By Isabella Ainsworth,
Junior Marissa Wong walks through the hallways, smiling exuberantly and saying “hi” to everyone she knows. Wong is a flautist for the Davis High Symphonic Band, a lacrosse player and a second degree black belt in karate. She is also a member of pep band.
“She is a bundle of fun and happiness,” junior Sarah Hinesley said. “She brightens up everyone’s day.”
However, what many people may not know is that Wong’s father passed away last June. It was the week before finals and he was getting heart surgery.
“And it just didn’t go well,” Wong explained.
He died on June 6. Wong didn’t have to do her finals and didn’t come back to school. She talked with her counselor and her grades were frozen as they were.
After the death, her extended family came and helped. An aunt and uncle came from Hawaii, and her paternal grandmother came from Menlo Park, Calif.
“After my dad died it was so nice being surrounded by family,” Wong said.
They didn’t do anything too special together: the extended family just spent time with Wong, her mother and her younger brother. Her grandmother, who loves to cook, stayed with Wong’s aunt and uncle who live in Davis and brought over homemade Chinese food.
”They were there for a super important time,” Wong said.
The funeral took place at the Buddhist Church of Sacramento. Wong and her family are practicing Buddhists and go there every Sunday.
All of Wong’s elementary school teachers, the staff at her karate studio and her friend Jeanne Kim came to the funeral.
At the funeral, people came up and told stories about Wong’s father. The minister read a poem called “White Ashes.” Afterwards, they went out to eat at a Chinese restaurant across from Buddhist church.
At first, the death didn’t seem real.
“I was in denial for the entire summer. It just felt like he was on a trip somewhere else,” Wong said.
It hit her during the second month of this school year, though. Her father had usually done the cooking; he liked to grill steak. He also usually made Wong breakfast—throughout elementary school, it was food like toaster strudels and birds nests.
“Sometimes I forget there’s only three of us,” Wong said.
Wong’s father, Elliott, was a doctor at the Davis branch of Sutter Hospital, specializing in internal medicine. One time, when Wong was sick, he took her to work with him. He set her in front of a TV with some junk food and let her work. It was the only time Wong went to Sutter with him, and she thought it was fun.
Buddhism has helped her cope with her father’s death.
“Buddhism pushes you to be more appreciative in general, so when he died I didn’t feel like I hadn’t appreciated him enough when he was alive,” Wong said.
Wong’s sect of Buddhism is called Jodo Shinshu, or Shin Buddhism.
“Buddhism is called the religion of common sense,” Wong said. “It’s supposed to be a religion that resonates with everyone, everywhere, any time or place.”
In general, her branch of Buddhism is very “chill.” They have a Christmas party and host events like chili cook-offs.
Wong assists the teacher for the third grade Sunday school class at her temple, which usually means helping with arts and crafts; once a year she also has to teach a class. Her mother teaches the fifth grade class.
Wong’s mother, Yvonne Otani, is in charge of the pediatrics department of Kaiser Permanente in Northern California. She is very busy visiting other clinics and often doesn’t come home until nine or 10 at night.
Wong tries to help her out by doing laundry and making dinner occasionally. She also makes lunch for her little brother, and tries to remind him to do the things he’s supposed to do.
“Marissa is amazing and sweet. She always thinks about other people before she thinks about herself,” said junior Chiara Armstrong, who met Wong through band and plays lacrosse with her.
Click here to read Wong’s father’s obituary in The Davis Enterprise.