Spring cleaning for the soul


With my uncle in Taiwan in 2013.

♪♫♪ And I’m drinkin’ coffee while I read the paper / I’ve been savin’ money, eatin’ only top ramen…

I’ve had a lot dwelling on my mind the past couple of weeks, but on the day that spring break started I heard a piece of devastating news that buried it all away. One of my uncles, my mother’s older brother, sadly passed away due to medical causes.

I am no stranger to grief now, but it always strikes in a different way. In this case, I felt a strange sense of guilt as well – I was never close to my uncle; he lived in Keelung, Taiwan. But although I’ve only seen him a handful of times in my life, I believe that I know his character well. My memories of him are not plentiful, but they are clear to me when I remember him now – my most recent being seeing him the last time I was in Taiwan just over a year ago. I spent my winter break last year in Japan and Taiwan, and although my mother, brother, and I spent the majority of our time in Taichung, my uncle made the several-hour drive from Keelung just to visit us.

I recall clearly that my mother and I were walking back to my grandmother’s house from the hospital (where my grandmother undergoes dialysis three times a week) and a car drove past us slowly up the path…the driver was none other than my uncle! I had been asking for a few days if we could make the trip to Keelung to visit him, but it had been questionable whether or not we could make the long trip in time; it was such a lovely surprise that he had driven up to see us!

And the trip was no easy feat for him either. My uncle, who had a number of surgeries for his health, was also undergoing regular dialysis for diabetes as well. His health was not good for a man in his 60s, but he was as spirited as I remembered him to be in my childhood.

“My, my!” he had exclaimed. “I was driving and wondered…who is that tall pretty lady next to my sister?”

I laughed, because the last time my uncle saw me, I was only 14 years old. After 6 years, I looked quite different…I had grown to be even taller than him!

“You know,” he said. “When I saw the way you walk and your posture…I thought you look just like your mother when she was your age!”

The comparison made me smile, because I am rarely told I resemble my mother’s features in any way. Soon after, my brother and grandmother arrived home from the hospital and we all spent the entire evening talking, eating, and laughing. When night fell, it was hard to see my uncle leave, especially knowing it would be hard to see him again soon.

When I heard that he had passed, I was on the phone with my mother. The pain was evident in her voice the moment she picked up the phone. As for me, I had been oblivious, celebrating the start of spring break with my friends…I can’t remember ever going from content relaxation to utter devastation so quickly. The next day, I took the train home to Naperville, and I spent the week with my mother nearly at all times.

There is nothing so heartbreaking as having to console your parents – it’s painful to see anyone you love in pain, but even more so with them. But at that time, I think the best solace for them may come from their children, and I am thankful that I could be home with my mother that week off from school. We spent the days cleaning – my room, the kitchen, the bathrooms – one by one, sorting through dust and grime and old things that had been buried in closets for too long to recall. In the evenings we watched Netflix and TV. We went out to eat together and talked about my plans for medical school and beyond.

I believe that all of these things were cathartic for both of us. We also managed to buy tickets for my mother to fly back to Taiwan in time for the final funeral – this was not easy because finding affordable last-minute tickets to Asia can be challenging when considering some layovers could be as long as 20 hours. Luckily, we found tickets for my mother that would help her meet up with my other uncle in California so that they could fly together to Taiwan.

Back at school now, in a way, I still feel the lethargy and solemnness that comprised my week off – but I also feel an unexpected new motivation. I want to achieve what I know I can do because I don’t want to feel like I waste any time. I feel even closer to my family, and it makes me feel stronger as an individual.

Rest in peace, uncle. You will always be in my memories.

Now I get a holiday, wherever I go I might stay / I don’t plan on coming back even if I can help it…

 (Holiday – Paramore)


Sarah Lee (F)


Sarah Lee is a junior studying neuroscience and Russian in the GPPA Medicine program at UIC. She’s still trying to figure out exactly what she wants to do, but some of  life goals include running a marathon, exploring Eastern Europe and becoming fluent in Russian. In her free time, she loves running, playing piano and guitar, and reading. A Naperville native, Sarah is a peer mentor in the Courtyard residence hall.



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