In Memoriam: Edith Lee Lau (1918 – 2011)

You may recall that a couple of months ago, our family traveled to Hawaii to attend my sister’s wedding. Right around the time we were about to depart for Hawaii, my grandmother went to the hospital, complaining of shortness of breath. She was admitted to the ICU with fluid in her lungs. She spent almost a month at the hospital, going in and out of the ICU.

We were able to visit her in the hospital a couple of times while we were there. The last time was just before we came back to Malaysia. She seemed to be on the mend, and I hoped against hope that we would be able to see her again the next time we came back to Hawaii.

A few weeks ago, my grandmother passed away. She was 92.

Grandma Lau with Esther and Daniel

grandma esther daniel

She was laid to rest today in Honolulu. The following is the letter of remembrance that I wrote for her funeral.

I’ll always remember G-Ma as caring, generous to a fault, faithful, and feisty.

Growing up, we used to live on the same family compound in Nu’uanu, with us in the front house and Grandma and Grandpa in the back house. Grandma’s house was always open and we were always welcome to come over. We kids would spend a lot of time over there, either playing in the yard or watching tv in the house. We often had dinner over there, and sometimes we’d even get to sleep over on the weekends.

In those days, Grandpa used to sleep on a futon on the floor, so I got to sleep in the big bed with Grandma. I remember that she had an orange colored blanket that became my favorite to sleep with. I also remember that Grandma had a little, egg-shaped relic made of clear acrylic with a tiny figure of Jesus on the Cross suspended inside. It would sit by her bedside by day, and she used to clasp it to her chest as she prayed before she slept. She said it always gave her comfort to have Jesus close to her.

She and Grandpa always went to church on Sundays. They used to bring me to church sometimes. We’d all sit there in the back row with the warm sunlight streaming down on us through the stained glass windows. At the start of the service, we’d all stand and sing the hymns. And then I would draw pictures on the offering envelopes and fidget while Reverend Jow boomed out his sermon. Grandma kept me from getting too unruly by appeasing me with her box of Tic-Tacs or a mint candy or two.

Me and G-Ma

Me and Grandma Lau

When we were in elementary school, I remember getting in the car to go to school each morning and finding a little surprise the back seat. It was a baggie containing some cookies or snacks, plus some small change that I could use to buy snacks at the school cafeteria. I never saw who left the bag each morning, but it could only have been one person: Grandma.

My Mom and Grandma

My Mom with Grandma Lau

(Grandpa and Grandma owned a photographic studio and supply store called “City Art Works” in Honolulu’s Chinatown. That was back in the days of Polaroid cameras, Kodak film and Agfa photo paper. The family business was open, six days a week, for 62 years, from 1940 until 2002. Generations of Oahu photographers, from first-time students to long-time professionals, bought their photo supplies from our store.)

Dad always used to fetch us from school and bring us down to the store in the afternoons. We spent a LOT of time at the store. Grandma taught us the whole operation from receiving film and supplies, to stocking and retrieving inventory, to using the adding machine and cash register, to answering the phone and dealing with customers. She even entrusted us with the bank deposits!

Grandma was such a tireless worker. You could almost say she was a workaholic. She was always at her desk, answering phones, typing up invoices on her manual typewriter or doing the books (literally – she absolutely refused to modernize to using computers). Sometimes we thought she’d never leave the store. It was such a big part of her existence.

Grandma and My Mom

Grandma Lau and my Mom

But she did make time for others. I was especially impressed when I joined one of the church’s monthly worship and meal services at the River of Life Mission, and G-Ma ended up coming along as well. I was glad when I heard that she had begun regularly participating in these service opportunities. Giving of herself to help the less fortunate – that was always her way.

In recent years, I was really amazed that, though retired, she never quit. She stayed active with the Chinese Christian Association and the Hawaii Photographic Society. Age and minor health issues might have slowed her down, but she always stayed positive and always kept going. Even during the last weeks of her life, she was strong and feisty. She never gave up.

We were really fortunate that we were back in Hawaii to see G-Ma and spend a little time with her. It was good to be with her one last time. Though we will not see each other again here on Earth, I know we will meet again in Paradise. Until then, I still have her orange blanket to remember her by.

G-Ma and Me

Grandma Lau and me

Good-bye, Grandma. I love you and I will see you again someday!


If you would like to share a story or remembrance of Edith Lau or City Art Works, please feel free to leave a comment below.

27 thoughts on “In Memoriam: Edith Lee Lau (1918 – 2011)”

  1. My condolences to you and your family. You have beautiful family and are very blessed to have your G-ma watch over you now as your guardian angel.

  2. (hugs)
    Your grandma was such a wonderful, lovely woman…I’m very inspired to read about her dedication to serving people and God. I’m sure her legacies still lives on among the people she helped and influenced, such as you. I’m imagining her in heaven within the arms of God and she’s probably laughing and having fun right now. 🙂

  3. Wonderful memories and a great memorial to your grandmother…you were truely blessed to have someone so special in your life. Condolences to you and your family.

  4. My deepest sympathies to you & your family. Thank you for sharing the beautiful memories you had with your G-ma in Hawaii.


  5. What a good and faithful servant. And a wonderful tribute. May God comfort you with hope and certainty even as you grieve.

    1. Kalyn,

      thanks for your kind words. Sad that she’s not with us but glad that she’s in a much better place.

  6. Nate, Annie, my condolences to you and your family. Your grandma sounded like a real feisty and strong woman. And O-M-G, I didn’t know your grandparents owned the City Arts store! I used to shop there when I first started getting into photography in high school and more so in college. I mostly went to get the fancy photo paper that I would then make my own prints from. I remember your grandma at the counter. She really knew her stuff and was always so helpful! That place is an institution!

  7. Heart felt condolences to you and your family.From your post, I understand that she is one real strong lady. Keep up the spirits, cherish those memories with her and stay strong. Takecare!

  8. What lovely photos and memories…. I am so sorry for your loss, but also so glad you got to spend time with your lovely grandma while you were back home.

  9. Hey Nate,

    I am so sorry for your loss. I am glad you got to spend time with her on your last visit–I am sure that is a comfort to you. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family. Take care.

  10. My condolences to you. What a lovely woman your Grandma was. I always think people that stay active and curious even in their later years are the happiest people around because they make the most of every minute. What a great example your Grandma was.

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