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Losing My Religion

Updated: Mar 12

Dear Asian Youth,

On December 17th, my grandpa passed away at 2:32 A.M at the East Jefferson General Hospital in Metairie, Louisiana. It wasn’t supposed to end that way. He entered the hospital, oblivious to the fact that he would never walk out again. He was content and mobile, with only a minor health issue due to his feeding tube. However, the poor care he received at this miniscule, run-down hospital ultimately resulted in his very last breath. The doctors gave up before his heart even stopped.

“He’s in a better place now,” my mom said over FaceTime, her lips trembling as tears trickled down her face. “Gung Gung is in heaven now.”

My grandpa was never religious. Even though he rarely spoke about God or the afterlife, my mom was always at the forefront, never surrendering her beliefs, despite the snobbish glares she received from our relatives and family members. Growing up, I lived in a Christian household and witnessed countless arguments between my mom and her family regarding religion. As my mom cultivated a deeper relationship with her faith, she reached out to the people she loved in order to share her story—to restore hope. As always, it resulted in my mom being shamed and labeled as insane or crazy. “When did she get so religious?” My grandma would ask me. Barriers separated them; a middle ground was yet to be found.

Still, leading up to his final moments, my grandpa listened to my mom speak about her journey towards declaring her faith. She knew that he would soon depart to the afterlife. While he laid silently on his hospital bed, worship tunes poured in through her phone speakers. Since he was paralyzed, my mom communicated by observing the movement of his eyes. His eyes. They slowly squeezed shut as he took his final breath. His frail, delicate hand clutched onto the wooden cross my mom gifted him right before.

When my dad, brother, and I received the news that he had passed, we immediately packed our suitcases and hopped on the next flight to New Orleans. Because this was my first funeral, I didn’t really know how I was supposed to feel. I was distraught and confused at the same time. I didn’t know what to expect, and I especially wasn’t aware that my faith would be challenged in the process.

It wasn’t until I attended my first funeral that I recognized the dissonance between my Christian faith and my Chinese heritage. Despite witnessing my mom constantly fight with her family, it wasn’t until the funeral that I finally discerned the gap between my faith and heritage. Before, I wasn’t aware of how I should pay my respects and more importantly, that the very ritual clashed with my faith. As my family planned the logistics of the funeral, I was a spectator in a war of words between my grandma, her sisters, and my mom. They explained that in Chinese culture, it is a tradition to burn paper money and offer gifts to the deceased. This ritual originated from the Chinese folk belief that by setting these items on fire, the deceased will receive the offerings and possess the opportunity to live a prosperous afterlife. This belief is rooted in materialism which is prevalent in Chinese culture. My mom responded by saying that Christians firmly believe that material possessions and luxuries simply don’t exist in the afterlife because in heaven, they aren’t necessary. After hours of incessant arguing, my mom managed to convince them that excluding the burning of fake money in the program would be the most fitting option. They surrendered.