Erenlai - Goodbye, my dear sister

Goodbye, my dear sister

by on Monday, 01 July 2013 Comments

 

I have been thinking for a long time how to start this article. What tone of voice can I use to remember you, my dearest sister?

I’ll start from the day when you resolutely decided to leave us.

It was the summer of 2009, I am a little bit fuzzy on the exact date. September 18th? September 20th? It seems like something that happened very long ago. A few days before, I had come back from the disaster area of the Morakot Typhoon. At that time, my only thoughts were of getting home, I wasn’t aware that it was all an omen of you leaving.

On a Sunday noon, I noticed that your door was locked, and angrily banged on the door and shouted for you to open up, until I noticed the marks of sticky tape on the cracks of the door, and realized something wasn’t right.

“Quick, call a taxi!”

“Dad, sis has killed herself!”

“Go! Go!”

“I’m sorry, we did all we could”

On that confusing Sunday, despite standing under the hot and bright sun outside the ER, my hand clutching the death certificate was icy cold.

I think it was a very deep and helpless feeling of sorrow. I picked up the phone with a shaking hand and gave your friends the news of your death. I even had to call your masters classmates, to explain the reason for you not being able to attend classes. I really wanted to collapse, but I couldn’t cry, because I needed to send you off properly for mom and dad.

The second day after you left, when the people arrived to take photos and examine you in order to issue a death certificate, I completely collapsed and sobbed loudly. By the time your stiff body was tossed around by hands wearing white latex gloves, the tears were already flowing to the point where I could no longer distinguish your face. Your naked body, without a trace of colour in it, seemed to solemnly proclaim your passing. It wasn’t only my weakness that was forced out at that point; it was also Dad’s grief and little brother’s reluctance to let go. At that moment I silently told you: “From today onwards, I won’t cry again”.

I really didn’t cry anymore. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to, it was that I shouldn’t and besides I couldn’t. A succession of funeral affairs transformed me into a frantic spinning top; one moment I was signing an agreement, the next I was selecting an ash urn. I also had to make time to attend all kinds of ceremonies, since we were the only “relatives from the world of the living” capable of offering a sacrifice for you. Even though none of us have a particularly deep religious conviction, whenever we did the “Seven-day Rites”, and we chanted the texts in ancient Indian from the books, I still felt like I was doing something for you. In the “Head Seven” ceremony, I saw a little white butterfly fly into the Buddhist temple and selfishly thought that it was you, come to longingly accompany us. I treated each ceremony as a last meeting with you before you finally departed, and in looked forward to the rituals, and taking part in them, I felt a small trace of precious peace.

Days just went by one by one, after the “Head Seven” everything went back to normal, those who work worked, those who study studied; all quietly waiting for your funeral procession a month from now. The only difference was the food offering we made every morning and evening and the “Seven-day Rites” we held once a week; only these reminded me of the reality: that you weren’t here. I went back to school to resume my studies, and folded your small hell money notes while I was busy reading English texts; why couldn’t we fold bigger notes to save time? Auntie said it was because you were young, you could only receive the smaller notes, so I just kept angrily folding bags and bags of notes. I don’t know why I couldn’t stop, it’s probably because I thought that this was the only small thing I could do for you now. Of course, when we made morning and evening food offerings I still bought your favourite dishes, I always thought making you eat vegetarian meals was excessive, and in my heart I wanted you to see how good I was to you. Gradually, I seemed to already be getting used to only being able to see you in photographs. I couldn’t see you, but I seemed to be able to talk to you more honestly. Even though we were never really that close, I would still rather go back to those days in which we squabbled all the time.

03

As I watched the smoke spiralling up, I thought: Did you hear those snippets of chatter from me? “I brought you Lo Mei (food slowly broiled in a soy sauce and spice marinade), that should be good enough!” “I have prepared some bathroom items for you, there is even a cosmetics box, keep making yourself look pretty!” “Hey, your friends came to see you today, are you happy?” “Hey, did you feel any regret? In the precise instant that you left…” I knew you wouldn’t answer these questions, I really wanted to ask you face to face, why? Do you regret it? How could you let go? How could you be so determined? I think at the beginning, I complained to you, and even came to hate your stupidity, you know? After ending your life, there is nothing left, before, now, and in the future.

However, I think out of everybody, I was the first to understand you and forgive you, even to support you. Three days after your death, my university professor brought a doctor of Tibetan Buddhist studies to pray for you, he put a certain type of oil onto your forehead, saying that in this way you would be able to escape from the suicide reincarnation cycle. He also said that life is like this, you decide for yourself when to come and when to go; sometimes it takes more courage to leave. That night, I looked at you in the freezer and said: “I don’t approve of what you did, but I support your decision, because it was a decision that took courage”. From the moment I decided to support you, I was released. I knew I couldn’t request you to stay, but at least I could let you go in a better way.

