Sunday, September 21, 2014

Father-in-law offers many lessons, but can I learn them?


June 17, 2011 |

Marion is on vacation. This column first ran in September 2002.

I wonder if there are certain things I just can’t learn. I’m not talking about nuclear physics, which I know I can’t learn, or tying flies, which doesn’t interest me. I’m talking about genuine life skills, things I truly want to learn.

Let me tell you about my father-in-law, Laoh Yeh. He is 81 years old and his emphysema is very bad. Although he smoked for part of his life, the doctors say his illness comes primarily from years as a grill cook.

Emphysema sucks the energy right out of you. Last weekend in San Francisco I watched as he stumbled from the breakfast table to his couch (five feet) and lay down, exhausted.

“It’s like running a race all the time,” he explained. “You’re huffing and puffing as if you’ve gone five miles. I’m a fighter, Marion, but I have to tell you the truth. I’m getting tired.”

He lost ground this summer. In July I wrote, “despite the oxygen tube, he still looks robust.” Two months later, that’s no longer true.

His forearms were always strong, but they’re splotchy now, with reddened areas the shape of crushed cherries, probably from the drugs. He eyes recede into the drug-induced puffiness of his face, and inoperable cataracts are stealing his sight.

His hands still remind me of his mother’s. I met her 24 years ago, just before I married Bob and just after she had moved here from China. She was very gray and very old, but her hands were like puppies, warm and smooth and eager to touch. Laoh Yeh has those hands now, and when I visit, he takes my cooler hand and hangs on to it way past greeting length.

Sometimes we sit together, with him holding my hand, and the contact always gets him talking.

“I’m the luckiest man alive, Marion. Can you believe my grandchildren? Every one of them a good kid.”

They all carry a piece of his heart.

While he pauses to catch his breath, I think of everything he has lost this year. He went from using oxygen occasionally, to wearing the nose tube all the time. He had to quit his Monday mah jong group that met for 50 years. He couldn’t attend weddings, baby parties, or the Lew Family Association dinner anymore. He no longer accompanies his wife when she teaches tai chi in the park.

This summer he barely managed an occasional meal out with the family, at the closest restaurant, with his daughter dropping him off right next to the door. Now he only leaves home for doctor’s appointments, in a wheelchair, and I’m angry that doctors don’t come to the house.

Like anyone, he has his crabby moments, but his apologies follow as quickly as the splash after a dive. In the middle of such prolonged suffering, I don’t know how he does it.

A month ago my husband reported, “Dad dressed himself today. He said that made him happy.” Bob look bewildered as he tried to imagine feeling that way.

“And he went for a ride on the stair lift. Up and down the staircase, twice. He said it made him happy. He thanked me again for installing that thing.”

My husband located the stair lift after a long search on the Internet. He bought it, installed it, and tinkered with it on repeated visits until he got it just right. The stair lift has become another one of the sweet mementos that fill Laoh Yeh’s house like the smell of Chinese noodles. I think he rides it to feel the love.

I’ve got a few more years to try, but I wonder if I can ever acquire Laoh Yeh’s pleasure in small things despite the pain. Oh, sure I can appreciate a sunset or a flower when I’m lying on the beach after a great day of kayaking.

But when I’m in pain, I think about my pain. When I feel better, I think about how much better I feel. And when I’ve been feeling fine for a while, I go back to my regular life, quickly forgetting how good that life is.

Laoh Yeh is grateful for everything. A meal. A phone call. A visit. He’s a radiant presence in our family, the hearth in the center of the room. We draw closer.

His birthday party this week was a sad and tender experience. With skin as pale and thin as filo dough, Laoh Yeh sat at the table passing out little red envelopes. Although they’re traditional at Chinese New Year, Laoh Yeh is dispensing them early. We all understand his haste.

He eats. He talks. He takes the hand of his littlest grandchild. His body hurts and disappoints him, but he flicks away the bad stuff like lint on his pajama.

I don’t know if I can learn to do that. But without his example, I wouldn’t even know to try.

— Marion Franck lives in Davis with her family. Reach her at Her column is published Sundays.



  • Recent Posts

  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this newspaper and receive notifications of new articles by email.

  • .


    Elementary school counselors: necessary, but poorly funded

    By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: A1 | Gallery

    Bet Haverim hosts High Holy Day services

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A1

    Teams assess damage as wildfire burns

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2 | Gallery

    Driver arrested for DUI after Saturday morning crash

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A2

    Help raise funds for juvenile diabetes cure

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    Jewelry, art for sale at Senior Center

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    Davis Community Meals needs cooks

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    Hawk Hill trip planned Sept. 30

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

    UC campus chancellors granted hefty pay raises

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A4

    Send kids to camp!

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

    Da Vinci awarded $38,000 for restorative justice program

    By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: A4

    Outdoor yoga marathon celebrates community

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A5

    Wise words

    By Sue Cockrell | From Page: A12



    Awareness is key to this fight

    By Creators Syndicate | From Page: B5

    Where is this going?

    By Creators Syndicate | From Page: A6

    We’re living in the Golden State of emergency

    By Debra DeAngelo | From Page: A6

    Options for protection come with flu season

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A6

    Are we there yet? Not enough hours in the day to goof off

    By Tanya Perez | From Page: A6Comments are off for this post

    Don’t sell city greenbelt

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10

    Paso Fino project is flawed

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10

    Paso Fino — it’s not worth it

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10

    Archer will get my vote

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10

    It’s time for Davis Scouts to stand up for what is right

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A10

    Mike Keefe cartoon

    By Debbie Davis | From Page: A10

    Building something at schools’ HQ

    By Our View | From Page: A10

    Speak out

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A11

    Maybe David can beat Goliath again

    By Lynne Nittler | From Page: A11 | Gallery



    DHS gets on its Morse to beat Edison

    By Thomas Oide | From Page: B1 | Gallery

    JV Blue Devils drop low-scoring affair

    By Spencer Ault | From Page: B2

    Republic FC’s fairy tale season continues

    By Evan Ream | From Page: B3 | Gallery

    Wire briefs: Giants rally falls short in San Diego

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B3

    Four local swimmers qualify for Olympic Trials

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B3

    ‘We’re a way better team’ than record, says UCD’s Shaffer

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B4 | Gallery

    UCD roundup: Aggie men pound Pomona-Pitzer in the pool

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B4

    Davis 15-year-old making a splash in European F4 series

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B8 | Gallery





    ‘Ladies Foursome’ adds shows

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3



    UCD grad’s startup earns kudos at TechCrunch event

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A7

    Styles on target for November debut

    By Wendy Weitzel | From Page: A7

    MBI hires VP of marketing

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A7

    Taylor Morrison unveils new Woodland community next weekend

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A9 | Gallery

    Rob White: What is an ‘innovation center’?

    By Rob White | From Page: A9



    Carol L. Walsh

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4



    Comics: Sunday, September 21, 2014

    By Creator | From Page: B8