In PART I of this story, I shared the story of a tragic accident I witnessed, which reminded me of some of life’s most important lessons. You can read the full story here before reading PART II below.
The day after the tragic accident, I couldn’t stop beating myself up about why I didn’t do more to help the woman and her daughter in their last moments on this Earth. I kept thinking of different ways I could have comforted her – getting to her quicker, stroking her head, taking her phone out of her bag and calling her husband so they could hear each others’ voices, lying on the ground next to her, saying a prayer… ANYTHING that could have consoled her more than just holding her hand. But I hadn’t. I couldn’t help thinking that if that had been my mother or my sister, I would have wanted so much more than that.
So lost in my thoughts of guilt and overwhelming sadness, I went for a walk and found myself at the steps of a local church, looking up at the Christmas fairy lights twinkling in invitation. While I am a spiritual person and believe wholeheartedly that there is a higher “Something” or “Someone” out there full of compassion and love, I wouldn’t say I prescribe to one specific religion. However, that day, I found myself walking in and sitting at the very back corner pew, crying and talking to whichever God or higher Being that might have the time to listen to me.
Suddenly, from the front of the church I heard what could only be described as the most beautiful sound I had ever heard in my life. It was the children’s choir rehearsing for their Christmas service, but to me it sounded like a choir of angels singing in perfect harmony. I thought to myself: if such beauty could exist in this world, the mother and daughter were now certainly angels in a peaceful and better place. I hoped with all my heart, that by sharing their story, the memory of these two angels could continue to live on, and could touch all those that read it to spread more love. So I decided to go home and write down my thoughts.
So you can imagine my surprise when, by the power of the internet and the thoughtfulness of friends, Austin and I were put in touch with the husband and father of these two angels, who apparently wanted to meet us. We organised to meet him that Wednesday, and I then proceeded to fret about what food to prepare, what music to play, whether to light candles, whether I should hide photos of my family in case it reminds him of his (?!) and what in the world we should say in attempt to console his grieving heart.
Wednesday evening somehow arrived, and Austin and I nervously welcomed MingZheng, his brother-in-law, five of his close friends, and our friends Tiffany and Shih-Yi who connected us together, all into my house. The 11 of us sat in my lounge in a big circle, and Austin and I started to talk them through what happened that horrible night. I had promised myself I wouldn’t cry in fear of upsetting MingZheng, but as soon as we started talking about her last moments, I burst into tears. I told him how sorry I was that I didn’t do more, didn’t say more… but that when I held her hand in mine, she had stopped wailing; and that Austin had seen a sense of calmness wash over her face. Austin, in a calm and consoling manner, reassured the husband that his little girl had felt no pain at the end of her life. And as salty tears blurred my vision and soaked my face, I told him that we were the last ones to witness the final moments of his wife’s life.
I took a moment and started twirling the heart-shaped sister ring which had sat on my finger for years, remembering when I had left home and gifted the same ring to each of my two little sisters. The ring, encrusted with our three birthstones and engraved with our three names, was a reminder to them that despite being physically apart, we were always in each others’ hearts. It had been the last physical thing that MingZheng’s wife had touched on my finger before departing our world, and I felt it was only right that I passed this onto him. As I handed him my sister ring with shaking hands, I told him that at the end of his beautiful wife’s life, she was not alone. She had Austin, she had me, and she also had my two little sisters by her side.
MingZheng thanked me, was silent for a while, and then replied that his wife XuanHui was also the eldest of three sisters. I thought about my two sisters who I adored with all my being, and winced at the pain XuanHui’s sisters must have been feeling. I was overcome with sorrow and wondered how so much pain could exist in a good world. He told us that the night before, he had written down endless pages of questions he wanted answers for – why them, why then, why not him? But in hearing our story, he felt all his questions were meaningless. It didn’t matter anymore because he now knew that in the last moments of his wife and daughter’s lives, they had us by their side.
Tears brimmed at his eyes, but with a strong and fearless voice, MingZheng told us that the reason he wanted to meet us that day was not to gain some sort of closure for himself, but rather to come and comfort us. By sharing stories about his family, he wanted us to remember his wife and daughter in life, and not in death.
