Papa's funeral

This morning was Papa’s funeral. Everything has happened so fast – it’s been less than 72 hours since he passed away.

Friends and Family
Friends and Family

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).

Rosa and Mama
Rosa and Mama

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.

Visiting the funeral home

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.

Many Many Pills
Many Many Pills

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.

In Memoriam
In Memoriam

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.

Empty wheelchair
Empty wheelchair

Funeral Arrangements

Today we went to Tubman Funeral Homes to make the final arrangements for Papa.

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.

Papa's urn
Papa's urn

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.

The passing of my father-in-law

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.

Papa surrounded by family
Papa surrounded by family

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.

Jinduo Wu (Jul 14, 1935 - Nov 26, 2010)
Jinduo Wu (Jul 14, 1935 - Nov 26, 2010)

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.

And then Mama, Rosa and I left.

Papa's not quite a stroke

On Friday, Rosa called me around noon to tell me that there was a problem at home. Mama had called her and said that Papa was behaving strangely and was confused. He was not able to answer any questions. It had started on Tuesday, and even though Rosa asked Mama twice since then if everything was ok, Mama said yes it was ok until out-of-the-blue this morning it’s not ok. This is one of the fundamental challenges to sanity in the household – the continuously changing story about what’s going on.

I told Rosa I would leave work as soon as I could, which was later in the afternoon. If the problem started on Tuesday and has not changed since Tuesday, then it was not an emergency situation yet.

When I arrived, Papa seemed ok physically. Mama said he was sleeping more than usual (he already sleeps about 18 hours a day), but that’s not a cause for concern (yet). She said he gave strange answers to questions. My problem is that I do not speak Mandarin, and even if I did, I would not be able to interpret his mumblings. He mumbles because his jaw joint has changed due to the advanced rheumatoid arthritis.

I watched him through the evening, but I could not see any issues and I felt I could not make a good assessment on his mental cognition because communication was nearly impossible. I had to wait until Rosa returned home in order to make a better assessment.

When she arrived home, we spoke with Mama and Papa. It seemed that Papa was very confused. We debated if we should take him to the hospital. Rosa had the brilliant idea about calling TeleHealth Ontario and talk with a nurse. It was nearly midnight when we reached a nurse. After about 10 minutes of discussions, the nurse said that an ambulance would be called to bring him into the hospital.

We ran around to get a few things packed for what might be a long night. The ambulance arrived and they also assessed Papa. Asking, through Rosa and then Mama, if Papa knew where he was or where he was born. His answers kept changing and were confused. They bundled him up and took him downstairs to the ambulance.

Papa in the emergency room
Papa in the emergency room

We arrived at Queensway Carleton Hospital close to 1:00am. Rosa came in her car separately. We planned that she would help with the check-in and assessment, and then go home to get sleep and relieve me in the morning.

We waited a long time – there were other patients who needed more urgent attention, including a car accident victim and a girl who had had a severe food allergy. Around 2:00am, we decided that Rosa would leave as I was feeling better equipped to deal with Papa, now that I understood what questions needed to be asked to evaluate his cognition (where are you, where were you born, what is your wife’s name). I can do this with Mama’s help.

As shifts changed and specialists were called, we saw 3 doctors in total. We agreed that he had symptoms of a stroke, so he was X-Rayed and had a CT Scan. The results came a few hours later – nothing was visible. This means that it was not a stroke. The blood work indicated a severe sodium imbalance, which might also cause the results we were seeing. So he was hooked up to an IV drip – 2 litres in the first 2 hours, which is a lot considering he weighs less than 90 pounds. More IVs were given later, but at a much lower rate. His demeanour changed and he was able to understand much better. Everyone could see the difference in his face after even the first IV.

Papa in the CT scanner
Papa in the CT scanner

However, it was decided to check him in to a hospital room for further observation. The doctors were concerned about his weight – he is literally (not figuratively) a bag of skin and bones. He also seemed to have a sleep problem like sleep apnea – he breathing would appear to stop. They wanted to take some CT Scans of his chest, as they were concerned about his persistent cough. The cough started in both Mama and Papa about 4 years ago after they returned from 3 months in China.

In the morning, Rosa and I decided that she would go to the Les Petits Ballets rehearsals – her performance is only 3 weeks away. She would come in the afternoon to relieve me at the hospital and help with any further paperwork for the check-in.

She arrived just after 1:00pm. We grabbed a quick lunch and went to see Papa. There was no room upstairs for him yet, so he was still in the emergency area. We checked with the nurses, and there was nothing we could do and there was nothing left to be done to check him in. I left the hospital to get some sleep and Rosa went back to rehearsals, leaving Mama to watch over Papa.

I got about 4 hours of sleep before they both arrived home in the evening. Rosa and I went to the NAC to see the Toronto Symphony Orchestra present an evening in celebration of Slavic composers (Dvořák, etc). I left my cell phone number with the nurses, should something come up.

Last night, I got over 10 hours of much needed sleep.

This morning, Rosa called the hospital and found that Papa would not be discharged today. I’ll go to the hospital in about 30 minutes to check in on him.

Day of Photography

Today, I had the pleasure of spending almost the entire day taking

Carp Airport
Carp Airport


The day started early with a photoshoot organized by Hagen Hohn (graduate of Harry Nowell’s Professional Photography Program) through the BMW Car Club of Ottawa. It was at the Carp Airport. Hagen started with a 30-minute overview of the techniques, issues, tips and theory of photography, leaning towards the information necessary for taking picture of cars. This was one of my objectives I set last year.


My car, sadly, was quite dirty and I didn’t have enough time last night to clean it up. I tried to wipe off some of the grime with a cup of water and a paper towel, but that only seemed to smear the dirty around. I had to choose angles that would not show the dust around the wheels and lower bodywork. I also have the winter tires mounted, so my BMW is not as photogenic as I would like.

