The hardest goodbye
Come away with me in the night / Come away with me and I will write you a song…
I’m young — and because of this, I am lucky because I have not had to confront grief directly many times. When I was around six years old, my grandfather died. I remember we flew back to Taiwan for the funeral while I was still a little clueless as to what had happened. All I understood was that my brother and I were missing a few weeks of school.
My memory of the funeral is very fuzzy — I can’t quite picture the ceremony in my head, but I remember the days leading up to it and the few days after. It was the first time — and one of the few times to this day — that I had ever seen my mother cry. My mother, so beautiful, lively, and full of strength … and I had no words or understanding of how to comfort her as we stood by my grandfather’s casket with the offerings of paper money, food, and water nearby.
I vaguely recall my tearful aunt beckoning me to hold my mother and comfort her — and while I put my arms around her, I couldn’t seem to find the right words to say. I understood that everyone was sad — grieving — and I was sad because of this. More than anything in the world, I hate seeing people I love and care about sad. There’s no greater pain to my heart.
But this kind of pain is not the pain of grief — it’s one of empathy. Grieving is a boundless personal wound that — in my limited experience with it — is simply inconsolable. It’s ineffable because no matter how I try to describe it, I don’t believe that I would be able to capture the raw and unbearable nature of the pain on paper. I’ve tried. I have written in sorrow, in misery, in anger — seeking and finding catharsis in angry scrawls. But writing in grief … it seems no words come to me. I remain a blank space or a blinking cursor on the screen because I think some part of my aching soul knows no number of words can fill the hole inside me.
Last week, I lost a dear friend of mine. Her name was Liliane Wu, and she was kind, smart, hardworking, and beautiful. She was a third-year senior here at UIC in the GPPA Pharmacy program, graduating early and going straight into pharmacy school. She died suddenly of medical causes.
I first met Liliane when I was around 5 years old. This was at Naperville Chinese School, which I attended for 10 years every Sunday at my parent’s wise insistence that I learn Chinese. Throughout the years, many people dropped Chinese school since it was certainly not mandatory, but for the few who didn’t, we became very close as the years went on. Each year graduated into the next one, so the classmates that did remain became close with one another year after year. Liliane and I were one of the few who started in Grade 1 and made it all the way to Grade 10 for graduation. But since we went to different high schools, I didn’t think I would see her again anytime soon following graduation year for Chinese school, which took place during my freshmen year of high school.
But then … I remember being delighted two years ago when I bumped into her on campus right here at UIC. We were classmates again! And although we didn’t see each other very frequently, she never failed to brighten my day with her friendly, warm smile when we bumped into each other again.
This happened again just a few Fridays ago in the computer lab of the basement of BSB. It had been weeks — perhaps months even — since the last time we had seen each other, but we caught up like no time had passed at all. I’ve always found the ability to do that to be the benchmark of true friendship — the kind that lasts without the conditions of time and proximity.
Since it was a Friday afternoon, we had plenty of time to talk, catch up, and laugh—of old memories, recent experiences, hopes for the coming weeks, semesters, years. We spoke of our strengths and weaknesses in our classes, our anxiety for upcoming exams, our well wishes for each other as she neared graduation and I get closer to the treacherous MCAT. And then finally, we promised we would see each other soon, even if it’s just for a coffee, because the number of times we had run into each other by chance this semester had grown far too scarce.
Liliane, if I had possibly known that was the last time I would see you — if I had known that I would receive the devastating news just two days later about your passing — there is so much more I would have said than trivial fears of grades and the future ahead. Because ultimately the present is what is relevant at the moment, and this is terribly true when it comes to never knowing when a goodbye might be the last goodbye.
I would have thanked you, over and over, for how much you have inspired me with your quiet confidence and strength that I have admired for so long. Your tireless hard work, your brilliance and your modesty with it, your serene and comforting smile of hello whenever we crossed paths … I would thank you for it all. And I would say sorry for all the times that our promises to hang out soon turned up empty.
There is not enough time in the world for all I want to say to you anymore. When I attended your funeral, I was scared because it was, essentially, my first funeral with all the raw emotions attached. Upon arrival, seeing that I could write you a letter with lovely provided stationary, I wrote nearly a page of illegible words with tears spilling on the page, somehow numbed by the overwhelming flow of emotions coursing within me. When I brought a flower to you and laid it upon you, saying the hardest goodbye I’ve had to say, my mind drew a blank on words because I could barely grasp the reality right in front of me.
Dear Liliane, there is so much I wish I said and wish I wrote, but even these words I’m typing now will never grant me the closure or time that I would give so much to have. Your warmth will always be in my heart, and I will carry your memory with me like the lesson you taught me: do good in the world.
Rest in peace, Liliane. You will be dearly missed, my dear friend.
So all I ask is for you to come away with me ♪♫♪
(Come Away With Me – Norah Jones)