Austin and I swallowed hard.
The grieving widowed father came to comfort US?! How could one man be so courageous? MingZheng said that he had made peace with the “Director” of this movie called life, and that he believed his beautiful autistic daughter PinYu had “gone back home” because she had wholeheartedly completed the work she was put on this Earth to do. Her mother XuanHui, who was inseparable with PinYu in life to the extent of being “almost of one body”, had stayed by her side and would continue to look after her in the afterlife.
With a teary smile on his face, MingZheng joked that luckily, the “Director” hadn’t written a complete tragedy script, because he made sure to keep MingZheng’s youngest daughter safe that night. My heart fluttered a million wings. PinYu had a little sister?! He explained that his younger daughter Liqi had actually gone to the swimming pool with her mum and older sister that night, and for whatever reason, had decided to cross the road using the sky bridge. PinYu, exhausted from swimming, didn’t want to climb so many stairs, so had crossed the road directly with her mother. They had all been walking to the church 100 metres from the accident site, where MingZheng was waiting for them to arrive.
He told us that he had been fearing the day he would have to explain to wee Liqi what exactly had happened to her sister and mother that night, but now felt more at peace because giving her the sister ring would convey more than any words could ever say.
I felt overwhelmed. And suddenly, I felt hopeful.
I had felt so guilty for not doing more for XuanHui and PinYu on that dark, dark evening. But now, I knew what I could do. I had the chance to fill a tiny weeny bit of the gap that Liqi’s big sister and mother left behind, by being and remaining in Liqi’s life.
I asked MingZheng whether he felt it appropriate for me to meet Liqi, and to my excitement and relief, he welcomed the idea and immediately agreed on a day the following week. It was a bittersweet moment, realising that in the midst of such loss, my two sisters and I had gained another little sister. After all, she already had one of our sister rings!
Austin and I spent the next little while gratefully listening to MingZheng’s stories about his family. And I was awed as we discovered a series of inexplicable commonalities between our lives. MingZheng had taken XuanHui to my home country of New Zealand for their honeymoon, as had XuanHui’s brother and his wife. PinYu, like many autistic people, had a specific area of interest that she was enamoured with: swimming. In surprise, I shared with everyone that while in Wellington, I used to volunteer with the Special Olympics as a swim coach for people with intellectual disabilities, and many of my athlete friends had been autistic.
Just when I thought this man couldn’t be any more selfless, MingZheng took out his wallet and tenderly gifted me a small photo of his grinning, happy family. On the back was a small note from his wife a few years ago when he was away on a work trip: “Husband, us 3 girls know happiness because you are in our lives. We miss you so much!” With a warm and heavy heart, I swore that I would keep that photo dear to my heart for the rest of my life.
There wasn’t much more heart-wrenching emotion Austin and I could take by this point. So what did MingZheng, XuanHui’s brother, and all of their friends do? They all stood and sang us two songs to show their gratitude for us being there with their loved ones at their last hour: one Taiwanese blessing song, and Amazing Grace. We sang a song for them in return, and then we chatted the night away, laughing and sharing stories, sharing photos, and even showing them my puppy Yoda’s nifty little tricks. We ended the night agreeing that they would all come back in the new year for a home cooked dinner at my place, and we parted like old friends with warm hugs, tears of gratitude, and hearts brimming with love.
At 6pm on Saturday 7th December 2013 in Taipei, while holding the hand of a dying woman, I was reminded of some of life’s most important lessons. I learned that despite the fragility and vulnerability of human life, every day we have the ability to experience true courage, true compassion, and true love. As Morgan Freeman in the movie “Evan Almighty” said, “If [someone] prayed for courage, does God give him courage, or does he give him opportunities to be courageous?” I don’t know if we will ever understand why certain things happen the way that they do, but I sincerely believe that when faced with challenging situations, each and every one of us has the power to make a choice.
Sometimes, it seems that the smallest of gestures, like holding a stranger’s hand, can be enough.
RIP 蘇暄惠 & 洪品瑜
I will never forget you xx
16 December 2013