Tribute: In memory of Chuyuan Qiu

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The following is a letter to Weinberg freshman Chuyuan Qiu from her mother in commemoration of Qingming Festival, a Chinese holiday to pay tribute to the dead. Qiu died Sept. 22. The letter has been translated from Chinese by Medill junior Holly He, Weinberg senior Vanessa Gao and Ina Yang (Medill ’15). The original letter, in Chinese, is below.

My dearest Chuyuan,

In a blink of an eye, it’s been more than half a year since you’ve passed. Qingming Festival is upon us. As much as it pains me to let you go, I should, and I must. My dear child, may you find eternal rest and peace beneath the earth.

This morning, your aunt and I got you flowers, your favorite sushi and jackfruit snacks — your cousin even brought you the bear-shaped cookies you adored so much all the way from Hong Kong. Holding my hand, your aunt urged me to come to terms with this overwhelming grief. “Have you ever thought what would happen if you collapsed?” she said. “Chuyuan would never want to see you like this. What if she’s gone on to be a guardian angel and is watching over you now?” I nodded as silent tears streamed down my cheeks. I know deep down in me that it is time I stop worrying my family and friends; it is time that I find closure to this uncontrollable grief.

But it is so hard. Everything about you, every memory attached to your wonderful existence on this Earth, is as vivid as a movie that keeps playing in my mind. Every night when I close my eyes, I see you smiling at me in that limbo between consciousness and sleep, your face soft and naive again, as if you were but a child. I see those bygone winter days, you at your desk studying, me sitting next to you. You’d always slide your hand under my shirt for warmth, giving my belly a gentle squeeze, teasing, “Why is your belly so soft and fatty?” I loved warming your hand, loved when you rested your head on my belly. In those moments, all was calm and sweet.

Growing up, you were always such a well-behaved kid who stayed out of trouble. People often say that all kids go through a rebellious phase, but that was never the case with you. I remember those mornings when I walked you to school — you were only in elementary school then. I’d extend my hand behind me, and you’d know to slide your little hand into mine, and we’d cross the street like that. I remember those evenings picking you up after school, when I’d ask you, “Did you have a good day today?” And you would always chirp, “Yes!” You were such a happy and carefree kid, so much so that you even made me envious. I even wanted to pick a fight with you to see if you’d get angry at all, wondering to myself, “Why is my child so even-tempered?” As an easily irritated middle-aged woman, I have a lot to learn from you about remaining calm in all sorts of situations and handling them with ease. Perhaps you were blessed with this mild nature since birth, or perhaps it could be what our ancestors called inheriting a “Buddha-like nature” from your past life. No one in our family identifies as a Buddhist, so I never thought I would find in your room your calligraphy copies of the Sutra. Had you written them in secrecy? Oh, how beautiful your calligraphy is! How could I not have noticed before?

I will forever remember that fateful morning, that devastating phone call. It felt as if the world had collapsed on me. It was the kind of agony that I could do nothing about but to let it gnaw at my insides. In those days without light, my lucid mind was despaired by helplessness, trapped in a dream that was too terrible to name. I don’t know how I ever got out of that black hole of sadness, but I couldn’t have done it without the overwhelming love from family and friends, who took shifts to keep an eye on me 24/7, who held my hand so I could catch some shut-eye without shaking uncontrollably. I am able to pen these words to you because of these people, and I am forever grateful for their support during such a time.

Recently Northwestern University officially established the Chuyuan Qiu Memorial Student Assistance Fund to help Northwestern students from China encountering unforeseen needs. Also, following the accident that resulted in your tragic death, the city of Evanston finally started the construction of a bike lane on Sheridan Road, a project that should have started way back in 2013. Sheridan Road has a memorialized space in loving memory of you. Your death reminded everyone of the importance of bike safety and encouraged Northwestern to provide its students with a safer environment. Just like your English name Aurora, the most magnificent display of light in the northern skies, you shine just as bright, just as magnificent, and even more memorable to everyone who has known you.

As your mother, there’s not much I can do for you in this life. I would have gladly traded my own life for yours without even a second of hesitation, but unfortunately God didn’t give me the chance. I believe that no matter where you are, your good virtue, kindness and wisdom will forever guard and protect you. No need to worry about me, my dearest and beloved daughter, as I am trying to live my life to the fullest. It’s not easy without you here, but I’ll try. I promise I won’t let grief stand in the way. In the next life, I hope I can still be your mother, and you my daughter. When you lean against me once more, I’ll hold you as tight as I can, as long as I can, never letting go.

Zhang Li, Chuyuan’s mother








张俐 (楚圆妈妈)