Text and photo by Xu Jing-yi
Translated by Wu Hsiao-ting
Mr. Zhu and his father were the only family each other had for 44 years. Their lives were hard, but their love and support for each other sustained them. When his father passed on, Mr. Zhu was very sad. Fortunately, Tzu Chi volunteers made sure he wouldn’t struggle alone.
January 21, 2022, was a wet, cold day. At just a little past six in the morning, four Tzu Chi volunteers braved the heavy rain and met at an intersection in Taishan, New Taipei City, before walking to Mr. Zhu’s home. The volunteers were picking Zhu up to go to his father’s funeral.
Zhu, a 44-year-old cerebral palsy victim, is not very mobile and often relies on a wheelchair to get around. The volunteers pushed his wheelchair and held up an umbrella for him, then helped him get into the car they were taking to the funeral home. Zhu couldn’t stop thanking the volunteers, saying, “Thank you so much. It’s raining so hard today but you still came to keep me company. I don’t know how I can ever pay you back.”
When they had arrived at the funeral home, Zhu, assisted by the undertaker, Mr. Cai, went to see his father for the last time and bid him farewell before getting in the hearse headed for the crematorium. The volunteers followed the hearse in their car. Once at the crematorium, a series of rituals were performed before the body was pushed into the incinerator. Zhu reminisced about his father with the volunteers while waiting for the body to be cremated.
He told the volunteers he had been brought up by his father. He had no memory of his mother. Because he had cerebral palsy, it was no easy task to take care of him, but his father lovingly tended to his needs. Later, as his father gradually grew older, it became Zhu’s turn to take care of him. He would accompany his dad to the hospital when he was ill. It was for that reason that Zhu blamed himself for his father’s sudden passing. He felt that his dad had died so suddenly because he hadn’t taken him to the doctor soon enough when he was feeling unwell. Zhu felt that if he had just gotten his father treatment sooner, he’d still be alive. Every time he thought of this, his tears would gush forth.
The volunteers consoled him, saying, “You did your best. Your father was old, and his organs no longer functioned so well. You must take good care of yourself.” Seeing him wipe away his tears again and again, the volunteers began to feel sad too.
Families waited in clusters in the waiting area at the crematorium. Zhu was the only one there who didn’t have any family around, but he wasn’t alone thanks to the volunteers around him. Later, when his father’s ashes had been put into an urn, the undertaker said courteously to him, “I won’t charge you anything for my services today. I know the situation you are in. My best wishes to you. Please be strong.”
Zhu’s eyes glistened with tears when he heard Mr. Cai’s words. He put his palms together in front of his chest and repeatedly thanked the undertaker. The volunteers were touched by the undertaker’s kind gesture as well, which goes to show how full of love and warmth this world is. They gave Mr. Cai a deep bow to convey their appreciation.
The undertaker went on to say, “Sisters, I know you’re all very busy. You may go home now. I’ll carry the urn for Mr. Zhu and drive him to the columbarium to have the urn placed there. I’ll drive him home afterwards. Don’t you worry.” The volunteers bowed to Mr. Cai again. His selfless giving elicited their deepest respect.
Tzu Chi volunteers accompany Mr. Zhu to his father’s funeral on a winter morning in January 2022.
Support through a hard time
Tzu Chi started providing help to Zhu and his father in July 2017. In September that year, a group of volunteers joined medical workers from Taipei Tzu Chi Hospital to give their home a thorough cleaning. Volunteers continued extending care to the father and son after that, including helping them move into a new home in August 2020. Throughout it all, they helped the two men weather one difficulty after another. Eventually the father and son became donating members, making regular donations to the foundation, despite their modest means.
Zhu’s father, 94, was hospitalized this January. Just a few days after he checked into the hospital, the hospital informed Zhu that his father’s condition had become critical. They told him to prepare clothes for his father to wear in anticipation of his imminent passing. Zhu was shocked and sad. He never anticipated his father’s condition would deteriorate so fast. His hands were not strong enough to open their wardrobe at home, so he quickly asked for help from Tzu Chi volunteer Lin Shu-mei (林淑梅).
Lin went to their home and opened their wardrobe to pick out the clothes. She was greeted by a musty smell. She went through the clothes inside and discovered they were either too tattered or old to be worn. She eventually found a suit that could serve the purpose, but she needed other clothes as well. Hopping on her motor scooter, she visited a few stores and bought with her own money some new underwear, socks, shirts, and a pair of shoes for Zhu’s father.
Zhu was a good son and hard-working too. He had had surgery for cancer two years before, but just one week after he was discharged from the hospital, he returned to work. He did his best to make a living. After his father passed on, he said to Tzu Chi volunteers, “Now that my dad is no longer around for me to take care of, I can work eight hours a day instead of four.”
Volunteers asked him if he needed help tidying up his home and sorting his father’s stuff. He tearfully declined their offer of help. “Thank you, sisters. I’m not in the mood to do that just yet. My home might be a bit messy, but I want to keep it that way for a while. I can’t help feeling my dad is still around. I miss him so much.” Patting him on his shoulders, the volunteers said, “Okay, we understand. Be sure to let us know if you need any help. We’ll continue to visit you at home.”
It had been just the two of them, father and son, relying on each other for the past 44 years. Though their lives were difficult, their hearts were warmed by each other’s company. It was thus no surprise Zhu was devastated by his father’s passing. Tzu Chi volunteers will continue to give him family-like support to help him feel less alone and face the future with optimism.