I got married! Well, I kinda did.
I finally got to check off one of my main goals during this year's extended stay in Taiwan: to host a wedding banquet for my family, especially my grandfather.
After almost canceling the event, I can finally take a deep breath, knowing that the celebration went as well as it could have.
Growing up, I was always very close to my grandparents in Taiwan. In fact, they were my de facto parents from age 5 to age 10 while my real parents started a new life in the U.S.
Once I moved to the U.S. at age 10, time spent with my grandparents became shorter with each passing year. I'd return to Taiwan every year, but only for a week or two at a time. Time wasn't a priority as I was carving out my own career. I naively figured they would always be there whenever I returned.
When my grandmother passed away 3 years ago, I was devastated. Although her health had been deteriorating steadily for over a decade, the news of her passing struck me like lightning.
Coincidentally, I was in Ireland with Joanna when the news of her death reached me. It was the last day of our first official week-long first date. Her flight was the night before mine, so I took her to the bus stop and waved goodbye to her in the rain. I then ducked into a bar to have one last pint of Guinness before heading to the airport in the morning.
That's when I saw an voicemail from my mom. When I finally got a chance to listen to it, my heart sank.
I flew back to the U.S. the next day and immediately bought a ticket to Taiwan. Burying my grandma was one of the hardest things I had ever done. It was at this time when my mindset shifted. After her funeral, I made the decision to spend more time with my grandpa before it was too late.
A couple of years later, that decision became a reality
I left my job in LA in 2017 and proceeded to spend 6 weeks in Taiwan, the longest stint since moving to the U.S. almost 30 years ago.
This year's stint is even longer, close to half a year. With Joanna by my side, I've been able to spend a lot of time with Grandpa. I even took Joanna to my old elementary school, one that I only know by name and didn't even recognize when I set foot in it for the first time since 4th grade.
When I proposed to Joanna, I asked her if she would be open to hosting a wedding banquet in Taiwan this year, even though we weren't planning to have the official ceremony until next year in Poland.
I knew at age 94, Grandpa didn't have much time left, and I wanted to make sure he got to see us on stage.
Joanna graciously agreed. We would host a simple lunch reception for our Taiwanese family and friends. Grandpa would sit front and center.
His health has deteriorated significantly this year. When I first saw him in January, he was still riding a bicycle. Now, he can barely walk.
A couple of weeks before the reception, he landed in the hospital. I thought long and hard about canceling the event. Without him around, there would be no point.
Fortunately, his got well enough to leave the hospital a few days before the big day, and the event went on as planned.
We had made it.
An Old Story
My parents, Joanna, and I got up on stage to welcome our guests while my grandpa looked on. I took the mic to speak a few words, but proceeded to choke up immediately. We had gone through so many emotions in the couple of weeks leading up to the banquet, and I couldn't believe it was actually happening.
After I regained my composure, we sang happy birthday to Grandpa. His birthday was just the day before. The whole crowd cheered and sang to him. Seeing the smile on his face was priceless.
I also told a story from 30 years ago.
When I was young, my grandma always got me to finish my bowl of rice by saying that if I didn't finish, I'd end up marrying an ugly wife. As a 10-year-old, that scared the crap out of me. Even though I hadn't hit puberty, I at least knew that I had zero intentions of marrying an ugly wife.
Credit my smart grandma for getting a kid to eat without being picky. Even to this day, I am the least picky eater I know, and I am physically incapable of putting down my plate until I finish every morsel of food in sight.
I proudly proclaimed on stage that Grandma would be proud of me today. I didn't end up marrying an ugly wife. Instead, I ended up marrying a beautiful wife.
A few days later, I took Joanna to my grandma's tomb. I told her that I missed her dearly, that I think about her every single day. I told her that I've done good. I found a great girl who treats me well, and we are very happy together.
Although the trip isn't without its ups and downs, my heart is full of love and appreciation for being able pull off this very special wedding banquet.
Joanna and I will be headed to Poland for the rest of 2018, but I leave Taiwan knowing that I did my best to spend quality time with people I care about the most.
Because no one knows when those opportunities will be lost forever.