10 years of fundraising for AFSP and remembering Ed

Today was the Manhattan American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Out of the Darkness walk for this year. 2023 marks the 10th year that I’ve fundraised in honor of Ed’s memory. It’s been an interesting ten years fundraising. Each year, I share my personal story, which has evolved each year. And each year, I’ve somehow managed to elicit the support of not just my friends and family who have been repeat donors, but even new donors every time. Most of those new donors have been colleagues, new and old. Some have been friends or family members of my own friends and family. Others have even been complete strangers who found out about my brother’s story through an acquaintance or family member and felt compelled to donate. In all of these cases, I’ve always been touched that people would spend their hard-earned money to support this cause… all because I chose to share and be open about my brother’s story and ultimately, my family’s loss. It’s been a humbling experience to share his story and see who has felt something when reading it. I’ve lost count of the number of people who have told me they’ve personally been affected by suicide or struggled themselves. But this is how people start opening up, and I am proud to be a part of the journey of destigmatizing mental health and suicide ideation and prevention.

2023 is the first year I haven’t met my fundraising goal, though. I raised $4,790 out of a goal of $5,000. I’m still waiting on a match from my company, which would add another $100, as my company matches donations up to $100 each year per employee. I think I am waiting on one corporate match. But I guess it’s hard to expect people to donate year after year, especially when there are so many other charities and crises that need our attention. So I’m grateful for even the smallest contributions.

This is also the first year when Kaia has walked with me. Well, we pushed her in her stroller, but she did attend the walk, and she loved the Top Fundraising Team sign that we had for Ed. We also had Chris’s cousin and his daughter come from London, who also accompanied us at the walk, as well as my friends and their young daughter.

Each year when I am listening to the remarks at the opening ceremony, I cannot help but tear up while listening to all the stories of loss. Someone’s teen daughter died from suicide. Someone else lost their dad to suicide. The stories just keep going on and on, and I can feel the pain. It’s just so gut wrenching to hear these stories and see that this keeps happening over and over. But while it is sad, it makes me feel better knowing that I’m doing a little something for the community by fundraising each and doing this walk.

10 years of fundraising for AFSP

2023 marks the 10th year that I’ve been fundraising for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention in honor and memory of Ed. In the beginning, I set my goal really low, at $1,000, because I wasn’t sure how much, if anything, people would donate. I got totally blown out of the water that year and raised far above $1,000. Each subsequent year for a number of years, I kept raising the goal by a thousand dollars. Then, the pandemic year hit in 2020, and I realized it would be too much of a stretch to keep going on that trajectory. So I scaled it back. Since, my goal has been $5,000, but which each year, it feels like more and more of a stretch to reach. In the last two years, it’s been especially tough with a poor economic climate, seemingly endless layoffs, and crazy inflation. It always feels like it’s a lot to ask of people to keep donating, year after year. It’s tireless and exhausting. I’m 10 days away from the Out of the Darkness walk and still haven’t hit my goal. I am currently ranked 6th for fundraising in Manhattan.

But then I have a friend who has been fundraising for breast cancer research since we were 18 with her sisters in memory of their mother, who died suddenly from breast cancer (caught just 3 weeks before dying). She’s been doing this fundraising for almost 20 years now and never gives up. I took a look at her donation page today, and she’s barely raised $400. It kind of goes to show that people tire of these asks after a while, and we can only expect so much.

It’s rough. Losing someone you love prematurely is hard. Trying to keep their memory alive is hard. Fundraising and asking loved ones and colleagues to donate year after year is hard. It’s hard to know when it’s actually too much to ask. But at that point, are you letting your loved one’s memory essentially die?

Mid-Autumn Moon Festival, aka time to eat mooncake

Growing up, I had no idea what Mid-Autumn Moon Festival was, but I did know that at around the same time of year every autumn, I could expect to eat moon cakes. Around September of every year, my grandma would buy boxes and boxes of Cantonese style moon cakes as gifts for family and friends. In return, we (surprise surprise) also received endless boxes of moon cakes, as well. I never understood the cultural importance of the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival then. I just enjoyed eating the moon cakes. Since our family is Cantonese, I was really only ever exposed to Cantonese style mooncakes at home. It wasn’t until I was in college when I realized that there are many regional differences across not only China, but different parts of Asia, for mooncakes. Just a couple weeks ago, I finally had Thai style moon cakes, which are really more like mini round flaky pastries with a filling. And apparently, Shanghainese moon cakes are similar to these Thai ones, as well! I feel like I’m always learning new things about my culture and variations of the food I grew up eating.

