After His Wife's Death, A Dad Tells His Daughter That Grief Can Be A Gift

Feb 14, 2020
Originally published on February 14, 2020 7:40 am

Eddie Chang and his three daughters lost a wife and mother when E.F. Wen died of colon cancer 10 years ago.

They're still grieving but are comforted when they read her old journals and share stories.

Eddie Chang visited StoryCorps in 2017 with his youngest daughter, Tria, now 36, to tell her the story of how he first met her mother.

After finishing his junior year in college in 1969, Eddie spent the week at his friend's house in Chicago. That visit sparked a romance between Chang and his friend's older sister, E.F, who was then 23, that would last four decades.

His late wife was willful and independent when she was younger, he said, recalling his first night at the house. She had a risky favor to ask of him.

"She went out with her friend, and they partied, and then around 2 in the morning she called and said, 'Could you get the [car] key from my parents' bedroom and come and pick us up?' " Eddie, 72, told Tria.

He had to sneak into her parents' bedroom while they were sleeping to get the key.

"She didn't want her parents to know she was out that late, I think," he said. "So I did that. And she was actually mildly impressed that I was able to do it."

E.F. and Eddie then spent all night talking, until sunrise. "I thought, 'Wow,' you know, 'she's really something special.' "

But he also considered her out of his league.

"Then, I thought, 'You know, if you don't try, you'll always regret it.' "

So when he got back to school in Columbus, Ohio, he wrote her a letter. At the time, she was living in Boston.

He checked the mail every day for three weeks until E.F. finally responded. He had almost given up hope when he got her letter. They wound up writing letters back and forth for a year.

E.F. Wen (left) and Eddie Chang in 1973.
Courtesy of the Chang family

"She had her own mind about everything, and it was very unconventional," he said.

Tria said that her mom's opinionated nature also came with a lot of charm.

"Yes," Eddie said. "She had a very infectious smile. Sort of a half-pixie-ish, gleeful grin."

The father and daughter are grateful to look back on her words from years of her journaling.

"She had this gift to write that made it sound like she was talking to you on the page," Eddie said.

Eddie said he laments that he lost the future they had planned together when his wife died.

"One of the things that I think back on a lot is that, when Mama was around we had plans, right? Oh, 'Let's go retire in China,' or something like that," he said.

For Tria, some pain associated with her mother doesn't seem to fade with time.

"If I just think about the day she died or how I miss her, I cry immediately," she said.

Eddie told his daughter he's found comfort through that pain.

"The pain of the grief, that's also a gift," he said. "When you stop grieving is when you start losing contact with the person. But as long as you can grieve for her, then she will always feel very close. And so for me, actually, I welcome it. ... Because then I feel much closer to her."

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Kamilah Kashanie.

StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

NOEL KING, HOST:

Today on StoryCorps, Eddie Chang had just finished his junior year in college, and he was hanging out at his friend's house in Chicago. His friend's sister, E.F., was there too, and that week, Eddie and E.F. started a 40-year romance. Eddie came to StoryCorps with their youngest daughter, Tria, to remember it all.

EDDIE CHANG: The first night, she went out with her friend, and they partied. And then around 2 in the morning, she called and said, could you get the key from my parents' bedroom and come and pick us up? She was very naughty when she was young. She didn't want her parents to know she was out that late, I think. So I did that, and she was actually mildly impressed that I was able to do it (laughter).

TRIA CHANG: Yeah, you had to sneak into their bedroom while they were sleeping?

E CHANG: It's a skill you get to acquire in college.

(LAUGHTER)

E CHANG: We stayed up, and we talked and talked and talked about everything until the sun came up. I thought, wow, you know, she's really something special. But I said, she's way beyond what is within my reach.

T CHANG: (Laughter).

E CHANG: But then I thought, you know, if you don't try, you'll always regret it. So I wrote her a letter, and that was the start of it.

She had her own mind about everything. And it was very unconventional.

T CHANG: Yeah, she wasn't afraid to state her opinions. But I think she had so much charm, also.

E CHANG: Yes. Yes. She has a very infectious smile, sort of a half-pixie-ish, gleeful grin. And she had this gift to write that made it sound like she was talking to you on the page.

T CHANG: Yeah. That's why I'm so grateful she journaled all those years...

E CHANG: Yeah.

T CHANG: ...Because when I miss her, I just read her journals, and it...

E CHANG: And you can hear her voice.

T CHANG: Yeah, exactly.

E CHANG: Yeah. But I guess one of the things that I think back on a lot is that when Mama was around, we had plans, right? Let's go retire in China or something like that. So I think the worst part about losing Mama is losing my own future, in that sense.

T CHANG: There are some pains that never go away. If I just think about the day she died or how I miss her, I cry immediately.

E CHANG: The pain of the grief - that's also a gift because when you stop grieving is when you start losing contact with the person. But as long as you can grieve for her, then she will always feel very close. And so for me, actually, I welcome it...

T CHANG: Yeah.

E CHANG: ...Because then I feel much closer to her.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIENNA TENG SONG, "CITY HALL")

KING: That was Eddie Chang and his daughter Tria. E.F. died 10 years ago in January. That interview will be archived in the Library of Congress. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.