When your child’s marriage fails

Chris’s aunt and uncle just left us yesterday afternoon to continue on to Philadelphia to visit more relatives. Throughout their visit, they were both visibly distraught at the recent breakup of their younger son’s marriage; although they were together about six years, they were “married” less than three, and the news came as a shock to all of us. Granted, none of us can ever be fully aware of what goes on between two people in a life partnership, and it’s even harder when we infrequently see them due to geographic distance.

His aunt frequently made comments about how strange it feels to be someone’s mother-in-law and then suddenly the next day, not. It’s weird to be comfortable enough to call your daughter on the phone, then be told that you cannot call her anymore… ever again. It’s deeply upsetting to know someone as your daughter-in-law, the person who gave you a fourth grandchild and your first granddaughter, and then be told that she is now considered just the mother of your granddaughter. She teared up frequently, saying she wished her no ill will and just wanted what was best for both of them and their child. It was really hard to see her and how emotional she was. She in many ways blamed herself. “Maybe if I had raised him differently, this wouldn’t have happened?” she asked me. “What do you think?”

I had nothing to say. What could I say, really? So many factors go into a relationship working and not working. They both clearly worry about their son a lot and want to help, even if they are unable to. They are concerned, loving parents. She said she hoped they’d be able to work things out, that a reconciliation could possibly happen.

It would be great if it did, but from what I can see, that’s next to impossible.

Family vs. sights

Chris’s aunt and uncle, who have been visiting us the last few days, don’t do much travel. His aunt goes to Kerala in India for long spurts to visit her parents, brother, and other relatives, and it’s easy for her since they own an apartment there. But other than that, they only travel when there’s a family event to go to, like our wedding back in 2016 when they came to California.

I learned a lot about them during this trip that I had no idea about; his aunt was saying that traveling with her husband was more hassle than it was worth since he has a short temper when he gets confused or lost during travel, which is pretty often and can be counted on. She prefers to travel and be in India on her own rather than with her husband. “It’s like taking a child around; I want to do my own thing and at my own pace, and he’s useless there on his own!” she exclaimed. She said it was important for them both to have their own time separately. She also said that the more she thought about it, while it is nice to travel and see sights, the both of them are fairly like-minded and prefer to travel to places where there are family and friends. They rather spend time catching up with friends and relatives than see sights; it would mean that if they do see sights that they’d have a guide and would not have to worry about getting lost; it would also mean that they’d get quality time with people they know that they normally do not have.

It’s funny to hear them say that. My friends and family are not that spread out, so it’s not like I have a reason to go travel to those places because I probably already know them. But I’d rather travel to see sights and have new experiences than visit people I already know. Or maybe that’s just because I don’t care about my people as much as his aunt and uncle do? What does this say about us as people?


He came back to finish college

Chris said I was talking in my sleep last night. I dreamt that my mom called a week before Thanksgiving to tell me that my brother decided to finally finish college and get his BA, and he got accepted at some school in Boston. I asked her why no one told me anything; obviously, if you start school here, you can’t just randomly start in November. She said she just forgot to tell me, and Ed probably was so busy studying that he forgot he just relocated across the country and didn’t realize his sister needed to know immediately.

“He doesn’t have anyone to spend Thanksgiving with,” she said. She explained she was concerned that he might harm himself if he got too lonely, and so she told me she wanted Chris and me to bring him to Portugal with us.

I was really confused.

“He’s not even alive! How can we bring him to Portugal?! How can he possibly be studying in Boston??” I exclaimed back to her. I had no idea what was going on.

“You need to buy him a plane ticket to Portugal,” she insisted. “Who else does he have nearby? You have to take care of your brother. He’s your blood.”

What is reality, and what is a dream? I had no idea what was real and what was imagined in my subconscious. All I felt was confusion. But a part of me felt happy at the possibility that the last five years had been imagined, that Ed could really be alive, and that I could actually bring him to Europe. It certainly would not be part of the original plan, but who the hell would care if it meant he was alive.