As the morning progressed, the representative from the Carp Airport opened one of the hangers so that we could take pictures of BMWs posed with an airplane. He was looking to get some shots he can use for his own promotional materials.

At noon, I had to leave and go to my next location, the Les Petits Ballets studio in Bell’s Corners. I was asked to take some photos of the rehearsals for the upcoming Beauty and the Beast performance (Dec 11th at Centrepointe Theatre).

Les Petits Ballets
Les Petits Ballets

These photos were a little better than some I have taken at the same location in the past. I still have lots of room to improve. This was yet another photo objective from last year.

I personally find it hard to get a good shot in the studio in the Nepean Creative Arts Centre. The walls are a mishmash of colours (white walls, red bricks, with blue doors), distracting objects (bright mustard coloured exercise balls) and all of the emergency lights and exit signs are just above the heads of the girls. There is also no good place to stand back to get a better perspective, especially when the room is full for the rehearsals.

The photos will be used in articles for the local community newspapers.

After the studio work, I went for a nature walk around the Nepean Equestrian Park. The weather was so nice, so I wanted to soak up as much Vitamin D as I could before winter. I used my iPhone and AMOD AGL3080 Phototracker to record how far I walked (it was 5.5km).


I started at the former Nortel campus. In the paths around the campus leading to the Equestrian Park, I came across a deer. I put on my zoom lens and tried to stalk closer. However, the dry leaves on the ground put the kibosh on that – the deer could hear me a mile away.

I continued along the paths and looped around the park. I saw many more deer, but none that I could get a good shot – there was often a tree or fence in the way.

In one open field in the park, I stopped and watched 7 deer and three wild turkeys.

By the time I made it back to the Corkstown Road, my knees were hurting, so I ambled back to my car.

In the evening, we had a nice gathering with friends to celebrate Rosa’s birthday.

Vintage Clothing Sale

Rosa trying on dresses
Rosa trying on dresses

This afternoon, Rosa and I went to the Vintage Clothing Sale at the Chateau Laurier. It was the first time either of us had been in the Chateau.

Rosa shopped for nearly 2 hours and found three neat dresses from the 1950’s and 60’s. It was fun people watching too – lots of characters!

After the shopping was done, we went to Métropolitain Brasserie. I ordered Coquille St. Jacques (scallops), which were delicious. Rosa and I talked for hours. We rarely have enough time, with all our work, dance, racing and family commitments.

Thoughts on STS-132

I’ve been thinking about what I learned from attending the STS-132 Atlantis launch on May 14th.

1. I learned that if I rent or borrow equipment, I should read the manual before I need to use the equipment. During the launch, when I was using the Canon 100-400mm, I did not set the correct focus length switch. This meant that when the camera needed to refocus, it would hunt for focus over the entire focal length. If I had set the switch correctly, it would have only used the longer focus lengths and should have focused faster.

2. Next, reviewing the photos later, I realized I should have borrowed or bought a UV lens filter, to cut down on the haze. All the launch photos have a bluish tinge.

3. Always remember to bring the lens hood if you have one. When I visited the Kennedy Visitors Complex, I forgot to bring the lens hood for the Canon 10-22mm. It didn’t greatly impact any photos but it could have – always be prepared.

4. Now, about the launch itself. As many people on the Internet have noted, it is very hard to both experience a launch and take pictures. I did my best to do both, as I only had one opportunity. If I had more chances to see a launch, I would go once to experience it, and once to try capturing the experience with my camera.

I was able to watch Atlantis as it was nearly at the official definition of outer space (roughly 100km), which was after the 4 minute point of the ascent to orbit. And as I looked up at the vehicle, two thoughts came to mind.

5. First, the planned height of the SpaceShip Two flights of Virgin Galactic will be about that height. It’s only a third of the height of the typical orbit of the International Space Station. And it doesn’t really seem very high, when you can see the shuttle attaining that in such a short period of time. You can see still the shuttle as it passes that height.

Graph of Altitudes
Graph of altitudes

6. Secondly, it absolutely stunning how thin the atmosphere of the Earth really is. As noted above, the official edge of space is 100km. All of the air that is used by every human being and every animal and every plant that ever lived on this good planet, all used that thin veneer of air. Just 100km of air, spread across the face of the Earth. That’s all there is.

And that’s where all of the air pollution goes. It’s not a limitless sky. It’s very very finite. To a single person, it seems incomprehensibly unending, but when you think about the output from 6.8 billion people, it seems very limited. All the cars of the world, all the planes, ships and lawn mowers and leaf blowers and electric generation plants – they all empty into that fragile sheet of air.

I worry about air pollution (and water pollution) and global warming. Even if a person, against all evidence, does not believe that man is contributing to the problem of global warming, certainly they cannot deny that air pollution is a problem that is created by man.

And I think about the entire trip. I flew down to Florida, which directly contributed to air pollution. I watched the shuttle, which uses aluminum-based material in the Solid Rocket Boosters. The Shuttle Main Engines (SSME) burn hydrogen and oxygen and do not pollute directly, but it took a lot of energy to create that volume of liquid hydrogen and oxygen, and another big electrical bill to cool those liquids and keep them cool. There are the transportation costs of moving everything around – the solid booster segments come from Utah, the external tank comes from Louisiana.

I’m scared sometimes that we have already passed the point of keeping our planet useful to future generations. I worry that the air pollution, global warming, pollution of our water, dispersion of all the man-man chemicals (in pesticides, medicines, leeching buried plastics, huge oil spills, garbage dumps, etc) has already put enough of our junk into the biosphere that the Earth will become uninhabitable in some distant future.

I do what I can to reduce my personal impact, but I know I am not doing enough.