Saturday, November 21, 2009

Adios Grandma

The grandfather of someone very close to me passed away recently. As I type this, I’m currently in the hospital in the middle of the night keeping watch over my own grandfather, who has been here for several days now. “Matai Si Ukudu gi un kåmyo,” i Chamoru ma sångan. Hunggan, dinanche este. Yanggen tin un tungo’ håyi Si Ukudu, gi i tiempon antigu, gof kapas Si Ukudu mumasge’. Achokka’ gof pikaru este taotao, ya meggai manina’bubu as Guiya, gof mappot para makonne’! I minagahet este na sinangan. Hunggan, maskeseha Si Ukudu ha eskapåyi todu i enimigu-ña siha gi lina’la’, guaha unu na ti ha hulat umigi. Ya kinenne’ gui’ ni’ este na kontrariu annai gaige ha’ gi i kamyo-ña.

My life has been a bit crazy in recent months. Amongst many other things, I moved to Guam, I defended my dissertation, I started working at the University of Guam. There were so many other moments however, which were incredibly difficult and which in some instances I still haven’t found time to truly reflect on.

For instance, earlier this year, my grandmother from my father, Helen Bevacqua passed away in California. It was something that we had been expecting for some time. In her final years she had developed Alzheimer’s Disease, and had slowly become weaker and weaker and less connected to the present. When I saw her last year, along with my brother Jack, she struggled to remember who we were. She could still remember her children by then, but only a few of her grandchildren. Throughout the meeting, she worked hard to try and recall and retain who exactly we were.

When she passed away, I was thousands of miles away in Guam, rushing to finish up a draft of my dissertation, so that when I returned to California in June, I could defend it and finally finish up my Ph.D. in Ethnic Studies. When I received word from my father, I was stunned for a moment, I had no idea how to react. I had been expecting this moment for a while, my father had done his best to mentally prepare me for what was coming. I wanted to grieve, but at the same time I was worried that I wouldn’t finish my dissertation, and I became riddled with anxiety over what to do. Like with a lot of trauma and emotions during the dissertation-writing process, I ended up swallowing my grief for several months. I only told a few of my closest friends about my grandmother’s passing and only really talked about it with my relatives. In essence, I did my best to bury the trauma, until I would have time to really feel it.

I ended up defending my dissertation on time, but in the months since, the weight of not properly grieving over my grandmother’s death as gotten to me.

I’ve come to think, over the past few months, that grief works in our waking lives, in the same way that dreams work in our sleeping lives. You can “live” without either of them, but it eventually catches up to you and starts to disrupt your sanity and your stability. In both cases, the act is a way of refreshing the mind either consciously or unconsciously.

I lina’la’ puru ha’ put minatai. From the moment you become aware that you are living and that you exist, you are haunted by the moment when you might no longer be so. That somewhere along the way a moment will come when you will expire, when the current form you have will simply vanish or will transform into something else. It will be a time when people will no longer refer to the last time that they saw you, but instead reflect on the last time you were ever seen or ever spoken to.

And because in every living moment, we bear the painful trace of our death, as we celebrate life, we are constantly also forced to confront death, and to experience grief and grieve over those who go before us. If you sleep for days but you don’t dream, your mind can go a bit crazy, and even though you are living you could lose your sanity. Thinking about the past few months, I’ve sometimes felt a bit unhinged, because there have been too many times when I knew I should have stopped and reflected, stopped and remembered or even just paused to breathe and make sure I’m doing okay, but haven’t found the time to.

After listening to my friend talk about losing her grandfather, and also spending the week helping watch over grandpa at the hospital, reminded me of my grandmother who passed away earlier this year, and how I have yet to memorialize her.

A memorial service was held earlier this year in Hawai’i, before her ashes were buried in Punchbowl Cemetery next to those of my grandfather, i kayu-hu, or whom I was named “Michael” after.

When I think back on my grandmother’s life, I wish that I had been able to spend more time with her. In her final year, she lived just a few hours north of where I was staying in San Diego, but with her mind going, it was very painful and so I didn’t keep much contact. For years prior to that, she lived in a retirement community in Washington State, and I would only see her every few years. Before that, she lived in a cozy house in Foster Village on the island of Oahu, which we would visit her in, every time we passed through Hawai’i or spent the summer there. That was the house that my father grew up in, and so even though it’s been more than a decade since she left that house or since I was there, I still remember so many things about that house.

In remembering my grandmother and what sort of connection we had, one thing always pops into my head, and that was a love of art and making art. For one Christmas that the Bevacqua family spent in Lake Tahoe, Nevada, I brought with me a number of different paintings that I had made from Guam. At that time in my life, I was a full time artist and student, painting and selling all the time at the Chamorro Village and at art and craft fairs. I didn’t make any money off of it, but it was still something I was constantly doing and taking very seriously. I remember Grandma B, loving some of the paintings I brought with me, and asking if she could keep one of them. Earlier in her life, she had been a painter as well, and so scattered throughout the homes of her children you can find some of the artwork that she had made.

There is one painting that she made, which I have always associated with her, since as my father has moved around, from place to place, he’s always kept that painting with him and hung it up wherever he stayed. The painting is nothing special, just a simple image of a sailboat riding an ocean wave. But as I was sitting here at my laptop writing this post, as I thought about all the experiences over the years that I shared with my grandmother, the colors of that painting, its subject matter, kept popping back into my head. When I thought about what sort of way would work best in terms of memorializing her, I considered a painting, or a poem, or just a post, but no matter what I came up with, that image, the ocean of her painting was always there.

Eventually I settled on writing her a poem, and bringing into it, her love of art and her love of the sea.

Sin otro mas kuentos, I would like to dedicate the following poem to my grandmother Helen Bevacqua. Deskånsa hao nanan bihå-hu, munhåyan i che’cho’-mu, makpo’ i hinanao-mu:

I tatalon i napun tåsi
Ha langak humatsa i sakman
Ha hulat muna’kalamten i pilan
Ha langak lokkue’
Kumilili i guesgues i pintot.

Puede ha’ para bai hu rastreha este na raya
Ya bai hu machalani asta Hågu

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