In a couple of days, it will mark the third month since the passing of my husband Mike. A few days ago, we were informed by the cemetery that his tombstone had been prepared. Here, a tombstone is essentially a bronze plaque. On October 24th, my daughter and I went to the cemetery. We were accompanied by a couple who were old acquaintances and wished to pay him a visit. So taken were they by the environment, they ended up purchasing a plot there too, saying they could be neighbors with him in the afterlife.
Upon returning, I decided to start writing about my memories of Mike. Where to begin? We shared over 20 years of life together, and there’s so much to say… In summary, the words “kindness” and “humility” essentially describe Mike completely. His excellent education, his higher IQ compared to his siblings, and his experience teaching at university, all seem less significant when contrasted with his inherently kind and humble nature.
In the two months since he passed, as I’ve been slowly sorting through his belongings, I’ve found many handmade items – bamboo baskets, straw hats, cotton and linen fabrics, hand-embroidered products with South American, African, and Native American designs (they look like clothes, but can’t be worn), carpets, tapestries, masks, and other handicrafts in animal shapes. Our travel companion, Cathy, said: “He bought these things not because he liked them, but out of sympathy for the elderly people and women and children who sold them.” We usually find the vendors who follow tourists around quite annoying, and we try to avoid them, but Mike would return carrying souvenirs. I sometimes teased him: “You’re spending money on junk (which usually ends up piling in the basement), all completely useless.” But he didn’t get upset; instead, he’d say that those people had hard lives too.
I have a friend from Beijing who’s quite accomplished – by today’s standards, she’s a successful person. She met Mike only twice and didn’t talk much, but she saw his character. She wrote a large character for “kindness” and gave it to us as a gift. At the time, I thought: she really has an eye for recognizing good people…
Paul is a very unreliable person. We think there’s something missing in his head – even though he graduated from college, he can’t keep a job. He usually criticizes his bosses or superiors on his first day at work and then gets fired. Mike would patiently listen to Paul’s so-called “logic” and even help him pay for meals.
Mike had many friends among African Americans and Spanish-speaking communities. Not to mention Chinese people, whom he believed to be hardworking and smart. He treated everyone kindly, regardless of whether they were old or young, black or white.
After retiring, he volunteered at the library (Friend of Library) and helped low-income individuals file their taxes for free through the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP). More notably, he worked as a shelf stacker in a supermarket. If a customer couldn’t find a product, he would walk them right to it. When I went to the supermarket and saw him working, I would think: he looks like a low-income blue-collar worker (as this is one of the lowest-paying jobs), but who would guess he once taught in a university? I sometimes told him to quit. But he would say: “Working allows me to move around and exercise. They’re essentially paying me to stay fit. What’s not good about that?” I was left speechless. In the Chinese perspective, someone with a doctorate would absolutely not work a blue-collar job – it would be looked down upon.
Mike’s kindness was also reflected in his annual charitable donations. America has a culture of philanthropy, and Mike naturally considered it his civic duty. Apart from donating to the two schools where he earned his undergraduate and doctoral degrees, he made yearly donations to organizations like child hunger initiatives, food banks, the Association for the Blind, the Alzheimer’s Association, the Cancer Research Association, the Heart Disease Association, and many more. In terms of income, he was on the lower side of the middle class. His donation amounts were not large. But after his death, especially towards the end of the year, I received many letters from organizations or groups asking for donations, since they were accustomed to receiving his annual contributions, often stating “we have yet to receive this year’s donation…”
Mike’s kindness was also manifested in his humility. I believe his kindness was innate, while his humility was shaped by his upbringing. He was born into a family with a Catholic background and attended Catholic schools from primary to high school. Generally speaking, people who believe in God should be humble and gentle. This is universally known, but not necessarily universally practiced. Mike’s behavior often made me feel he was too humble. He was the third child in the family. His elder brother was very domineering, and his sister-in-law was quite arrogant. His twin sister loved to command others. (He also had a younger brother eight years his junior.) He must have developed a habit of obeying his elder siblings from an early age (his father worked for the government and passed away early, and his mother was said to have a bad temper) and carried this trait into adulthood. Sometimes, when I heard him talking on the phone with his siblings, I felt his attitude towards them was too submissive, and I felt indignant on his behalf. But he seemed to take it in stride. This might explain his humble and even accommodating attitude when dealing with family, friends, relatives, colleagues, and even younger people – it’s a natural expression of his character, not forced.
The following words were written at the end of October, and for over a month after that, I didn’t pick up the pen. Now, Thanksgiving has passed, and Christmas is coming soon. Last Christmas, we were in a place called Paradise. The scenery there was unique, the house was on top of a hill, and from the balcony, you could see the distant mountains, the mist, and the train cutting through the mist… This Christmas, Mike, are you in paradise? I am in the mortal world, I can no longer see the fairyland covered by clouds and fog, and my uncontrollable tears still flow out.
