Sunday, August 18, 2019

100 Days of Mourning: A Chinese Tradition of Grief and Ceremony

Grandma Ma & me <333 from my scrapbook in CA.

It’s been 102 days since my Grandma Ma passed away and 111 since my Grandma Lee passed away. I’ve been thinking about them a lot this week, and my Grandpa Ma and Grandpa Lee, my Grandparents, my ancestors whom I am so deeply rooted.

I am wearing my Grandma Ma’s silk blouse that my sweet cousin Kitty Kat, who is more like my sister, had given me. I gave it a deep sniff and hug before putting it on this morning, savouring the warm morning sunshine on my back as I changed. I really feel her warm energy, beauty and strength as I wear it and type this post. I feel this way about the jade bracelet which was hers and handed down to my by my Auntie’s Nimbo Thin and Nimbo Nam back in May. Some might think me silly, it’s just a stone and blouse, they probably are thinking, but to me it is so much more.

I believe in the energy of the world all around us and everything holds a vibration of some sort. Natural materials I think really absorb the energies of their owners. Even synthetic materials I believe hold energy. I wonder to where my Grandma Ma wore this silk blouse. Perhaps she wore it on a lunch date with Grandpa Ma when they were first dating in Vietnam at their favorite French restaurant by the train station where they would meet during her business trips back in the days of the 1950s and 60s. She had such beautiful taste. I feel her love and comfort when I nap with her blanket as a throw. I believe in its rejuvenating and comforting energy.

The otherside of M. et Mde. Isnardi's field site where I work, France. 

Grandma Lee was a country girl too, here in a Vietnam.

I am reminded of my Grandma Lee everyday when I go to work in the fields with the organic veggies, hands in the soil, dirt on my shoes. While she never directly taught me gardening skills, I think she has gifted me with her green genes. And, those fond childhood memories of gallivanting in the backyard of that house on De Adalena street in Rosemead, CA with my brother as my Grandma Lee worked in her garden will never fade. Long before I would ever know it or harness it’s power, Grandma Lee gave me the seed of growing plants which would become my way of life and joy. These days, more than ever, I tightly hold on to these memories.

In Chinese tradition, the 100th day after the death of someone marks the end of the mourning period for the family and a final prayer ceremony is performed. My cousin Kat told me that it means that Grandma Ma has completed her journey to heaven. My cousin Kitty Kat sweetly sent me a message last night saying how she missed me and that the family was having a ceremony prayer for Grandma’s 100 days. She sent me some cute videos of my cousins saying goodnight to me, and it made me smile. While I’ve been thinking of my Grandparents a lot this month, I haven’t been keeping track of days, so I’m so thankful that my cousin Kat reminded me of this.

My brother Kevin and I happy with our Ama & Aye in Rosemead, CA

It is believed that the spirit of the deceased lives on and every 7 days during the first 49 days there are prayers and chanting to help the spirit have a good reincarnation. My Mom and I went to the temple with my Uncle Kanh and Auntie Quincee a few of the weeks while I was still in CA. We chanted mantras and left food offerings at the altar of the temple for Grandma Lee. We left a picture of her there in a special room with other photos of those who had recently passed. Flowers and fruit plates decorated the room.

Grandma Lee & me <333 in California

Grandpa Lee & me <333 in California

According to the Mahayana tradition of Buddhism, which most Chinese Buddhist practice, this period of 49 days is called Antarabhava in Sanskrit or the Bardo in Tibetan. The soul is between death and re-birth. What happens during this period has an influence on possible liberation or the form of the rebirth. For a favorable rebirth, the family assists their beloved by prayer and remembrances ceremonies, which are duly preformed.

Some of these concepts are still unclear to me and there is so much to further explore. If I ever find more information I will amend my post to reflect this. Kat says that Grandma is in heaven, but perhaps heaven can mean anything to the interpreter? Perhaps it’s a pure land, as in some Buddhist branches of thought believe, or perhaps it could just mean liberation. For me, I see my Grandparents in all the beauties of nature, the mountains, rivers, the sea, the butterflies. Their spirit/soul/consciousness, is too grand to be contained into one entity. To me, they are liberated, beyond form, beyond boundaries.

Our friends Laura and Gijs came to spend the weekend with us, and we went on a lovely like in the Gorges de Daluis to Point Sublime. It was a gorgeous view. At the top I sat on a rock and just marveled at the beauty of the moment we were in, amongst good friends and surrounded by incredible beauty. The silence was inviting me to feel into my heart, and there I felt the pulse of my Grandparents and other friends whom I miss dearly. I took a moment to think of them, thank them for all of their protection and sent all my love. Some days I feel so sad knowing I can’t see them again, hug them, kiss their cheeks, hear their voices tell their stories. In some moments I cling to the idea of seeing them just one more time, hugging them once more time, painting Grandma Ma’s nails one more time, holding Grandma Lee’s hand one more time. I haven’t seen either of them in any dreams yet. I’ll be ready when they come.