Perhaps a lot of things are predetermined and out of our control, but some things I amm supposed to do for you, and only I can do them.

You know, I planned the whole funeral for you, from making the information sign for your funeral to printing out your funeral portrait; I made a book, wrote your birthday and your happy youth into it; I made a memorial video for you, using different songs linked together to express, how we missed you and were reluctant to let you go, and to say all of the things I wanted to say to you but never came to say. I wrote your master’s thesis for you, because I thought as long as I wrote, you would always be by my side.

Some people thought I was crazy, I think that only I can truly understand that by going through this I finally managed to get out of the haze of your departure, I was finally capable to indifferently face your abrupt death. Perhaps this meticulous attention to trifling matters is like the “Seven-Day Rites”, it allows me to express my late remorse by doing real things; it gives me a channel to properly say goodbye to you. Just like it says in the movie “Life of Pi”, life is constantly put aside and departing; the painful part is we often don’t have a chance to properly say goodbye. It’s a good thing, then, that I took the month before you became ashes, put everything I had learned to use, and preserved your shadow in every way I could, and said goodbye to you here.

There will always come a day when the people around us will go to a faraway place. We always think we have a lot of time to slowly express our love and say goodbye. But the way the world works means that we often don’t have time to say everything on our mind, and lose the opportunity to do so.

I only understood this after you had left. At least, when I was in the panic of losing you, I thought to say: “I love you, go peacefully, don’t turn back. Go to where you want to go. We are all here, don’t be scared”. Those were the last words I said to you, as I watched your silhouette being buried amongst white roses during your funeral. Despite saying I wouldn’t cry, I still shed some tears, bitter and salty, but I still smiled out of the corner of my mouth, because your funeral seemed like a wedding, we were just sending you off to be married to a vey faraway place. I believe you will happily soar there.

In the weekend of the 11th of October 2009, it was cloudy and rainy. Your face remains on many photo frames, this is all that’s left. After putting away the funeral things, everything went back to the way it originally was, as if nothing at all had happened.

From October 2009 to July 2011, I wrote a thesis about your departure, about my pain. Starting with you, and all the things I took care of, everything became material for academic debate. Every time I had class, in the seminars, there feelings and events were repeatedly turned over and excavated anew. You had left, the funeral was finished, but my goodbye to you was just starting. Two years, not too long and not too short, just long enough to allow me to put you into words, and just long enough to allow me to say goodbye. After typing the last letter of the thesis, I wrote:

After finishing this thesis, I want to thank everyone. My funeral for you is also truly over.

At this point, I am also leaving behind my sorrow.

My dearest sister, how are things lately?

This thesis is for you.

 

In 2011, I left Taiwan and went to the opposite side of the world. As you had always wanted, I went to be a volunteer. I took a bracelet that I had given you in the past with me, and went to Central and Southern America. I hadn’t forgotten the last conversation you had with me, when you said you were so jealous of me travelling around the world volunteering. I still remember, don’t know if you have forgotten or not. You left so quickly, is it possible that you overlooked this far-reaching dream? I wanted to help you make it real, so I took you with me. During this year, I sometimes thought of you; there wasn’t too much pain, just a “Oh… so much time has already gone by…” kind of feeling.

On an evening in 2012, I unexplainably started crying whilst watching the movie “Orz Boyz”. At the start, it was only one teardrop at a time, but then it was like an open tap and I couldn’t stop. I cried till I couldn’t breathe, cried till I didn’t even know what I was crying about. This was three years after you were gone, and I was crying more desperately than I had at that time. Maybe it’s because of the search for another dimension that the two little boys, called Cheat 1 and Cheat 2, experience in the movie. When they finally realize they are going into that world, they realize they can no longer be children again. Maybe that sort of sadness echoed my feelings from these last few years. Before you were gone, I led my life naively and enthusiastically, I lived in a hot-blooded and aloof manner. Your accident brought my true colours back out. In a flash I saw reality: sad, disorderly, serious, and I couldn’t breathe. I was forced to mature, forced to not cry, to not be naïve… forced to grow up. My own lamentations and loss mixed with resentment towards you, and I was unable to let go.

In 2013, I received a letter, I was to write about your loss. Thus, I once again thought about all the events surrounding you.  Because of this I realized you had already been gone for four years.

After all these years, are you ok?

I don’t know how many people still remember you. At least, I still remember we really loved you. Even though this love, between us and you, is separated by a very large distance, we won’t forget!

We won’t forget each other, and we won’t forget to be happy.

In 2013, once more, I am saying goodbye to you.

 


Translated from the Chinese by Daniel Pagan Murphy

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