To Have Loved and Lost

Despite the existence of thousands of words in the dictionary, there are no words that can fully express the feelings of loss and mourning. Nor are there any photos, music, videos, and other media that can help prepare a person on what to feel, what to say, how to act, or how to deal when they encounter death in the family for the first time. Unless you’ve experienced pain, suffering, heartache, loneliness, and other negative emotions, you cannot fully relate to what you see in movies, hear in music, or read in poetry and prose. Having attended several wakes during my lifetime, I’ve always been hesitant and cautious when attending, primarily because I did not know how to behave around the bereaved. I would dress appropriately and offer condolences to the family, but I could not precisely relate to their loss. Until now.

Eleven hours ago, my paternal grandmother passed away in her bed at my aunt’s house. She had been diagnosed with colon cancer almost three years ago, and had undergone surgery as an attempt to remove the cancer cells. Back then, we were fearful of her demise—the illness was not something we expected, given her old age. After her surgery, we were unsure of God’s plans for her life, but we were hoping for a full recovery. As it was, God blessed her with two years’ life extension. It was only late last year that I was informed that the cancer cells had spread to other parts of her body, and that it was possible she might never recover. Later, the fluids that filled both her lungs had to be drained—twice. And then last week, my youngest brother told me that our grandmother had been brought to the emergency room because she had difficulty breathing. My sister, who is studying in London, expressed her intention to fly home to see our grandmother, perhaps for the last time. Sensing the dire situation (and despite my initial hesitation because of financial issues), I immediately booked a flight to my hometown as well.

To make the long story short,  our grandmother lingered for four days after my sister’s and my arrival. The last four days were probably the longest days of my life. Everyone in the family were in a somber mood, because we knew that she could go at any time. Our cousins who had gone abroad just before our grandmother was admitted to the ER, had returned yesterday and noon today. Almost everyone in the family had the opportunity to see her and talk to her, hoping she might open her eyes and speak.

But just moments after our cousin (the last one to arrive from a trip abroad) spoke to our grandmother, our grandmother finally passed on. It was as if she was held out as long as she could, in order to see everyone. The nurse on duty today had expressed her surprise on how our grandmother slipped away. Her vitals simply stopped (not gradually as the nurse expected), and her final breath was shallow—as if she was breathing normally.

Indeed, our grandmother looked peaceful in her eternal sleep. Even in her last moments, she was spared from pain normally associated with cancer. Yes, there were many discomforts for her these past days (intravenous therapy, nasogastric intubation, and tubefeeding), but I’ve never seen her face contort from extreme pain. She even tried to speak last Friday and yesterday, despite having no more voice. Aside from that, our grandmother was silent, struggling to take deep breaths to keep on living. When the nurse finally declared her gone, I still couldn’t believe she had left so quietly and suddenly. Many of us were of the mind that she looked as though she was asleep—that her breathing was too faint or too shallow to notice.

I don’t think I’ll ever forget the alternating feelings of (slight) anxiousness, numbness, worry, sadness, confusion, and relief. One moment we were shedding tears for her weak and dying body, the next we would make jokes about our grandmother’s imminent arrival in heaven. Indeed, the loss proved the existence of the “emotional rollercoaster.” And I expect I’ll be experiencing more of it this coming days. Now I’m beginning to feel the importance of having more of my friends and family around me, to provide support and care in this time of mourning. I’m learning the value of the prayers and words of encouragement offered by acquaintances and close friends, as well as the importance of expressing feelings in ways I am capable of.

Each person mourns in their own way. For me (so far), it is through tears and music. Remembering how our grandmother looks like and how she spoke, or moved when she was still alive has brought tears to my eyes these past few days. When my brother played Christian music on the grand piano and I tried to sing along with him, I found myself feeling a rush of strong emotions I never knew I could feel. It was as though the music held new meanings for me, and I couldn’t stop crying. I would cry until I had no more tears left, and go on doing whatever I was working on before I started crying. I am not sure how I and my family’s life would change after the funeral and cremation are over, but I am thankful that finally my grandmother is free from her illness, and I am once again reminded to live a full life with Christ, just like my grandmother did. And these feelings of indecision, confusion, and grief has made me realize the meaning of true mourning for a loved one.

