One day, when my mom was 11 years old, she came home to find her Por Por, her grandmother, crying in her room.
My mom and her brother asked Por Por what was the matter, and Por Por replied that she had spied an image of herself in the mirror across the hall. From her place on her bed, the reflection would have been impossible.
Furthermore, as she watched her own image in the mirror, the image of her deceased husband — my mother's grandfather, or Gung Gung — appeared next to her. At first she was relieved to see him, since his death she looked forward to the glimpses she would get of him from time to time. But his image did not stay with hers. After a few moments, he walked away and disappeared.
Por Por was heartbroken.
In life, Por Por and Gung Gung had been devoted to each other. Though it was expected for a man to have many wives in early 20th-century Hong Kong, Gung Gung never took a concubine. Even when their infant son died, leaving them with "only" my mother's mother, he did not take a concubine to give him a son. They chose to adopt an orphaned boy instead.
Gung Gung only loved Por Por.
Apparently their love was rather legendary in the community at the time. A man not taking a concubine? Only having one wife? Even my Mar Mar, my dad's mother, knew about their love story. Despite having been an arranged marriage, theirs really seemed to be a case of "soul mates."
Before Gung Gung died, he and Por Por had vowed to wait for each other after death. One would not move on without the other. They would meet again when their ashes were scattered together, and they would forever be as one.
When Por Por saw her image in the mirror, she feared it was a portent of her own death. However, the sight of Gung Gung comforted her — even if it was her time, Gung Gung was there with her, just as he had promised. But when he turned away, she was distraught.
Was he not waiting for her? Had he left her? For the first time since Gung Gung's death, Por Por felt very alone.
In her despair, Por Por turned to her mother, my mom's great-grandmother. At 100 years old, Taai Por's (great-grandmother's) connection to the spirit world and "ghost seeing eyes" were the most respected among the women in the family — a status Por Por inherited after her mother's death. Taai Por told her daughter to dry her eyes, that her husband only came back to visit, to say goodbye. For now.
Seeing what she could "see," knowing what she knew, Taai Por told Por Por that while her husband would always wait for her, he did not want her to live the rest of her life in the shadow of death. It was not her time; she had more life to live. Gung Gung would wait for her quietly, just out of sight.
So Por Por did as her mother and husband asked of her and lived on. She lived on for 12 more years, helping to raise four grandchildren, and giving many "street girls" a home and a way to earn money.
(Great-grandmother would bring home little girls she saw on the street, give them a place to live, and teach them what she knew — how to care for the home. Though our family was not wealthy, she paid them what little she could, turned the building's basement into rooms for the girls, and gave them skills that would give them a chance at life. "Help" in the home was common across most social classes — it was a different time in Hong Kong — but my great-grandmother used the convention as a compassionate way to make a difference.)
Por Por's remaining years were peaceful, surrounded by family, but she always longed for Gung Gung. She never stopped looking for him, never stopped thinking of the day when they would be reunited.
When Por Por died, the family rented a boat and scattered her and Gung Gung's ashes at Lei Yue Mun, a channel in Victoria Harbour.
As my mom said, Por Por and Gung Gung finally got to "fly away together."
Not all ghost stories are scary. A chill down your spine doesn't preclude a pull at your heart. So often we focus on the more frightening aspects of what's lurking in the Creepy Corner that we forget that wondering about the afterlife is how many people and cultures handle the promise of death. No matter what you believe, it is undeniable that we seek to find comfort when confronted with mortality.
More than a ghost story, this is how my great-grandmother found peace in death.
What stories have brought you comfort when confronted with death?
Do you have any ghost stories or eerie tales that warm your heart? Stories of love beyond the grave? Helping spirits?