But then I woke up, and he was still dead. Again, it’s just a dream that he’s still alive.

Family mental health discussion

Chris’s aunt and uncle are staying with us the next few days, and on their first night with us, we spent the evening enjoying Chinese Indian food, wine, and also talking about a lot of different topics, including mental health. It inevitably led to conversations about Ed, his struggles, my family and how they handled my brother’s illness (or, well, chose not to), and just how I have dealt with it the last two decades of my life. And then I learned all these new things about Chris’s aunt, about her own struggles with her family, especially her dad and her brother. Her brother was never able to garner enough of his dad’s approval and love, and despite being very talented and well educated, went through a downward spiral and ended up having electric shock therapy to his brain, similar to lobotomies as what people in those days had because no one understood the concept of depression or mental illness. So he was pretty much rendered useless, like an immobile child who could not function as an adult anymore. He’s now living at the same nursing home that her 100-year-old mother is living at, but neither has any idea that the other is so close. As a result, his aunt has a lot of anger towards her father. Even though he’s 105 years old, he is still critical and unaware of his negative effects on her brother and his life. It’s very similar to how I feel about our father, how he didn’t help and if anything, really made Ed worse. I always wonder if he ever contemplates it when he’s alone. I’ll never know, though, because discussing emotions is off limits with my dad. We realized our similarities in feelings immediately.

They asked me multiple times if I was okay to discuss it and apologized if they were making me feel uncomfortable. It’s never a fun topic that anyone enjoys, but it must be discussed. There are moments when I felt a bit uneasy or tense, but the openness is needed to address the complex feelings and thoughts around this. If anything, I am grateful when people ask me to talk about it all because it means they want to learn and they also want to be heard. And that’s what we need more of in a world that is facing an increasing rate of mental health problems and suicide ideation and risk.


Early Thanksgiving aftermath

As I cut up the second half of the turkey this morning after our early Thanksgiving meal last night, I thought about all the Thanksgiving meals I had growing up and how satisfying they always were. We didn’t have the most gourmet or homemade items on the table, but regardless of that, every year, it was always a meal that everyone looked forward to. Ed’s favorite was always the Stovestop stuffing out of a box; the texture was always perfect, and I suppose it was designed that way. As a kid, I enjoyed mushing up the canned cranberry jelly sauce on my plate every year and smashing it against my roasted turkey pieces. Sometimes, I get nostalgic about it and wonder if I’d ever actually buy it again myself, but then I remember my Chris, who doesn’t understand the purpose of any cranberry sauce at any Christmas or Thanksgiving table, homemade like I’ve always done with him, or from a can. He only eats it out of obligation because I make it and insist that it be there. My uncle would roast and carve the turkey and make a thick gravy. We’d have a generic lettuce and tomato salad with Thousand Island dressing. My dad would make homemade cut buttery, flaky biscuits. It was his thing every year, along with his signature German-style cheesecake made from cottage cheese, not cream cheese, meaning it was alway lighter and fluffier.

But what I also looked forward to, sometimes even more than the actual Thanksgiving meal, was all the food made from the Thanksgiving leftovers: the turkey club sandwiches my dad would make the day after, adding bacon, lettuce, tomato, turkey, in between thick cut slices of good quality toasted bread with mayonnaise. Then, there was the very Chinese American turkey rice porridge or jook. It was like a “cleanse” of sorts after having all that heavy celebratory Thanksgiving food. I remember these food memories fondly every year.

I’m sure this is the case with many people when they reflect on their families, but many of my happiest childhood memories are around food. Food is what brings families together, regardless of how happy or dysfunctional they are. It brings at least the appearance of togetherness around one table.

