The strength of a Jade: a tribute to my late grandmother

It has been almost two weeks since I learned of my paternal grandmother’s passing. A second-generation Chinese originally from Southern China, her Thai name ‘Yookfa’ or ‘Yok Fa’ means ‘jade from the sky’. I wish to devote this post to the memories of my late grandmother, my very own jade lady.

One of the qualities of a jade is its strength. And this had also been a character of my grandmother. She had shown remarkable strength and resilience to the tough episodes throughout 86 years of her life.

Born to a Chinese immigrant family, her childhood was not easy. It was an episode of struggle to make ends meet. Her family could only afford to send her to a kindergarten. She left school unable to read or write and remained so until the end. She spoke Hakka at home while learning to speak Thai with Chinese accent to others.

When she reached adolescent, in line with the social norm and immigrant Chinese sub-culture at the time, her family told her that she would be married to a guy several years senior, also from a Hakka Chinese family. The guy would become my grandfather.

At a very young age and pregnant with the first child, she had to take up responsibility of feeding workers of an orange plantation which belonged to my grandfather’s family. My grandparents had eight children altogether. The burden of raising eight children, cooking for plantation workers, and looking after the household fell on her shoulders. My dad had also recalled that at the time, it was very difficult to keep the children well fed. There were times when priority of having chunks of meat or delicious desserts had to be given to the younger siblings. The toll of her hard work would befall her health when she later suffered from a chronic hunchback. Despite these, she managed to send all her children to university.

When our family’s small business was badly affected by the Asian financial crisis of 1997-1998, my grandmother continued to be a beacon of hope and encouragement for everyone. Not long after, she lost her granddaughter (my cousin) in a fire that burned down my uncle’s home. Then my uncle was hit by stroke, becoming almost paralysed that he has needed almost constant care.

In 2009, the sudden passing of my dad must have brought much grief to her as he was the first of her children to pass away. Not long after, my grandfather, her lifelong husband, departed this world also suddenly. Yet she embrace the sorrow as these were facts of life and continued to stay strong for the living.

Despite the chronic hunchback and a heart bypass surgery, she had been an active and healthy lady. Her inability to read and write did not stop her from acquiring knowledge. Only a few weeks ago, we talked on the phone and she would have a series of up-to-date information on how to reduce the risks of COVID-19 infection.

Throughout the years, I have learned a lot from witnessing the strength of heart found in the character of my grandmother. She is not with us anymore but her strong spirit lives on.

I look up at the night sky. There is a bright sparkle, from a beautiful jade.