I also joined the Studio group, which allows me to have access to the club’s studio. I took the mandatory training session. I had also taken two studio courses with Lawrence Cook at the School of Photographic Arts Ottawa (SPAO) a few years ago.
But I never followed these opportunities up with my own studio sessions to practice.
I often fell into the mental trap of being afraid of not being successful.
Rosa and I talked about this and she, being more adventurous than I, pushed to have a studio session this weekend. So I booked a 6-hour session at the studio and we went in.
We treated it like a simple fashion shoot. Rosa brought about 10 complete outfits, including shoes.
For the high-key photos, I set up a large soft box at camera right, and raised it as high as I could – the ceiling was quite low. Put another, smaller soft box with a grid at camera left. Rosa stood on the seamless white backdrop (or cyclorama).
For the low-key, I used a thin vertical softbox at camera left. Because of the height, I was not able to raise it very high, so it was just above eye-height. Rosa stood on a black seamless backdrop. I learned from an earlier course that you can introduce colour into the background if I use a gel on a spotlight pointed at the background. This is what I was attempting to do for the Les Petits Ballets photos. So in this case, I used red and blue gels on a strobe that was fitted with a grid. This is used also to separate the model from the background.
For a few shots, I turned the grid strobe around to point at Rosa from behind. I was intending to use it to outline her, like a rim light. I also lowered the output level, as I only wanted enough to light her shoulder and hair. I wasn’t satisfied with the results, so I will need to try again in our next session next month.
Today, Rosa, Mama and I picked up my father-in-laws cremated remains. We had ordered a customized urn, and it took many weeks to get the urn back. The urn had a picture of Papa embossed on a raised circle on the top. When we finally saw the urn, we all agreed that it was very well made. I was surprised how well the embossing looked, considering that we only gave them a photograph.
The remains were transferred from the temporary storage box to the urn right in front of us. We are not squeamish, and Rosa and I were curious. Mama insisted on seeing the process too, as she was paranoid that somehow the remains would be mixed up.
The remains were in a small clear plastic bag, and were stored in a temporary black plastic box. The remains, which are basically pulverized bone fragments, were light grey colour.
The staff removed the bag from the temporary container and put the bag in the urn. Mama put two chains (one was the chain papa was wearing when he was in the hospital) in a small green velvet bag and placed the bag in the urn.
The urn was closed (it screws shut from the bottom) and given to us. Mama took it very hard and cried a lot. We drove home and Mama put the urn on the nightstand next to the bed.
This morning was Papa’s funeral. Everything has happened so fast – it’s been less than 72 hours since he passed away.
We started the day by picking up a few people who wanted to attend. I was happy that more people were able to attend. There were our Chinese neighbours and a couple who worked with Mama and Papa back in China at the same Institute. One of his very kind caregivers came as well. Rosa and I picked them up and drove to the funeral home to have a few minutes viewing. It was Mama’s last opportunity to see her husband.
At 10:20, the casket was closed. I had asked to be one of the pallbearers. The other four pallbearers were hired from the funeral home. Rosa and I followed the hearse to the Funeral Mass at Notre Dame de Lourdes de Cyrville. There were more people at the church, including Papa’s sponsor from his baptism, other members of the Chinese Catholic community and Rosa’s private ballet instructor and his wife.
The Father Bosco Wong gave the service; he had baptized Papa in June. We had asked if we could tape the mass to share with other family members, but the Father did not approve of filming in the church. The Mass was performed entirely in Mandarin (which was one of the allowances from Vatican 2).
It was a hard time for Mama. Rosa and I and her friends supported her. At the end of the Mass, once we had placed the casket in the hearse, Rosa, Mama and I just held each other closely and wept.
The procession then moved to Beachwood Cemetery for the commitment prayers by Deacon Peter Feng at the Mausoleum. Finally, the casket was lowered through the floor of the Mausoleum, feeling very much like a traditional burial. From there, it will later be moved to the crematorium. This was the hardest time for Mama. Rosa, Mama and I held each other again just before the casket was lowered.
Once the ceremony was complete, we thanked everyone for coming, thanked the pallbearers for helping, and thanked Suzanne from Tubman Funeral Homes for arraigning the funeral details.
Mama signed the necessary cremation papers in both English and Mandarin. We left and drove everyone home. Rosa, Mama and I went for a small lunch with Papa’s caregiver – she had taken the day off work to attend which was very touching.
This evening, everyone is exhausted. Mama slept for hours. The home is now very quiet. The normal sounds of Papa (the cough, the TV) or the sounds of Mama caring for him (preparing food, bathing, cleaning) are all missing.