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A Lifetime of Love

The end of life doesn’t necessarily mean the end of love. Seeing life slip away from someone makes you realize that all your past conversations, activities—memories, really–have suddenly become so precious. Despite not having spent so much time with the person for long periods each time, you will always remember those short moments you’ve spent in their company. The scolding, the advising, the dry humor, the plain silence….everything you’ve grown up to, have unconsciously earned its place in your heart. You can’t imagine what life would be without them, even though you’ve known for a long time that no one lives forever–that it’s just a matter of time before they go away for good.

The end of life means a new beginning for the person who has gone. While death generally means loss and mourning, it could also mean freedom and second life—freedom from the limitations of a weak body, and another life that will never end. The knowledge that the person would be happier and more at peace in the next life brings comfort to those they leave behind.

It’s times like these that makes a person realize one’s mortality and the value of the life they’ve lived. All of a sudden you think back on your memories, your dreams, your present situation, your plans for the future, your intended legacy. When you’ve discovered what you want in life, you become more focused on living life to the fullest. And living amongst the family whom you love and loves you back is the most rewarding experience. Now life cannot be measured by how many days, months, or years you’ve lived, but rather by how you choose to spend it. Because the most important legacy we can leave behind for people we love is the memories we make with them.

Film Quotes

I love watching films, especially ones about romance, comedy, and self-discovery. I’ve compiled the best lines/quotes from the films that I really like, primarily because I wanted to know what love meant to people (at least in the fictional world). We may not realize it, but we sometimes tend to use films as a reference or basis for what love might be, could be. Even when writers and filmmakers delivered stories that are too-good-to-be-true, we still hope that love can happen to us in a similar manner. Movies, then, have established the “ideal” love stories; perhaps that’s why we have the phrase “like the movies.” I also included some inspiring quotes related to passion for a profession or dreams, because sometimes it’s that passion that makes them want to keep on going with life.

“Jaime saved my life. She taught me everything–about life, hope and the long journey ahead. I’ll always miss her. But our love is like the wind; I can’t see it, but I can feel it.” – Landon Carter (A Walk to Remember, 2002)

“What really happened may not have a happy ending. But love just doesn’t happen to girls like me–girls who built their hopes on an intricate web of daydreams. The truth is, is that everyone has issues, and maybe building up a fake, perfect man in my mind was my biggest issue of all. I’ve been walking around with the ghost of my ‘magic man.’ He’s been haunting me, keeping me from recognizing a world of opportunities that were right in front of me. But there’s no such thing as perfection. …Love is for people who are realistic, and smart enough to open their hearts and minds, and to realize that a real relationship is the ultimate fantasy. I haven’t found that relationship yet, but I’ve shaken off the shadow of my ‘magic man’ and I’m finding myself.” -Lane Daniels (Beauty and the Briefcase, 2010)

“The streets are supposed to be about different people coming together. We call this a battle, but what are we fighting for? We’re all here because we have this thing we do–we dance, right? Being a part of the streets means much more than turf or power, it was about bringing something new to the floor. And it shouldn’t matter what we wear, what school, or what neighborhood we’re from, because the best part about the streets is that it’s not about what you’ve got—it’s what you make of what you’ve got.” -Andie West (Step Up 2: The Streets, 2008)

“You never asked me why I love to dance. Do you want to know why? I dance because dance can change things. One move, can set a whole generation for you, like Elvis. One move can make you believe like you’re something more. And some moves, can give a skinny, curly-haired kid that just wants to dance some hope.” -Robert Alexander the Third a.k.a Moose (Step Up 3D, 2010)

“Passion makes people go on to do exceptional things.” -Guy interviewing Casey Carlyle (Ice Princess, 2005)

“I know I upset you when I said being with you was a risk, but the truth is, nothing is really worthwhile in life unless you do take a risk. That’s why I took the risk with continuing the wedding with Kirsten. I thought it would provide me with a cover I need to find a loophole in the law. But unfortunately, we  failed. So if this means I have to give up the throne, then so be it.” -Prince Edvard (The Prince and Me 2: The Royal Wedding, 2006)

 

Music and Lyrics

Music has been part of my life ever since I was young. No, I’m not a talented musician, songwriter, or vocalist, if that’s what you’re thinking. But I did grow up in a family who is fond of music. My dad and his siblings, being second-generation Christians, are familiar with church hymns and Christmas songs. As for my generation, I do have some siblings and cousins who were in the music ministry of the church, so I grew up knowing mostly contemporary Christian music (CCM).

