. She said okay, and my dad drove her down to Van Ness at around 1pm for her appointment.

Who knows how soon after, but my brother left the house with his house keys and his wallet, which contained his soon-to-expire driver’s license, a credit card, and about $27 in cash. He walked east to Park Presidio Drive and Fulton Street and got on the 28 bus going toward the Golden Gate Bridge. He paid $2 in cash for his fare.

He arrived at the bridge. Witnesses say that he looked to have paced back and forth on the bridge for about 45 minutes to an hour, likely hoping that less people would be walking on the bridge. And at about 4:50pm local time, my brother climbed over the railing of the bridge closer to the Marin County side and jumped to his death.

At around that time, someone who saw my sweet brother jump called 911 and reported what had happened. It took the U.S. Coast Guard about 45 minutes to respond by taking a boat out, pulling my brother’s poor, lifeless body out of the water to pronounce him dead at the scene. It was about 5:50pm. He was then transported to the Marin County coroner’s office.

At the time that my brother jumped, I was here in my Manhattan apartment, completely unaware of what was happening. I had left work early to get my nails done with a LivingSocial deal I had bought. No one cared I was leaving early since the Friday before, I had officially given my two weeks notice. I came home soon after that and ate dinner by myself. I called my friend in Arkansas, who was planning to visit me the second week of August.

At around 9:30pm New York time, my mother called me to let me know that my brother was missing. It was only 6:30pm there, so I didn’t immediately feel worried until she explained to me that he had been sleeping even more in the last few days, and she had found a long rope in his backpack. The day before, he had skipped going to church. He never skipped Sunday service. She told me in a calm but trembling voice that she thought that he was trying to kill himself and was looking for all possible ways, and she was worried he wouldn’t come home. She told me not to worry and that she would call me if he came home. As she is talking to me about how worried she was, I wrote him a short e-mail asking him to call me when he got home.

I got off the phone with her. I sat there in the lounge room in silence. Chris was already asleep, so I decided not to awaken him. Panic came over me, and I dialed the first person I could think of who might be able to help in this situation – I called my seventh grade science teacher and friend and told her that I think my brother is missing. She and her husband strongly suggested we report him missing to the police. Chris woke up, confused, asking what was going on, and I told him.

I argued with my dad about reporting my brother missing. He said that Ed may just be out and that we are overreacting. Why cause a big neighborhood stir if it is nothing? I asked him how he would feel knowing that his son is lying around dead somewhere, shrieking. Shortly after, he and my mother drove to the police station.

At 3am my time, I call my parents again to see if Ed had come home, and my dad says no. I hung up. And I start crying and repeating, “He never came home… he never came home…” I knew in my gut at that moment that my brother was dead.

In the last two months, I have replayed these scenes in my head over and over. I replayed the scenes after this, when I barely slept that night and woke up to go to my free Fhitting Room workout class, when I sat in our lounge room, naked with just a towel covering me, crying on the phone with my mother and Chris there to comfort me. I remember feeling like I was exerting the most effort when I was lifting my legs to climb the stairs at the 33rd Street 6 stop to go to work. I remember calling Crista to tell her my brother was missing and trying to fight back tears. I remember walking to Wells Fargo at around 11:30am to see my brother’s latest bank statement to see what the activity was in case he had decided to run away. And I remember the awful moment when my dad called when I was walking through the Manhattan Mall to go back to my office, when he told me that they had found him at the Marin County morgue because he had jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge late in the afternoon the day before. And I crumpled on the floor by the second floor railing of the mall and cried nonstop.

I still can’t believe this has happened. Part of me still refuses to accept that my brother is gone from this world. I’m trying really hard to understand it, but it’s just so hard because I love him so much and hate this world without him. It makes me sick to think about how hopeless he felt and how he gave up on a life with us in it. I still wish I could have done more, and it still hurts so much.

I miss you, Ed. I need a sign from you that you are at peace. Can you please send me one, or two, or three, or just come back?

Changing views of the place I call home

My feelings about San Francisco have changed quite a bit since I first left home for college in August 2004. The first few winters and summers that I’d come home, it felt warm (not temperature-wise, obviously), welcoming, inviting. “Come home!” it beckoned. “You belong here!”

The city started to evolve quite a bit, though; the Mission gentrified and started inviting all these overpriced restaurants to open along Mission Street. The Coronet, our childhood movie theater, got completely torn down and replaced with a multi-million-dollar Institute on Aging center. The street lights along Geary Boulevard and 20th Avenue seemed so much dimmer than I’d remembered. It has paved the way for me to believe that San Francisco itself has gotten seedier in some areas and that the place I have long called home doesn’t always feel like “home” anymore. Walking its streets, I feel like a stranger in my own city.

And now with my brother gone, never to welcome me home in his arms again, the city seems even colder and harsher to me than ever before. It is even less welcoming, a far less happier place for me to return to. And when I leave it, I have mixed feelings. I’m not sure if I should be happy or sad, nostalgic or resentful. Even the Golden Gate Bridge itself for me is now a bit tainted, and I can’t look at it the same way now. This city without my brother means less to me than it ever has in my whole life. When I think of San Francisco now, I just feel hurt and pain.