Today, we visited the funeral home to pay our respects to Papa. We did not visit yesterday because we had not brought in his suit and chosen a casket until then.
Before we went, life goes on, and we had to run the usual errands. We have to buy fewer groceries now. And I took in all the medication bottles to the pharmacy to be disposed. I don’t want all those strange chemicals in the water table.
We arrived at the funeral home around 1:30. It was just Rosa, Mama and myself. Papa had a nice grey suit. Because of the degeneration in his joints, his jaw had shifted in the past year, which is why his mouth was open all the time, such as when he was in the hospital. An effort had been made to close his mouth to be more dignified, but it also didn’t look like him. We were so used to seeing him one way. There was nothing that could be done though – it was the best everyone could do in the circumstances.
It was hard, especially for Mama. Rosa and I held each other and tried to comfort Mama. Mama sprayed some holy water on him – I’m not sure were she got it from.
We stayed about an hour.
Once we arrived home, I chose to clean up the room where he spent much of his time. Because of his condition, I had been referring to it as the orthopedic room. It contained all of the devices that he had used – a walker from when he could walk, some pedals for his physiotherapy and his wheelchair. Carrying down his wheelchair to store in the garage, I burst into tears. I had carried the wheelchair around in my car so many times. Mama and I bought it together.
Now it is empty. There is a papa-sized hole in the home.
Mama had two main requirements: there would be a Mass, and that Papa would be cremated. Mama told us earlier in the week that she and Papa had already purchased memorial spots for their urns at a location in Beijing.
We consulted with the funeral director and Father Hung (Chinese Catholic) and agreed to have a small Mass at Notre Dame de Lourdes de Cyrville before the body is cremated. Father Hung had baptized Papa back in June. This will occur on Monday. We are expecting only a few others to attend. Some members of the Chinese Catholic community will be present to sing during the mass, taking time off from work to help out.
Mama chose a very simple casket which can be used for the mass as well as the cremation. A more expensive alternative was to rent a casket for the mass and buy a simple, unfinished wooden “cremation container”. Mama chose an nice urn as well. The funeral home checked that the urn was ok for transportation to China where his remains will be interned.
The total cost will be around $7200, including HST.
Papa has been in the hospital since he was admitted a week ago. Through the week, the staff continued to work on this sodium levels. They were hovering around 119, and the normal range is 135-145.
This sodium deficiency has been confounding. Tests indicated that his kidneys were ok, and his thyroid levels were ok too. So no one was sure why the sodium was so low or why it was not increasing.
Throughout the week, we would visit before and after work, and Mama would stay all day. She helped feed him and clean him, as he lost the use of his hands more than a year ago (rheumatoid arthritis). Each day, we would check if there was an estimate when he could come home. Each day, we were told it would be many days minimum.
Today, his condition deteriorated rapidly. He was scheduled for an MRI around 10:45AM. His nurse called Rosa at 10:30AM and said his condition was serious and that she should come in. She called me and we agreed that she would go to see him and call me if I was needed. About 20 minutes later, she called me and told me to come in immediately.
When I arrived, Papa was partly on his side, propped into a comfortable position with extra pillows. This position helped his breathing – he had been having difficulties over the past week. He was on an oxygen tube. He had been given some pain medication and some medication to calm and relax him. It was clear that it was very serious.
We talked with the nurses and they gave us a booklet on preparing for a family loss. Rosa and I went through part of the booklet and made some agreements on our course of action. I called the Tubman funeral home next door to the Queensway Carleton Hospital and made an appointment for 3:00pm.
And we waited.
Rosa needed to go back to the office to gather a few things, so she left for a little while. The nurse came in around 1:45pm to bring a warmer blanket. When the sheets were pulled back, she said that it would not be much longer, based on the mottled colour of his skin. I immediately called Rosa and said she needed to hurry back.
His breathing was averaging once every 8 to 9 seconds. But with the medications and oxygen therapy, he was actually sleeping much better than he had in a long time. At some point in the afternoon, he closed his eyes, or perhaps Mama closed them for him. He looked more peaceful than he had been in a long time.
Nothing seemed to change for the next hour, so I went to my short appointment with the funeral home. I wrote some notes, and gave the background information to the consultant, but I was anxious being away from the hospital room for any length of time. I hurried back to the hospital after 20 minutes.
Papa’s condition did not change for the rest of the afternoon. Rosa and I discussed what to do. No one could guess how much longer it might be. It could be soon, or it could be the next day. Mama wanted to stay all night if she could.