It wasn’t until college that I officially learned what “Mid-Autumn Moon Festival” even was. Historically, the festival marked the time of the year, in autumn, when families would gather to enjoy the fruitful reaping of rice and wheat, and they would mark this with food offerings made in honor of the moon. The day that Mid-Autumn Moon Festival falls is always an evening of a full moon. So today, families will typically gather and have a delicious feast. And at some point of the day, they will cut moon cakes into small pieces and eat them together with tea. The moon is a symbol of harmony and unity, and so it’s considered auspicious to eat moon cake during this time of year. Moon cakes are always round, just like the moon (not unique, but you get the idea). Families eating moon cake during the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival is basically signifying that their family is unified and complete.

Since my grandma died, our family never really did anything for Mid-Autumn Moon Festival other than buy moon cakes around the same time each year. But I would like for Kaia to understand the cultural significance of these Chinese holidays since they are part of her culture. This year, for the first time, I actually went down to Chinatown specifically to buy moon cakes, specifically ones that I special ordered via email from Kopitiam, a Malaysian cafe/restaurant that was making snow moon cakes based on demand. I ordered five: two durian, one taro, one black sesame, and one white lotus seed paste (the last one is the most traditional Cantonese filling, and my favorite one growing up that I was exposed to).

Snow moon cakes, in the last several years (as long as I am aware), have become all the rage during Mid-Autumn Moon Festival. They’re basically like the modernized version of moon cakes: they have the same round shape, the same beautiful molds, but instead of a shortening or butter-based crust on the outside, snow moon cakes have a “shell” that is made of mochi or glutinous rice flour. They are instant eye candy and are just stunning to look at. And the moon cakes that are being made by places like Kopitiam — you know for a fact that they’re not taking any shortcuts or using artificial anything. I cut two, the durian and the taro, and Chris and I shared them. I offered a bite to Kaia given the holiday, though I’d normally never give her anything with added sugar. Initially, she seemed intrigued, but when she got close enough and watched us eat, she said she didn’t want any. It’s okay: I still want her exposed to these things, and at some point one day, she will be tempted.

An ode to Ammachy

This past Sunday, we learned that Ammachy, Chris’s maternal grandma, passed away. She was widowed quite early on in her marriage and had three daughters she ended up raising on her own. She worked hard and made sure they had a good childhood, and they all went on to do relatively well in their respective careers and lives. Because she lived in India and never actually moved to Australia, Chris spent less time with her than he did with his paternal grandma. I had seen her on a number of occasions when she’d be in Australia during Christmas time, and Chris and I also went to visit her in the summer of 2018 during our India trip. She was always soft-spoken and thoughtful, and there was never a time when she was not reading a book (always in extra big print because of her vision problem). We were really looking forward to going to India this summer to visit her and finally have her meet Kaia. I really was excited for her to see Kaia, her second great grandchild, and have them interact with each other, but unfortunately, it was not meant to be. Our India trip this summer will now be a bit different than how we had hoped and envisioned.

Although Ammachy has passed, I still think it’s amazing that Chris got to see both his grandmothers live well into his late 30s/early 40s. While it’s sad that she is now gone, it’s comforting to know that she lived a good, full, long life and had many people who loved her and will always remember her.

Early Intervention (EI) for children

A lot of people look at the need or mention of “early intervention” in their baby or toddler’s life as a condemnation of their parenting abilities, whether it’s about whether they have done enough for their child, or if it’s something they could have passed down to them genetically that has stunted some part of their development. I’ve generally always been pragmatic about it: if a child needs some additional help, it’s probably better to get them help sooner rather than later, because whatever that developmental delay is, it could cascade and have negative affects on other areas of development if not addressed.