I wrote this eulogy for Grandma Lee and had shared it on the day of her Celebration of Life at Rose Hills Memorial. I want to share it here because without my Grandma Lee’s green genes there wouldn’t exist my blog Garden Gallivanter.

My Grandma Lee next to sunflowers, in Vietnam(?).

Most remember my Grandma Lee as an independent and strong woman: both in business and the way she carried herself in the world. She could do anything. While all this is true, I remember her most for her nurturing spirit, perhaps a side of her being she did not dare let shine through often.

My name is Tiffanie Ma and I am one of Cuc Lee’s 13 grandchildren, the first wave of grandchildren you could say. I’ve had the privilege of growing up close to my Grandparents here in California. Being a farmer in southern France now, I had begun two new jobs last month. One, working on an organic vegetable and chicken farm, planting veggies, harvesting and collecting eggs; the other, starting seedlings, which, for my non-gardeners and farmers out there, are baby plants which we begin from seeds and care for before they are big enough to be sold to the farmer or home gardener.

I promise I have a point to all this, and this is still about my Grandma Lee.

One day at my seed-starting job, I was starting various seeds in the greenhouse with my friend and boss. Having seen my other trays of seeds sprout beautifully, she mentioned to me, “Tiffanie, you have green hands.” I smiled and humbly-declined the comment, noting the cultural difference that in the US we say “green thumbs instead of green hands”.

Her comment lingered as I kept working, tiny seeds in my hands, new life before me. I reflected on where I could have inherited these magical green hands and immediately thought of my Grandma Lee.

As a kid, I remember so many pieces of joyful moments with Grandma and Grandpa Lee. My brother Kevin and I were so lucky and got to spend time with them at the park at Langley Center where they played ping pong. I remember Grandma Lee patiently teaching me division at the kitchen table, as she went back and forth between the kitchen cooking up something delicious, like those amazing noodles she made me for my birthday.

I remember the backyard of the house on De Adalena street, where Grandma and Grandpa lived in the front house and we lived in the back house. I remember playing outside and noticed her working in her garden. It wasn’t anything manicured, some Vietnamese herbs and veggies I would guess, a plot of weeds to the untrained eye. I just remember a lot of greenness surrounding her, the tall grassy leaves of lemon grass, and never any chemical sprays or plastic bottles. I’m not certain, but I think Grandma Lee was an organic gardener like I am today.

While I don’t remember precisely, I have a memory of her planting all sorts of home remedies out there to better her soil and plants. Maybe fish or shrimp pieces from the kitchen were buried to enrich the earth of her garden.

I was young at the time, but I only wish now that I was able to learn more about gardening from the green wisdom and hands of my Grandma Lee. She probably had such a wealth of knowledge about organic gardening practices, her produce from the garden were always so green and lush. 

But, we shouldn’t live in regrets and what ifs, at least I choose not to live that way. Instead, I am so grateful that Grandma Lee passed down to me her gift of gardening which I discovered intuitively 7 years ago. I am quite sure of it, since I have no recollection of being taught anything specific, though this urge to grow food and nurture land sprouted from my heart and that seed must have been planted by someone.

I want to thank my Grandma Lee for all of her love and sacrifice for all of 7 her children and us grandchildren. She had to be so strong for everyone, and I am just honored that I got those glimpses of her soft spirit as I skipped around the backyard as she tended to the earth. Now I know how much of a nurturing heart it requires to grow life and Grandma Lee could grow anything.

Literally, anything. My brother Kevin reminded me of the dragon fruit (thanh long in vietnamese) which she grew and proudly showcased telling us that the tropical fruit is not native to Southern California, but she was able to grow it into fruition anyway!! Pure Magic.

These flowers here are from my garden at my parents house, nothing exotic like dragon fruit, but I picked them this morning for Grandma Lee. It is her gift of green hands which she gifted me that I was able to grow these flowers which have brought joy and peace to that piece of earth in front of my parents house and to so many who encounter them.

I will always remember Grandma Lee as a beautiful and delicate flower, with strong roots. Her name means Chrysanthemum. With every garden I grow, wherever I go, I will aspire to emulate my Grandma Lee in all her beauty and strength.

Com un ba ngoi. 

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