As the sun set, Rosa and I prepared to leave for supper. She went to the washroom. Mama and I were sitting by the bedside.
Suddenly, Papa’s breathing changed. It increased to 25-30 seconds between breaths. When Rosa returned, I motioned for her to come immediately.
We didn’t know what do to. Every pause in his breathing was an eternity. Papa had a thin chain around his neck holding an icon of the Virgin Mary. His pulse would cause it to flicker in the light.
In about 3 minutes, with Mama, Rosa and I around him, Papa passed away. He took his final breath after 75 years; the chain around his neck stopped its flicker.
I leaned in and whispered to Rosa, “He just passed.”
And then we all started crying.
I went out of the room and told the nurse. She and another nurse each confirmed there was no heartbeat, which is the standard procedure. They comforted us and we comforted each other.
We were very sad, but there was also a sense of release, not for us, but for Papa. He has lived in such terrible pain for years and years. He was free from that now.
Two acquaintances from the Institute where Papa and Mama worked in Lanzhou arrived, too late to see Papa before he passed away. They looked shocked and sad too. They talked with Mama for some time, and were near tears. I called the funeral home and let them know about the death.
We asked the nurse if there was anything else we needed to do. She said that the funeral home will contact the hospital and will take possession of the body overnight or in the morning. There was nothing else for us to do. We gathered all our belongings.
A friend of Rosa’s parents (my in-laws, Lemin and Jinduo) gave them a Logitech webcam. I set the webcam up a week ago, but their friends were not using the Logitech software, so we could not contact them.
This evening, we installed Windows Live Messenger, and with a little bit of configuration and negotiation (in two languages), we got it working.
Lemin called her sister in Beijing. It was the first time I have seen any of my extended Chinese family. There is a family resemblance between Lemin and her sister.
We agreed that in the 2011 Spring Festival, we will use the webcam so that I can meet more of the family in Beijing. I’m really looking forward to it!
My mother-in-law, Lemin (I call her Mama), is a devout Chinese Roman Catholic. Christianity was brought to China starting as early as the Tang Dynasty in the Eight Century. Her family’s beliefs date back possibly as long as Yuan or Ming Dynasties. However, it has often faced persecution, particularly since the take over by the Chinese Communist Party in 1949. One of the reasons Lemin married my father-in-law Jinduo (I call him Papa) was to gain some protection from persecution; he is a typical non-religious Chinese.
Lemin prays multiple hours per day. She prays for Jinduo to get better, as he is very ill. He has rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes. Recent blood tests have shown that his liver and kidney functions are down 25%. Our doctor estimates that he has about 2-years left before his body completely fails.
Lemin is his full-time nurse, as he needs help to do everything – get up, use the washroom, brush his teeth, eat and move between the bed and his wheelchair. With this 24-hour supervision, she also the only person he talks with. No one visits him. It is very sad.
A few weeks ago, out of the blue, Rosa and I were told that Papa wanted to be baptized. Mama must have been talking to him about this for a very long time. Papa doesn’t really believe in God, as far as we can tell. He is certainly not indoctrinated into Christianity and I doubt he knows and understands the basic tenets of the religion.
It seems evident that he is scared of dying. He must understand that his time is growing short. He is weak and in great pain during the entire day. He is dependent on mama for everything. He can no longer walk or push himself up or move from the bed to his wheelchair without great help.
Three weeks ago, Peter, a deacon with the Ottawa Chinese Catholic Church, came to visit all of us to discuss the baptism and to see if his family (meaning Rosa and I) supports Papa’s decision. Rosa and I both agree that we support his decision and will do whatever we can to help out. We said that if he wishes to go to church, we would book ParaTranspo to take him to church and back. However, that doesn’t appear to be his desire – plus the church service is only in English, which he does not understand.
When I was in Los Angeles, Rosa let me know that the baptism would happen when I returned. I asked that it be held on the weekend so that we can prepare and so that we can invite others to come too.
Today we had the baptism ceremony. Chuxiong Huang was the Chinese priest and he was assisted by Peter the deacon. Other attendees included the family of one of Papa’s health-care attendants, a family from the church and another woman from the church.
The ceremony took about 15 minutes. We all stood in the living room while the rites were performed. Even though it was performed in Chinese, Papa didn’t seem to understand very much, which is not unexpected for someone without any education and indoctrination in the Catholic Church. He was baptized and took his first communion.
Afterwards, everyone stayed for some snacks and to talk. When Papa grew tired, I carried him upstairs to sleep.