Costco chicken bake

Today was Chris’s second time ever going to Costco. After we finished paying for our haul of goodies, Chris asked, “don’t you want your chicken bake?” It’s like I had heart eyes on the spot. The first time he came with me back in June, he was annoyed by the crowds and didn’t want to wait for a chicken bake in the Costco fast food line, breaking my personal tradition of always getting a chicken bake when visiting a Costco in Manhattan. This time, he humored me. So we got the chicken bake and took it home to share.

It’s really nothing that will wow anyone or be on the list of the most incredible foods you’ve ever eaten, but for me, it holds nostalgia from my Costco trips with my parents growing up, and my dad surprising me with one in the car. But if you really think about it, the Costco chicken bake encompasses most elements of what defines “comfort food”: meat (thick chunks of chicken breast), bread, cheese, a creamy sauce, bacon, a crusty cheesy exterior. You can’t really go wrong with that unless you are trying to entice a vegan, right? Chris smelled it, and he said he could already picture what it tasted like. And when he actually took a bite, he said, “Okay, yes, this is good, but it… just taste like pizza bread!”

It tastes like my happy memories of home. I will always love this baked goodness.

Defining “near” and “far”

Chris and I had dinner tonight at his brother’s friends’ apartment downtown. They relocated to New York last year from Hong Kong. They are originally from Melbourne, but have spent the last 7+ years living in Hong Kong. The female friend’s job brought them here, and her husband came over through an internal job transfer. Both are extremely cognizant of how terrible the immigration process is to get to the U.S. Welcome to America!

It was really amusing listening to them talk about their perception of what is “near” and “far” and where they wanted to live in the future. She seems to love New York; he seems a bit more lukewarm and annoyed by how expensive things are here. He wants to move back to Melbourne eventually; she appeared repulsed by the idea unless he had some extremely glamorous and lucrative job lined up that would entice him back (he insisted that no job in Melbourne would be that amazing for her to be “wowed” by it). She seemed especially irritated by the housing market in Melbourne and fantasized about moving back to Hong Kong. But when we asked them if they would consider moving back to Australia via Sydney, they both said absolutely not. “Why would we live in Sydney? In Melbourne, the obvious draw is that family is there… but Sydney… why?” she asked. “Sydney is an hour’s flight away from Melbourne, but if we lived in Hong Kong, I could easily get back to Melbourne on an overnight flight! So I’d choose Hong Kong over Sydney easily!”

I loved hearing this. With people who are close in age to me (so, really, “millennials” if we have to label ourselves that dreadful name), there seems to be a general lack of desire to be “far” from family. What is the reason I hear the most often? Well, the opposite one of what our friend here is saying: if an emergency happens, I want to get to them right away. Well, “right away” clearly has different definitions for different people. I’m currently a five-hour flight away from San Francisco. This feels comfortable to me… I guess. The saddest and most real case in point was when I found out Ed passed away, and I immediately booked the first flight back home the next day. Our friend here is saying, “closeness” means being an overnight flight away, so maybe 8-9 hours. This response would completely throw off anyone who has given me the above argument against moving “far away” from home (and, well, their subconscious judgment of me for living 3,000 miles away from my parents). For Chris, a flight home would mean about 24 hours including transfer and layover time. For him, it seems to be enough. But that’s the thing: “near” and “far” mean very different things to different people, and it’s hard to define it as a generalization.

A walk with my dad

I woke up from a dream this morning that seemed far too ordinary yet again. This time, it was a walk around the block of my parents’ house with my dad. It’s my parents’ “thing” to exercise by walking around our block a few times. This seems extremely mundane, repetitive, and ridiculous when you think about the fact that they literally live across the street from Golden Gate Park, one of the nicest parks in this entire country, but my parents claim they don’t have time to walk all the way across the street to Golden Gate Park for daily walks. They also said that since the avenue above us is a steep hill, the incline helps with their exercise. While that second part may be true, this has always sounded pretty pathetic to me.