Now that I think about it, not every song I’ve heard (whether secular or Christian music) has appealed to me. There are simply some songs that really speak to me and touch my heart, while some are not so good. The songs I like are usually those that I can easily relate to because of my past experiences, my faith in God, or it’s simply the good lyrics and tunes.

For today, I’d like to share several of my favorite songs. Some are about faith, life, a parent’s love, romantic love.

Symbolism

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The ideograph of a red heart (displayed on Taipei 101) is widely known and recognized all around the world. Even young children learning their letters and shapes are being taught to associate the shape with the word “heart” and “love.” Valentine’s cards, balloons, and even cakes being sold sometimes come in this shape. There are three theories (none of which can be proven to be more valid than the others) of how the heart symbol came about: it was modeled after the human heart; the form and shape of the female body; and following the shape of the Silphium plant seed.

To the curious, the human heart is nowhere close to the shape of a real heart. If you’ve never seen an image of a real heart, this cartoon/drawing version might help:

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Stock photo from Susology

It’s not quite the same, right? It doesn’t appear to be symmetric, nor does it taper to a sharp point at the bottom, even when looking at it from different angles.But then, there are some people who might argue that the human heart resembles the heart symbol we’ve all been accustomed to. Their interpretation of how the human heart appears to them could be different from how we look at it (in an objective manner, of course).

There are even people who associate the heart symbol with the female torso—the pattern made by the breasts to the genitals (some even say the buttocks). I honestly don’t know what to make of this, but it is just a theory anyway.

The third theory is related to the now-extinct plant seed of silphium, which was traded in the 7th century BC in Cyrene. It was originally used as a seasoning, but it was later used as a form of birth-control. The seedpod of the plant looked a lot like the heart symbol we are familiar with, and this shape was found in the Cyrene coins.

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Photo from Heartsmith

So how did it happen that when we see the ♥ or ♡ shape, we easily remember it to be a representation of a heart? I think we’ll never know, considering even the history of it cannot be traced. Nor would we know how that symbol became popular. I’m guessing the heart symbol only became widely popular  after the 1800’s or 1900’s, because people wrote love letters using more of poetic words than graphic symbols.

I believe the usage of the heart symbol has simplified the act of expressing love, even though the symbol has decreased the necessity of articulating what a person really means. When using language, a person has to think of (or try to grasp) the word that best describes their exact feelings. With graphics, one can simply use the heart symbol, but the recipient cannot accurately gauge the extent of the sender’s feelings, just that they know the “love” exists. And I think that’s the complex thing about graphics or symbolism nowadays—it can be interpreted in so many ways. Nevertheless, what really matters is its capability to express ideas and emotions.

 

References:
The Shape of My Heart
Silphium  

Love in Seoul Tower

I’ve actually written one draft post about the symbolism used in relation to love (which I haven’t finished writing due to insufficient research), and then I remembered some of the photos I took while on a family vacation to Seoul, South Korea in December 2011. We had visited N Seoul Tower in Namsan (South Mountain), the tallest point in Seoul. There we saw thousands of locks that hung from the fences, because of the custom that if a couple would lock a padlock together in that public space, their love would be “locked forever.” Well, I didn’t have a lock with me, so I couldn’t try that custom, but I think one of my acquaintances did put a padlock there when she visited with her boyfriend.

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Me posing with the “tree” covered with love padlocks.

Apparently, some people also took to vandalizing objects in the area and wrote about their love. Since I can’t read Korean hangul, I have no idea on whether those characters are the names of the people who vandalized the binoculars. Yes, it might seem to be romantic to leave behind “evidence” that you’ve been to a certain place to declare eternal love, but I don’t think it’s appropriate to vandalize public property.

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That’s my cousin (she can totally pass as a Korean, right?).

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A giant metal heart sculpture. Really I’m surprised how they got that big object to stand on such a small base.

I actually find this love padlock custom interesting, because the couples who visit there are holding on to the hope that their love for their partner will last forever. The padlocks represent exactly just that—hope. The sheer number of padlocks to be seen there attest to the wishes and dreams of people who love (if not romantically, then at least for their family and friends), despite the possibility of losing the people they love.