I had a hunch Kaia would be quite verbal this time last year, and I was right: at this point, she can say over 60 different words, which according to developmental milestone charts I’ve read, is at the 2-year old-plus level of speaking. But the area where she hasn’t been that strong is in walking. She easily pulls herself up and gets down. She sits in a lot of different positions. She also is happy to walk while we hold her hands, or when she’s pushing her walker. But she just won’t walk independently, and she will only stand on her own for about 3-4 seconds max. She crawls super fast though, and she’s very, very nimble. Crawling was supposed to precede walking. But still to this day, no walking on her own. I told the doctor this at her appointment today, and she suggested that she recommend Kaia for early intervention to see what we could do to help her walk. Someone would likely reach out to me in the next 2-3 weeks to set up an appointment to come to our home and observe and potentially make recommendations to help.

I don’t really mind it, and I don’t see any harm in having someone evaluate her and watch her closely. I especially don’t mind since it’s fully covered via our health insurance, plus we don’t have to go out of our way to get the help. Who knows – our nanny says that she thinks Kaia is just on the brink of walking and will likely get there before the EI appointment is even scheduled, so we shall wait and see.

Good friends who do anything for each other

During the course of my now 15-year career, I’ve met a lot of interesting people. I’ve met really inspiring, ambitious people, the types of people who’ve made me look in the mirror and think, “wow, I’m the definition of mediocre.” I’ve met dull, baloney-and-cheese sandwich boring people, the type who brings the same lunch to work every single day and never do anything new because, well, nothing compels them to do so, and they don’t see value in it. I’ve met people who volunteer regularly to help those less fortunate, who donate thousands of dollars each year to charity because they acknowledge that while they’ve had good luck and opportunities in their lives, there are plenty more people who are nowhere as lucky as they were. I’ve also met people who are so selfish that they have said, out loud in front of many others, that they see no reason to help those they do not know personally because they will never see how their help “really paid off.” You meet a lot of people over the course of 15 years, especially when you’re on the road traveling to different places, and especially when you work externally with customers from all walks of life.

Yesterday afternoon, I was on the phone with one of these interesting customers. He’s the kind of person who is very reserved when he’s being recorded on our Zoom calls, but once you get him on the phone, he totally opens up and tells you everything and anything; he loves talking and sharing, and he is truly an open book. Although he is based in Virginia, he had been working from the Bay Area since the beginning of February. One of his very best friends from high school was doing a clinical trial to help with the recurring liver problems she’d been facing, and the side effect of these trials is that they can really wipe you out completely to the point where you could be bedridden for days. She’s a single working mom raising two sons on her own with no family nearby. So my customer, being this selfless friend, decided to drive his car all the way from Virginia to the Bay Area, rent an AirBnB, to help out this friend, plus her two teenagers. He said he drove because he wanted to be able and ready to help with anything from getting her to appointments to doing grocery runs, and he didn’t need the added expense of a rental car for that long period. He got an AirBnB for the first 1.5 months so he didn’t encroach on their personal space since they live in a condo with limited room. He was planning to spend the last two weeks of this month at their home.

“It’s really not a big deal,” my customer insisted. “Three plus years ago, I could never do this because we all had to be at the office, but now we’re remote first. So as long as I have a computer and Wi-Fi access, I’m all set to work. So when she told me she had to do this, I knew I had to help. It was a no brainer to me. I’d do anything for her. We’ve known each other for 40+ years. And all my kids are out of the house! So I’ve got no responsibilities!”

Even if you remove the ability to “work from everywhere,” I still don’t know many people, if anyone, who would temporarily relocate for two months across the country they live to help out a friend in this way. I was really awestruck and thought… wow, I must also be an inadequate friend next to this customer…

This is 37

Every day, we are getting older. Every hour, every minute, every second, we are all getting older. Certainly no one is getting any younger. As Kaia gets older, everyone observes and comments in wonderment, seeing her do things like crawl to walk to run, like holding a ball to actually throwing and catching it. With people of my age, though, in terms of “development,” people just wonder… how old is she against how old she “looks”? Is she getting grey hairs or wrinkles on her face, neck, and other parts of her body? Has she achieved the society-imposed “life milestones” like getting married, having kids, buying a house yet, etc.? “Development” means different things at different stages of life, and the world can sometimes feel like a stage where everyone is watching, waiting to give their opinion about you.

