Vancouver Family Photographer | Sharing Our Roots
As we were growing up, Derek and I were fortunate to see a bit of the world outside of our home. After we got married, we banked our time off for longer trips abroad. That feeling of being somewhere new, with a different culture, learning the language and about the ways and traditions of the people that live there, it enriched our souls and broadened our minds. Because of this, we have every intention of packing our bags time and again, and infusing a deep love for travelling within our children by trotting the globe as a family whenever we can. It could be as simple as heading to a hidden gem of a beach in the local Gulf islands, or populated cities stuffed with skyscrapers and bright lights in some far away land. And once in a while, we get to show our children our roots, to share with them where we came from. This time, we are returning “home” to Malaysia, to celebrate the big milestone of 95 years for my mom’s mother, my Ah Ma.
My Ah Ma was a baby of the roaring twenties, lived through the Great Depression, and survived the Second World War. She is a mother to 8 children, a grandmother to many grandchildren, and even more great-grandkids. She has spent half her life as a widow as my grandfather passed when he was just shy of 50 years old. In my eyes, she is a great woman, a matriarch of my family, a fierce mother who imparts the wisdom and experience only a woman who has lived the life she has, can give.
A couple of months before our trip, we received news that she has fallen and broken her hip. She received treatment in the hospital but at her age and frail physical condition, surgery was not advised. The medication that was prescribed did alleviate the pain, but also came with some discomfort due to the side effects. My mother told me to be prepared to see her in a much different condition than 4 years ago, when we last saw her. When we arrived, she had been hospitalized, this time for shingles. As I entered the hospital room, I felt a big lump in my throat, and fought back the tears. There she was, lying in the bed, drifting in and out of sleep, exhausted from the itch and pain of the lesions. But what brought comfort to me was to see the amount of family that is present, taking turns to keep her company so should she wake up, she would have someone familiar to chat with.
Anyone who knows me, would know that I cannot hold back tears all that well. When my little Elliotte greeted her, the floodgates opened. “Tai Ma (great-grandmother), how are you?”, she said. My Ah Ma opened her eyes, smiled with her whole soul, and grasped her hand gently and said, “Guai! (my good girl!)”. The mood in the room was light as the family teased her about her lack of hearing and as much as we wanted to stay awhile, it was time to let Ah Ma get her rest.
While my Ah Ma was in the hospital, waiting to be discharged, the family would often gather at her house for company and lots and lots of soul food. Food is definitely the love language in this family and I have a food belly to prove it. There are also so many elements of that home that I want to show my girls, like the swing that has entertained two generations of children that still sits in the courtyard, the orchid blooms that are the fruits of my Ah Ma’s love and nurturing, and the scrappy quilts she has sewn for all the beds in the rooms. My mother shared old photos with Elliotte, while she sat in a chair that was one of my favourites to cuddle in when I was her age. My sister and I joined my father and his family in paying respects to his mother, my Ah Poh, by observing the traditions of Ching Ming, where the living bring food and burn paper gifts and money for the dead to enjoy in the other world. We even made a pit stop at our old family home that we lived in together before my parents separated, and reminisced about the old days with much laughter.
On the final day before we had to fly home to Vancouver, we stopped in one last time to see my Ah Ma, who was finally back home and recovering. She was all smiles in her room, tucked snug with the quilt I made for her a few years ago. It’s funny, the things that will trigger a huge wave of emotion that make your heart ache. When I saw how well loved (and used) the quilt was, I started crying. Something I had handmade with love has been has been keeping her warm and comfortable through the nights, half way across the world from me. Elliotte shared her some photos of our family that we printed for her, as Janie watched on. When it came time for us to say goodbye, my Ah Ma kept telling my sister and I, “please take care of your mother”. Even at this stage in her life, she’s still protecting her baby.
Throughout those days at home, I shot a lot with my camera, trying to capture little elements that reminded me of days past. I didn’t want to forget again. I needed my photos to remind me of moments and things that my memory has failed to retain with clarity. It was also the only way to remember the days that we are in now, together, so that in the future, I can sit down and show my girls an album that contains the pieces of our life, with the hope that one day, they will share those memories in that album with their children.
Felicia Chang specializes in family documentary photography, including newborns and births, in Vancouver, British Columbia and surrounding areas, including but not limited to North Vancouver and West Vancouver.