Inspirations for Change

I’ve never really liked science (mostly biological sciences) or mathematics when I was young. As I’ve mentioned in one of my previous posts, I’ve been more into reading fiction than anything else. I disliked reading school-related textbooks, probably just like every other “average” kid in the world. It was also the time that I wanted to learn more about different languages like Spanish and Japanese (which I still haven’t done). Having read fiction books for years, I knew I was much better in English grammar, spelling, and vocabulary than my other classmates. But for science and math, I did not really mind if I didn’t excel in them.

Overcoming Mathematics

When I stepped into my third year in high school, we had a really funny and kindhearted Geometry teacher. His way of teaching was very different from others–he taught in a lively manner, and he was always smiling despite the students providing the wrong answer. Instead of frowning, he would say some witty comment and encourage another student to try figuring out the problem. I believe many of the students liked him, even if they did not completely understand the lessons.

Geometry was the subject in which I did not have to worry about solving problems numerically. Instead, we were taught about proofing–we had to prove that one triangle was equal to another based on theorems and corollaries. I had no idea why or how, just that I began to like (and appreciate) math just because I suddenly “understood” the logic of proofing. I was actually excited to learn more about math; and when a classmate would ask how I got the answer, I was happy to explain the process to them. And sure enough, my efforts paid off and began to excel in that class.

Fourth-year Physics and Trigonometry ended being not so bad, either. The teachers were less dynamic than the Geometry teacher, but they were nice. Yes, we were back to numerical calculations, but the science and math subjects were not as intimidating as before. Our Geometry teacher showed us that math can be interesting–that we could learn how to like math despite its complexity. He also displayed a very inspiring love for teaching and for God. Having studied in a Christian school, he was probably the first non-Bible teacher who would encourage us to have faith in God. And, the last I heard of him, he had attended a Biblical seminary in order to serve in the ministry.

When I attended university for my undergraduate, despite my initial fears of failing in my math classes (mainly because I did not do well during my primary and the first two years of secondary education), I actually didn’t have much difficulty. Yes, the Plane Geometry was confusing at first, but the other math-related subjects I took for the next four years were not as bad as I thought. Some of them (like Engineering Statics) were pretty easy because I’ve learnt them during my high school Physics class.

Embracing the Sciences

When asked why I chose to study Architecture for my undergraduate, my immediate response would be “Because I want to be an architect.” And the second reason was (which I thought made good sense to me at that time) “I can’t imagine myself studying any Pre-Medicine course. I prefer math than science.” And this was true for many years. Or at least until I was in fourth year of my undergraduate studies.

During that four year, we were required to enroll for a General Psychology class, which I expected not to like. My older sister had studied Psychology for her undergraduate, and I knew she had taken many biological science subjects. I remember her reading many textbooks and class notes, studying for exams, and even taking the cadaver of a cat home to dissect it late at night (I accompanied her in the garage while she dissected the cat). And I didn’t understand why she had to study all those Anatomy, Zoology, Biology classes. Psychology was a mystery to me—I didn’t know what its purpose was until I had to take that Psych class in college.

What I didn’t expect was that my complete aversion (and avoidance) of sciences lessened as I learned more about the history and branches of Psychology. I read our considerably-thin Psych textbook, and ended up doing additional independent research (a.k.a. surfing the Net/Google) about how Psychology could be related to Architecture. Sure enough, there was a branch of Psychology that did apply Psychology concepts to Architecture—Environmental Psychology. Since then, I have occasionally watched TV documentaries (mostly BBC) and audio lectures (from Yale’s OpenCourseWare) to learn more about the field. I grew more and more fascinated about Psych, and a little bit of Neuroscience. It is actually interesting how they are all interrelated—I hope to someday learn more about how people’s behavior can affect architectural design and vice-versa.

Putting Them All Together

Truly, I am grateful for that Geometry teacher and Psych instructor for inspiring me to do better; to not fear failure just because I had one or two mistakes on my exam; to believe in my own skills and abilities; and, most of all, to not fear change. The change I refer to is the change in my interests, preferences, and dreams

One would think that it’s important to stay dedicated or committed to a decision, but I think at this point in my life, I think change is good. I’ve been too used to staying in one place and doing the same things like other people. But taking risks (like my decision to apply for graduate studies in Taiwan) is an adventure by itself—I wouldn’t be able to know my limits if I didn’t attempt to push myself towards anything. Experiencing more things provided me with new ideas (whether school-related or just random stuff), and those experiences definitely enhanced my perception of the world around me.