Well, last month, for the first time, I actually noticed wrinkles around my eyes in a photo that was taken of me. I paused for a second when I looked at it and then zoomed in at the corners of my eyes. Are these the beginning of crow’s feet? I thought to myself. Well, crow’s feet manifest a little differently on Asian skin vs. White skin, so I guess this was my version. I’m 37 and noticing these types of wrinkles for the very first time. I’m definitely getting older and approaching middle age. In a lot of ways, I feel very young, almost child like at times when I think about things I like and admire and things I care about. Other times, I feel completely jaded by the experiences I’ve had. I’ve never really quite felt like “my age” if that makes any sense. But now that I’m officially in my late-30s, I feel like at heart, I’m much younger than my numerical age. I’m unsure if that’s a good or bad thing.

Having a child to care for has definitely changed my perspective on life, no doubt. I think it’s made me a better person, someone more cognizant of the challenges that parents and caregivers face every single day without always thinking about it. It’s given me more empathy not just for other parents and caregivers, but for babies and growing toddlers themselves.

I’m not sure what my actual “age” should be if I had to decide what I “felt” like, but I do know one thing for sure: I am grateful for the days I have lived and the experiences I have had, both the good and the bad, because unfortunately, not everyone has been as lucky as I have been to have lived 37+ years on this earth. Ed wasn’t that fortunate. Our friend Raj wasn’t that lucky. And many others will never know what it’s like to be 37. So I celebrate today and am happy for what I have and what hopefully will be. Happy 37th birthday to me.

Decluttering for the new year

We didn’t leave the apartment at all today. It felt like we were fully unpacked yesterday, but I still had to organize a lot of things today, plus I wanted to declutter and give away/donate a bunch of things. I separated out some baby items I wanted to post in our Buy Nothing group. I got rid of lot of junk and old papers in my drawers. After seeing all the clutter and “stuff” in Chris’s parents’ home, it almost drove me to want to own even fewer things than I already own. And relatively speaking, Chris and I own very few things. We’re confined by space given we live in a New York City apartment with limited storage space. And the less space you have, the less space you have to store and display stuff. But the idea of owning stuff that I not only do not use but am barely aware I even own did not sit well with me.

I tend to give away/throw out stuff almost every year at the beginning of the year to “start the year fresh.” But this time, I really want to cull things I don’t use, even if it’s just half used face masks or shoes I haven’t worn in 3+ years. Less stuff will make me feel better.

Ed turns 43

This may be the first time I’ve been in San Francisco for Ed’s birthday since he passed, and how funny it is that this time when I am in town for his birthday, Kaia is now here with us. Coming back to San Francisco and leaving have never really been easy for me… pretty much since forever. When Ed was around, I always felt guilt that I was leaving him in the abusive environment of my parents. I always wanted to support him more, but never knew how to. Then, he died. I always have lots of conflicting thoughts and feelings around coming and being home– mostly because of Ed and how he should be here but isn’t; my parents’ mental health; the hoarding and clutter and dilapidated state their home is in. To me, the house is cursed. I still occasionally fantasize about burning it down. But I realize it resembles hell to me only downstairs. As soon as you are on the third floor where my aunt and her roommate live, it actually feels warmer both temperature-wise and in terms of its ambiance. It feels brighter; there is more light. She actually decorates and maintains her home so that it feels pleasant to be in.

In my parents’ home, it does not feel welcoming at all. It feels dark, desolate, and there is literally a cold draft running through the house that you can feel if you are walking barefoot. It comes from the sunroom. The level of clutter and hoarding always seems a little worse every time I come home. In my mind, there are a few times when it’s gotten heightened: the first time I really noticed it was my first visit home a year after I graduated from college; every subsequent visit there has been more accumulation of junk. And it really skyrocketed after Ed died. It’s almost like to make up for Ed’s presence, my dad started hoarding more things and having most surfaces of the house that are meant for sitting… not sittable, if that’s even a word (it doesn’t look like a word). The breakfast table seats have perpetually been covered in food stuff, cans, and appliances. My mom said that my bed and Ed’s are always covered with piles of paper and other random things when I am not there. The physical clutter always makes me feel more stressed and annoyed every time I am there. And when I say even the slightest thing about it to my mom, she gets mad and tells me I am causing trouble and to just stop talking about it.

