Last Wednesday evening, I witnessed my grandma Ma Ma, 95, take her last breath.
A dozen of us — my family and my aunts, uncles, and cousins — gathered around her bedside at my parents’ house, feeling the heavy solemness in our shared silence.
Amidst the sadness, I knew I was lucky to be there.
My wife and I had been traveling the world as nomads for nearly a year. It just so happened that on the one week that we were transiting from Costa Rica through San Francisco, and on the one day that we decided to visit my parents’ house, Ma Ma took her last breath on this earth.
It was the first time I’d ever watch someone pass away.
There was a moment, standing by her bedside, when I wondered to myself, What should I be doing right now? Should I be holding her hand or talking or asking questions or something else?
And then a realization: There was nothing to do.
Just be. My silent presence was valuable on its own.
And I felt my slight agitation settle down into stillness.
Oftentimes, when we’re faced with discomfort, we want to avoid it. We see someone experiencing grief, and we want to console, thinking we’re doing it for the other person. When in reality, it’s us who’s uncomfortable with the emotion that’s there.
Over the years, I’ve learned something else:
Presence is the greatest gift I could give. Presence is love.
And so I committed to bringing myself back to presence again and again. I tried to be with Ma Ma as she struggled to breathe, as I watched the tears trickle down her eyes, to be present with what I was feeling and her experience at the same time.
I put my arm around my dad. When I asked him for his favorite memories of her, he said there were too many to share. He’d lived with her under the same roof his whole life, except for two years. That day was one of the few times I’d ever seen him cry.
In Chinese culture, the younger generation bows as a sign of respect.
And so I knelt on my knees and bowed my head to the floor. I honored the woman who’d raised my father and felt deep appreciation that she made my life possible.
I share this as a reminder to appreciate the moment we’re in.