This morning I read a blog post (found here) about Chinese communcation, specifically about the way the Chinese communicate bad or uncomfortable news. That reminded me…
My husband’s mother died of breast cancer when my husband was 18. She lived with the disease for eight years, which I think pretty remarkable given the limited access to high-quality health care that she would have had where she lived in rural China.
My husband’s mother was number 19 of 19 children. I never met her, of course. I think I would have really liked her, and I miss her, or rather I feel the emptiness of her absence. It’s difficult getting details of my husband’s childhood from his father. Did my husband eat enormous amounts of food as my son does? How old was my husband when he learned to talk? To walk? This becomes elusive information. My husband’s mother was very close to one of her sisters–number 18. This aunt took over the mothering of my husband upon my mother-in-law’s death. I met number 18. She is one of those individuals who emits a charisma that is noticeable from the moment you first see her. This is why I think I would have really liked my mother-in-law.
My husband’s ID card picture, taken at the time of his mother’s death, shows a face that is not familiar to me. The face looks dark, as if something is casting a shadow over it. Except there is no shadow. “I was very mad at that time,” he says by way of explanation.
My husband’s uncles and aunts elected not to tell his grandmother that her daughter had died. It’s bad luck to have a child die before their parents. My husband tells me, “But my grandmother figured it out.” He says this without irony in a way that makes you want to answer, “Oh. Well she would, wouldn’t she?” also without irony. My mother-in-law lived close to her mother, so I guess the family had trouble explaining the continued physical absence of my mother-in-law.
Before my mother-in-law’s death, one of her brothers died. The family also kept this death from my husband’s grandmother. That one was easier to conceal as the son had lived in Mongolia. Someone took up the task of writing fake letters from the deceased son to his mother. The family was able to keep up the ruse for quite some time. “But my grandmother figured it out,” my husband tells me. Well, I guess she would, wouldn’t she?
Before her death, my mother-in-law lead an eventful life. She met my father-in-law when they were held by the communists in the same prison. But, that’s a story for another post.