I always hoped that as my parents aged that they would finally do things to enjoy life and be more comfortable: renovate the kitchen and have it be easier to use instead of having all these random tables and stools everywhere with paper bags and old newspapers everywhere; create fixtures in the bathroom that would make it easier to bathe and shower in; actually make use of all the space they have in their house, which actually is a LOT of space for two people. But instead, they do nothing and seem to only make it more uncomfortable as time goes on. The amount of time my parents spend separating out compost and trash is completely insane. My hope is based in just that: hope. It’s not rooted in anything they’ve ever indicated they wanted. I really don’t know what they are doing with their lives. I wonder what Ed thinks looking down at all this, wondering what the hell our parents are doing. I have no idea what they live for. My mom loves to talk about how depressed she is, but she doesn’t do anything to help herself, and this was even before Ed died, so it’s not just because of that.

I wish our parents the best. I really do. I just wish they’d learn to stop and enjoy life and all the privileges they had instead of picking fights about stupid, senseless things. It probably won’t happen, but I still wish it would.

I wonder if Ed were still alive today if he’d still be at home. It would be an even worse hell in many ways if he was still living there with them, likely getting tortured alive. My mom was never going to be at peace with Ed, alive or dead, as awful as it sounds.

Happy 43rd birthday, Ed. I am happy you are free from the hell that is that house on 20th avenue and that you are enjoying yourself truly, somewhere out there. You are free… free from all the pain, suffering, torture of that miserable house. You are free. But our parents are not and likely will never be.

Memories of milkies

“How much did you pump?” Chris asked, as he passed me in the kitchen this morning.

“270 ml,” I responded, while tipping out the last few drops of milk into a bottle before dumping all my pump parts into a bowl to wash.

Our nanny’s eyes widened. “You just pumped 270 ml in one session?! Yvonne, if I didn’t know better, I’d think you were a cow! That’s like 8 ounces!”

“Actually, that’s 9 ounces,” Chris said.

I told her that was relatively normal for my first morning pump since it’s all the milk that had accumulated overnight, as I no longer do a middle of the night pump. But we’d come a long, long way from my early days of struggling to even get 30 ml / 1 ounce per pump session.

I recalled the times early on when I just didn’t understand the concept of “supply and demand” with milk supply, when I didn’t realize my baby wasn’t sucking hard enough on my breasts to create a proper “demand.” Those days, I was lucky to get even 30 ml per pump session. I pumped so little milk that after refrigerating the milk to combine with other pumps, Chris would try to consolidate the milk, and to get every drop and fat residual on the sides of the pump bottles loosened, he’d run our hot water tap over the outside of the bottles like a crazy person. But he ran so much hot water over the bottles to get every last drop of breast milk that one day, the hot water tap tank actually ran out, and so we had to wait for the water to refill and get heated again. It was a hilarious moment when he told me this. But on the other hand, I felt really embarrassed and ashamed that I was producing so little then that he felt like he had to get every last smidgen of milk possible to feed our baby. That also reminded me of how I used to cry and blame myself, erroneously thinking I actually had low milk supply because of my own body as opposed to lack of sufficient demand.

So, I remember those painful and emotional moments when my nanny praises me now, not only for how diligently and on schedule I pump, but for how much I am producing to feed my baby. Like the concept of “you should never trust a skinny chef,” she said she used to think that if a woman had small boobs, she’d never produce much milk to feed her baby. Apparently, I proved her wrong with that since she always tells me that I am a small woman with tiny boobs but a ton of milk!

Most moms already would have given up on pumping by now, my nanny always says. “But you still keep going,” she’s said to me a few times. “That shows how much you love your baby. It is an extremely selfless act. Your baby will never understand this until she one day becomes a mother and tries to breastfeed her own babies. Even other women who don’t have kids don’t get it.”