Texting was always something casual I shared with friends until my cousin created a family group on WeChat. She started the family chat for us to stay connected with our relatives in Beijing when my Grandma’s health began to fade last year. We used the group to share snapshots of good meals we ate, photos of my cousin’s wedding and frequent updates on my Grandma’s health condition overseas.
When my Dad had his 60’s birthday three months ago, I flew home to celebrate with my parents in New Jersey. We had a small family dinner and celebrated over bowls of my Mom’s homemade changsho mein, or “long life noodles.” In Chinese families, eating noodles on someone’s birthday is a tradition to wish a long life for whoever eats it. On that occasion, the noodles were for my Grandma. Her health had been fading quickly in hospice care over the previous month.
Without being able to be by her bedside, we took photos of the dinner and sent it over WeChat to our relatives in China. By then, my Grandma had lost the ability communicate and only responded when my uncle showed her snapshots of her children and grandchildren on his mobile screen.
Two days later, my Grandma passed away. The photos from my Dad’s birthday was the last family dinner we shared with her.
Now when I scroll through our family chat history I see a montage of happy moments stitched together with sad ones. I see snapshots of my cousin’s wedding coupled with photos of my Grandma on her hospital bed. I see happy birthday messages followed by news of my Grandma’s passing.
We never expected to say goodbye over family chat on a small screen — it’s not how any family would expect to say goodbye. Yet, it’s strangely comforting to look back and see moments of new beginnings and farewells collected in one place.