My dad and I were walking around the block on this walk. He does this walk every day even when I am home, and I’ve never gone with him, nor have I ever offered to go with him. He’s never asked me to go, either. But for whatever reason, we were walking this boring walk together in this dream, and we were surprisingly having normal father-daughter conversation. When I say “normal,” I mean.. if our relationship were a “normal” father/daughter relationship, which it isn’t. We had a reasonably decent conversation about work and things that were annoying me there. We talked about my friends and their lives. We talked about New York and potentially staying… forever. This conversation was too good to be true, and halfway through the dream, I thought, yes, this is definitely a dream. There is zero way this could be a real walk and a real conversation.

Then, I woke up and confirmed my suspicion. And I also hoped that given how strange this “normal” dream was that nothing bad was waiting for me around the corner in reality.

Calling home and wanting to hear someone’s voice

When planning to fly back to San Francisco, I usually call home the day before. So I left work today, completely drained from a stressful and hectic week of work travel, work drama, and event logistics planning insanity for our annual user conference next week. I felt really cloudy and didn’t want to think about anything. I just wanted to veg out and not do anything productive. So on my walk to the subway, I called the house number, realizing at that hour, my parents would likely not be home. But in the back of my mind, I thought, oh, that’s okay. Maybe Ed will answer, and I can talk to him.

Oh, crap. Ed’s not here anymore. What the hell is wrong with you? 

I hate these moments of complete brain failure when reality hits me, and I actually still think my brother is alive. It still hurts… even after all this time.

Ed’s 39th birthday in Vancouver

It’s my first time celebrating Ed’s birthday outside of the U.S. It was just Bart and me today, so we had to make it worth it. We enjoyed the sumptuous breakfast buffet at the hotel’s Executive Lounge, complete with cold-pressed juices and even chocolate almond milk, wandered around Granville Island and enjoyed looking at all the local arts and crafts, especially the hand-crafted pottery designs. It reminded me of the ceramic designs that we admired while we were in Seattle together in 2004. I actually brought back a small little ceramic jewelry bowl from Pike Place Market during that trip that I placed next to my framed photo of the two of us together on our bedroom dresser.

We then took the ferry back to the West End and walked along the urban beach overlooking the English Bay. Walking through the streets of the West End, both residential and commercial, I found myself thinking that a lot of these streets felt like the ones I walked with Ed in Seattle 14 years ago. We walked through Canada Place and looked out at the harbor, admired the cruise ships and their massive fleets. I then sat with him at the bar of Miku, a well-respected aburi sushi restaurant in Vancouver, and we enjoyed the Miku Zen lunch special; he posed with the sushi and agreed with me that the wild British Columbia sockeye salmon aburi oshi sushi bites were truly the best and most memorable bites of this entire trip, if not ever. They were fresh, mouth-watering, savory, a little sweet from the Mizu sauce, and literally just melted as soon as they hit your tongue. We debated whether we would get another half order of the salmon aburi, but decided against it unless we wanted the bartenders to wheel us out.

We wandered over to a cafe in Gastown known for London fog lattes and enjoyed a large mug while gazing over at the Canadian baristas so naturally doing their day to day jobs and not even realizing that a little Bart Simpson was watching over them. Then, we headed back to Yaletown to pick up a slice of Erin Ireland’s “to die for” vegan lemon coconut loaf slice to save and enjoy for later when we’d be at the airport with lesser tasty options. We did some window shopping before heading back to the hotel, stretch our legs, pack up our last little bits, and grab a cab to the airport for our two flights home.

It felt nice to be traveling alone on my own today, to feel free and to go at the pace I wanted to go and wander around a little aimlessly, to stop at random places to take photos with Bart. I’m sure I almost mowed over a few Canadians and tourists alike with my speed walk and didn’t do my hamstring any favors today, but Bart seemed to enjoy himself for Ed. I hope Ed was watching today.

Happy 39th birthday, big bro. We ate well for you today and miss you. We’ll never stop thinking about you.