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Rose Chinn

Upon completion of my 17 year ministry at the Presbyterian Church in Chinatown, in 2006, I was able to be with mom almost daily in her final year of life.  Here is what I wrote for her Memorial Service on May 21, 2007.  Mom died on May 14, 2007.

When I said goodbye to mom on Monday, exactly 3 weeks ago, we both smiled, with anticipation and expectation that we would see each other again the next day.  Neither of us expected that it would be the last time.  I will never forget that smile, even though I will never see it again.  My life with her came to an end when my brother, Alton, said over the phone last Monday, 2 weeks after our last visit:  “She stopped breathing, and they can’t find a pulse.”  Sharon and I rushed to the hospital.  I felt like the woman at Jesus’ tomb, in grief and disbelief.  Even though I had accepted the fact that mom was not going to survive the stroke, I still did not believe she was dead.  I wanted her to wake up so that I could tease her and make her laugh one more time.

Mom was my first theologian.  She was the first to affirm and confirm my call to the ministry.  She was my Eli, discerning God’s call to the young Samuel.  Mom’s theology was simple and to the point.  When I asked her how she came to the decision to be baptized, her answer was:  “Well, I saw how well the church had nurtured and guided all of my children, and so I thought it was time for me.”

In the later years of her life, mom lived with a lot of fear; but she never lost hope.  Her explanation of resurrection was:  “God will help me wake up”—from those periods when her personality changed, the result of advancing dementia.  Her faith was grounded in a most theologically profound word:  “Why?” (deem gai, seck geh ah)—“Why am I so forgetful?  Why can’t I do my arithmetic and math?  Why am I forgetting the names and birthdays of my family?  Why do I change into a different person?”  Even as she struggled with these questions, she was forever thoughtful and considerate of others.  I’d try to answer her questions by saying, “Well, it’s because you’re getting old; it’ll happen to me too!”  And she would always reassure me with, “No, no, don’t you worry, it won’t happen to you.”  To the end, even as I was feeding her, she’d ask, “Have you eaten?  Here, have some of my lunch.”

God will help me wake up.”  What mom has taught me about the meaning of resurrection is that even in death, even in loss and grief, mom will wake up.  She will wake up every time we use one of her recipes.  She will wake up when we gather around the table to make wonton or to play mah jong.  She will wake up when we hear a remark, a saying that mom always used, like “okay” or “aiyah” or “lun jun”.  She will wake up in an expression on the face of one of her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren that is a mirror of mom.  She will wake up in our love for her, in our shared memories and in the stories we tell of mom, of paupau.

Just before her death, I received a telephone call from my granddaughter, Ella, calling from New York.  “Hi, this is Ella.”  And I said, “Oh Ella, I am so glad you called; I am so sorry that I had to cancel my trip to see you.  Paupau is very sick, she is dying.”  And Ella said, “Well, after paupau dies; you can come see me.”  You see, I am absolutely confident that God will help me wake up from this time of grief—for every time I see Ella, whose middle name is Rose, I will see and experience my mom.

(Ella Rose and her family will be here visiting the week of August 8 to 15. Ella graduated this May from Binghamton University, New York, and will begin her Masters program this Fall. During her visit here in San Francisco, she is scheduled also to take her LSAT Exam.)

2 thoughts on “Rose Chinn”

  1. Ella Rose and her family’s visit August 8-15 will be a very special time…Waking up ,. Resurrection.

  2. I so appreciate this beautiful remembrance spoken so soon after your mother’s passing. When I was invited to say something at my mother’s interment, now almost ten years ago, I was speechless (probably for several reasons, but mostly grief).

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