After teaching at the university for seven years, Mike, unable to get a tenured position, left the school and worked for many years in a small company called Conway until his retirement. His relationship with his colleagues was very harmonious. Interestingly, from the company’s bosses, managers, to the lower-level workers, and the receptionists, they all treated him as a friend. Once we traveled near his boss’s house (in Florida), and when the boss heard, he invited us to visit. The boss’s daughter (who became president after the boss died), drove us around their estate for a long time. I thought at the time: “What’s the use of having such a big place?” We were also invited to the same grandson’s wedding twice (the grandson is a typical playboy). I thought that all the employees of the company would attend, but they didn’t. Mike attended as a friend. Speaking of lower-level colleagues, often people would chat with him about interesting things, internal news, watching and betting on games, inviting him to eat and drink beer, and so on. From their conversations, you could feel that they were all very friendly.
Mike loved to read and his reading range was very wide. He majored in geography, but his mathematics was also very good, and he was interested in literature and history. He often watched a quiz show on TV called “Jeopardy”, and he answered questions very quickly, sometimes faster and more accurately than the contestants. Every time this happened, he would say, “I told you. You didn’t listen to me!” He taught his little grandson to play chess, and also taught him to play Wordle. As the child grew up, he would teach his grandson some natural science and history knowledge in their chats; he would play with blocks and ball games with him; he tried his best to satisfy the child’s requests. After the grandson started school, whenever he had problems with his homework, Mike would patiently help him. When the grandson started playing soccer, Mike tried to watch and cheer him on at every training and match.
Mike also loved to travel. Before I met him, he often traveled with friends, having been to many places in Africa, South America, and Europe. The places we visited together, that I can count, are -
- Mainland China: Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Xi’an
- Sichuan: Chengdu, Langzhong, Mianyang, Jiuzhaigou
- Hunan: Changsha, Zhangjiajie, Fenghuang City, Shaoshan
- Gansu: Lanzhou Four Books Five Classics Collection, Dunhuang Mogao Grottoes
- Taiwan: National Palace Museum, Beitou Hot Springs…
- Europe: London, Paris,
- Italy: Rome, Venice, Vatican
- Spain: Barcelona
- Netherlands: Amsterdam
- Northern and Southern Ireland
- Americas: Canada, Mexico, Cuba, Guatemala…
Being well-read, Mike always knew where to go and what to see. Traveling with him, I didn’t need to worry about anything, he planned and arranged everything. We also went on a few cruises, two of which were with my mother.
Speaking of my mother, she passed away at the age of 92 in Chengdu on March 8, 2022. I was very sad at the time, and regretted that I couldn’t go back to send her off due to the pandemic. I remember on the day my mother passed, I was crying, Mike was comforting me by my side, and he called our daughter to come and stay with me. That same afternoon, Mike went out to do voluntary tax reporting for low-income people, and on his way home in the dark and heavy rain, he crashed the car. After the car was sent for repairs, it wasn’t fixed until three months later because the parts were not available, and by then, Mike couldn’t drive anymore. What I didn’t expect was that Mike also left me less than five months after my mother’s death, on August 1. He left me forever…
Looking back on the 23 years we spent together, there were not completely without moments of anger and unhappiness. Although Mike was mild-mannered, he could also be very stubborn at times. I would get angry and say some harsh things. In general, he would silently turn around and leave, go to another room to avoid me, come out after more than an hour, and ask with a smile and calm voice, “Are you still mad at me?”
Before the Spring Festival in 2020 (also before the outbreak of COVID-19), we booked another cruise. Three days before departure, Mike reminded me to bring my passport (because we would be going abroad). I agreed and then forgot until two hours before boarding. Since we were at a dock five hours’ drive away, there was absolutely no way to go home to get the passport, so the trip we had planned for two months had to be cancelled. I felt very guilty at the time because I was responsible for keeping both of our passports. But Mike didn’t say a word of blame, he just immediately called to cancel the activities we had booked before, and some projects we were going to participate in on the ship and after getting off the ship, trying to minimize the loss from the sudden cancellation…
Mike’s sister once said to me: “He loves you very much.” I could feel it, and I also heard him say more than once in his phone conversations with relatives and friends that marrying me was the best decision of his life. I will never forget that day: June 22, 2022. After learning that he had terminal lung cancer, he hugged me and sobbed, “Kari, I love you so much. I want to stay with you longer.”
Mike, you are always in my heart and will always be in my life, always… always…
As 2022 came to an end, some reporters said that several important figures had died this year: the Queen of England, the former Prime Minister of Japan, the former President of Russia, and other celebrities… But the two most important people in my life, my mother who gave birth to me, and my husband who loved me the most, both left in the same year. The great sorrow has made me cry many times. As I intermittently wrote these commemorative words to today, I finally feel a bit relieved, at peace.
God bless the souls of my mother and Mike in heaven, and bless the rest of my life.
Written at the end of December 2022 at Atlanta USA.
P.S. I must express my gratitude to my nephew Xiaoge, who suggested I write something about Mike while I was still deeply engulfed in grief. This allowed me to commemorate him, remember him, and find an outlet for my longing.
A beautiful soul is never forgotten…