Lim: Arrived safely

Wide Awake
Lim: Joy and grief
SunStar Lim

For two weeks after Papa passed, I couldn’t sleep. While I was grateful that he had passed peacefully and had lived such an incredible life, I was consumed by worry about whether or not he had arrived safely.

It was not enough that my sister saw Mama at the corner of her eye two days after Papa passed. Mama had a big smile on her face, my sister said. They must be reunited now, she told us. No, it was not enough. Not for me.

Papa was only 17 when he sailed around the country without an engine or a compass. “We did it for survival,” he told me, “We sailed to barter with the other islands.”

On one of these sea voyages during World War II, Papa and his crew were captured by the Japanese Imperial Army. They were starved and subjected to hard labor. After a month, they made a miraculous escape.

Just as his mother waited by the shore every morning, praying he would make it back home safely—night after night, I waited for a sign from Papa, praying that he had arrived safely into the arms of our Creator.

My last appeal became a bit more demanding. “Send me a sign, Pa. But please make it a clear sign.”

It seemed almost comical but I was desperate. The odds of Papa sending me a sign seemed nil. He was straightforward rather than subtle in his ways.

But the first thing I saw on my phone when I woke up the following day jolted me. It was a message from my sister, who, somehow, from out of the blue, decided to message a cousin the night before to ask how he was.

My cousin was surprised to hear from my sister. You see, a few days before, a huge butterfly had appeared at his house. It was flapping its wings rather rapidly, trying to attract everyone’s attention all day.

That night, my cousin’s son dreamt of Papa. My nephew said that Papa had a huge smile on his face. No more wheelchair. No more nurse on his side. And just like that, I knew Papa had arrived safely.

The butterfly was too subtle. Papa had to appear in my nephew’s dream, as well, to be more straightforward. A clear sign from Papa. Finally.

When I was a young, new driver, Papa would stand by our gate and watch me for as long as he could as I drove out into the street. The image of Papa getting smaller and smaller from my rear-view mirror as I drove away still remains fresh in my mind.

Papa didn’t hover because he didn’t have faith in my ability to drive. He hovered because he loved me. I didn’t worry because I didn’t have faith in Papa’s ability to navigate through the next life. I worried because I loved him.

I’m sorry it took so long, Pa, for me to understand how love works. I’m sorry you had to hang in there for so long to make sure I learned all that I needed to learn. But know that you did not live and love in vain.

I promise to live well and to love as profoundly as you did. I miss you terribly, Pa, but it gives me great joy to know you have arrived safely.


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