A morbid beginning, but I think from a young age, I learned what death meant; I learned how much our lives were structured around this moment; I learned that you needed people, I learned the importance of family, I learned the feeling of loving and giving, hurting and not receiving, but also the power of being the example you wanted. I know life gets busy, I know showing up at family events and helping out feels like you give more than you get in return, and I know being there feels useless at times...
Especially when our parents have always been our representatives, and we were just the shadows.
But it's going to be us now. It's going to be our turn now. Because as you already know, they won't be here forever...
And when they aren't, who will?
It's up to us to hold our part of the glue now.
Some of us find this glue to be toxic and nothing but a self-inflicted burden. And some of us see the reality for it, the beauty in it, the reason life may be scary without it.
I guess I say this because there are some things I wish you knew, and hope you think about too, and if not, at least later down the road, would remember.
I wish you knew, that if from a young age you have a memory of me being in the kitchen, washing the dishes, serving food and drinks to guests with a smile on my face, and following my mother's every footsteps; I would hope that you aren't mistaken that I believe in slipping into the gender role I was born into, to please the community eye, to kiss up, or to uphold a false "innocent" image of myself. I wish you knew, that I wasn't doing it for fun, that I wasn't even doing it for myself.
I wish you would know, that I am there for my mother, my sister, my aunts; your mother, your sister, and all the other hardworking women that cook, serve, and clean before they have eaten or slept; even taking up male roles to keep our family functions running.
I am here for them. Because I know if I'm not, who will? If I'm not beside my mom, helping to cut her task load in half, who will? If I'm not behind my mom to make sure she has eaten, who will? If I'm not there to be one extra hand to make sure all of our mothers, sisters, and aunts eat, sleep, and get to go home on time, who will?
I am there for my father, my brother, my uncles, and the men who have to uphold a name for themselves for the recognition and acknowledgement that they are an active member of this clan, that they are to be helped when in need too.
I am here for my parents. Because as young and busy with "better things to do" as we are, our parents won't be forever, neither will we. And when that day comes, we will need others most. Because I have seen an empty funeral hall, I have seen a lonely family, I have seen the struggle, the amplified pain, the sting, of having no one there--having not enough hands.
Whether we like it or not, as Hmong people, Hmong families, Hmong souls, we've always structured and lived our lives with the end in mind, helping relatives every chance we get, well knowing that it is our token of wishing that those we help, will be there on that very day (at the end of our lives), to help love and send our loved ones away, or to love and support those that stay. To make our days lived giving and helping, worthwhile.
I hope that when that day comes, you will think of me, think of my mother, my father, my sister, my brother, for all the moments we have stood beside you, for all the sleepless nights and efforts you didn't see, for clearing off our schedules to be there when we simply could have had "better things to do."
I hope you will think of all the aunts, the uncles, the cousins, that have come far or near, that have donated money they didn't have, that gave time they had to make, to be here on this day beside you.
And know that when we are here, we are here for you, for your parents, and for your family.
Because for someone like me, regardless of the closeness of our relationship, you and your family have held a place in my childhood, a face in my memories, and a thought in my mind. So know, I will be there.
And I suppose, as much as giving should be without expectations, a small piece in me, prepares my heart every time, to show up and give my all, knowing I may never receive the same. And I suppose, this may be a small plea, that even if a "thank you" may not cross your mind, that you would remember me, and my family, in my time of need too. And that you would be there, to fill the seats of the empty hall, to warm the kitchen with busy hands, and to pat my back to remind me you're there.
I wish you would remember, that this glue we have, is what differentiates me from your friends. And that I would be here for eternity, even after distance and silence, misunderstandings, and pain. I will always remember the happy days, and even if I wasn't the face you were looking for, I will be there.
And I hope you will be too.