In stark contrast with his usual public image as a forthright, progressive politician, Examination Yuan President John Kuan (關中) is the epitome of the stereotypical doting grandfather when it comes to his 20-month-old granddaughter, nicknamed Amber.
Amber’s voice shouting: “Grandpa” is the first thing that Kuan hears when he arrives home from work every day.
“How can a child be this cute? You are melting grandpa’s heart,” Kuan says in response as he runs upstairs to scoop Amber up in his arms.
During his spare time, Kuan frequently sings nursery rhymes to Amber or takes her to a nearby branch of the Eslite Bookstore to look at children’s books.
He had avoid avoided going to the bookstore for a long time after his daughter, Wendy Kuan (關雲娣) — Amber’s mother — died in May 2011 after she fell from the kitchen window of her apartment on the 27th floor of a building in Shanghai, China.
While Chinese police have yet to ascertain whether his daughter’s death was an accident or suicide, there have been rumors that she committed suicide after she discovered that her husband, Zero Lin (林哲樂), was having an affair.
“There have been many times in my life when I felt misunderstood, or maligned by others, but nothing has ever hit me as hard as my daughter’s death did,” John Kuan said.
He added that he is still struggling to learn the bitter lessons of forgiveness and of letting go that the tragic incident has forced him to undergo.
“People often ask me why I have not recovered from the tragedy. The thing is, we all know that to forgive and to let go are the right things to do, but the connection my daughter and I had is too deep for me to just let it go,” he said. “She was the love of my life.”
Moving on after his daughter’s death has been hard enough, but forgiving his son-in-law is proving even difficult to do.
John Kuan has avoided meeting Lin ever since his daughter’s death, refusing to attend any family events where his son-in-law would be present.
However, his wife, Chang Hui-chun (張惠君), has adopted a positive attitude to cope with her daughter’s death to help herself and her husband work through the pain and grief of losing a child.
“I told Lin that he should put himself in John’s shoes and see how it would feel if Wendy was his daughter. I also wished him good luck in finding a new life partner,” Chang said.
Chang said that she and her husband had no idea that Wendy had been dating Lin until she was engaged to him. Lin also did not who his fiance’s father was until after he got engaged.
Chang said Lin has apologized to her and her husband over his wife’s death and written them several letters explaining the incident.
“However, I did not read any of those letters. My daughter’s death is an irreversible fact and all I want to do is move on and put my family back together,” Chang said.
Chang said the only thing she thought about after her daughter’s funeral was “what is best for Amber,” because adults must not let their emotions get in the way of taking care a child who is suffering through losing their mother.
To help deal with this grief, John Kuan has been writing a letter to his daughter every day since her death. He has published the more than 800 letters he has produced so far as a tribute to her.
“My daughter’s favorite writer, Wang Ting-chun (王鼎鈞), once said that he writes to forget, but I write because I want to remember,” John Kuan said, adding that remembering his daughter gives him the greatest joy.
He said he sometimes cries when holding Amber in his arms, because it brings back memories of hugging his daughter.
Amber’s innocence has also helped heal his emotional wounds, he said, recalling memorable moments with her such as when she patted his back upon seeing him cry, telling him to eat more vegetables and asking him if he was old.
Kuan said the more than 1,600 pictures of Amber he has on his cellphone are the best remedy for fatigue, especially when he is on a business trip.
“In addition, hearing my granddaughter saying: ‘I love you, I miss you, please come home soon’ on the phone is a very effective way of getting rid of my tiredness,” he said.
Chang said Amber also motivates her husband to stay healthy because he decided to cut down on alcohol, exercise more and cry less so he can live long enough to see his granddaughter graduate from college.