February 26, 2007

Better Late than Never... Rest In Peace.

I still remember her smiles to this day. Her eyes would get small and the ends of her lips stretched further to the side and slightly curve when it reached its furthest point. She was almost always smiling, yet she was always so concerned and worried about everything that was going on around her. Thats my Grandmother for you... she was just beautiful.

My Grandmother, my Mother's mother, was the only grandparent of mine that survived the Khmer Rouge and made it to America before I was even born. Needless to say, she was always in my life... and in my heart. We all lived in one house at one point. My memory is dense since I was so young at the time... not even sure if I knew how to talk yet back then. I do remember being in the house with her while everyone else was off at school or doing the usual strenuous work we used to do just to get by. She was so calm and patient with me, even when I was a difficult brat to deal with. She would braid my hair for me because I didn't know how and my mom wasn't at home at the time. She was the one who taught me how to braid. I never got a chance to ask her who she learned it from... but I'm guessing it was her mother, my Great Grandmother. My Grandma loved mangos... and so did I! She always peeled and diced them into perfect cubes so neatly that you thought it was too pretty to eat, but you ate it anyway because you couldn't resist. My parents always sliced their mangos... but not my Granny! She diced hers... and thats still my favorite way to have my mangos! She introduced some of my siblings and my cousins to something that I never would have thought of. Ever tried dipping your French bread into condensed milk? MmMmMm... that was probably one of my favorite snacks growing up. Granny taught me so many things, little things. In this case, little things aren't so little... especially the memories that follow.

My parents usually left the house at dawn, and it was up to my Grandma to watch over me. There were times when it was up to her to get me dressed and ready for school, and sometimes, braid my hair the way that I have always liked it. She made sure that I, and my cousins, had plenty to eat. Porridge with the shredded meat was probably my favorite meal, even when there were more choices. She liked it too! My sister used to always make Shark Fin soup, she knew that my Grandma liked it too and always made sure to bring some over to her whenever she made it. That was when she was healthy and able to do everything on her own.

As the years passed, her health deteriorated and it became difficult for her to do things on her own. She lived with my aunt and her family, which includes my younger cousin who suffered an illness and many seizures at a very young age, which left her disabled. Lyna then became my Grandmother's main concern. Even when my Grandma was incapable of doing everything that she used to at the pace that she did, she always made sure that things were okay in the house, and with Lyna. I observed her whenever I stayed the night, as difficult as it was for her to get around in her walker, she made sure that everything was safe and sound inside and outside the house. She would slowly push her walker around, making sure that things were unplugged, lights were turned off, windows and doors were locked. That's just her, very caring and protective of the people she loved.

My aunt used to ask me to go stay with her and Lyna on some occasions whenever she needed to get out of the house. My other cousin, Leroy was too young to stay with her at the time to take care of both Lyna and Grandma. At that age, I was selfish and naive, more concerned of my wants and needs than anybody else's. My aunt used to have to pay me just to go stay with my very own Grandma. I look back at it now and kick myself because it wasn't really a job, it was more of a priviledge. I took her presence for granted and now I admit to even feeling like she was a burden who prevented me from having a normal life after school and on the weekends. I am ashamed of myself for every having such thoughts. Even when I was getting paid to take care of her, I was negligent to her and her needs. All I would worry about was what was on television and the opportunity to talk on the phone with my friends. I would ignore her calls to me when she needed something and was sometimes irritated with her wishes. At the time I felt fine, but as I look back, I am so embarassed and ashamed of myself. I put her through a lot of stress when I was over there. I would get into fights with my younger cousin to the point where she had to tear us apart from each other. I saw the frustration in her face, but I didn't care because it was all about me and what I wanted. As bizarre as this may be, I have even pulled a knife to my younger cousin... all because we were fighting over the TV remote or something along that line. Stupid, I know... but I didn't know any better at that age. I will never forget the panic she felt and the screams and tears she shed just trying to stop us. I felt awful then, but I feel even worse now.

Just like anybody else, I made mistakes and did things that I regret and only wish I could turn back the hands of time and do differently. We know that its impossible, so I try not to dwell on it so much... learn from my mistakes. But along with the bad memories, there were many, many good memories.

My sisters and I stayed with our Grandma one summer while my parents and relatives, including my aunt whom my Gramdma was living with went to Cambodia. We switched shifts with each other because we still had school and my sisters had work to attend. My brothers would stop by and help take over some shifts whenever they could. We all loved my Grandmother very much... even if we don't show or say how we feel. Our family was never good at showing our affection for one another and our emotions anyhow.

She had such a great sense of humor... so funny without even knowing it! She said the darnest things sometimes and would laugh at little things that weren't meant to be funny or weren't even funny at all. That summer that my siblings and I stayed with her, we were watching a Thai movie on the big screen TV, and there happened to be a scene where the place was on fire. My silly Grandma, she screamed and said that it was hot and told us to put out the fire. When we told her that it was only in the movie, she calmed down and somehow, wasn't hot anymore. Hehe, she's so silly sometimes... I love it. She really loved me. My sister used to think that she favored me, but I knew that she loved all of us equally... she was just more protective of me because I was the youngest. She loved watching Khmer karaoke, and so did I! I am not a good singer. There are times when I try, and other times when I just hold the microphone and lip synch. One time when she was sitting in the living room watching me lip synch, she told me that I sang really well. Enjoying the praise, I thanked her and continued to lip synch while she continued to watch. I accidentally dropped the microphone and the voice kept going. She looked at me, puzzled. I tried to play it off but she figured out what was going on and never complimented my singing ever again! Thats still something that I look back and laugh at... hehe!

Predictably, her health only got worse and worse. She suffered strokes every few months and had to spend so many nights in the emergency rooms and intensive care. I will never forget the first stroke she had. It was Khmer New Year's and everyone was ending the celebration at one of the houses. I was at the temple performing Classical dances. As I was changing out of my costume, my sister came and grabbed me, pulling me towards the car with tears in her eyes. She wouldn't tell me what was going on until we got into her car. She cried and said to me, "Grandma passed away". The tears just kept streaming and it was the first time I felt a knife through my heart and felt as weak as I did. We arrived at the hospital and rushed to see the rest of the family. It was a miracle! She had a stroke and everyone thought that it was the end for her, but a miracle had happened and she pulled through! It was unbelievable, a blessing. That was probably the first time I thought to myself that I should no longer take her for granted because I'll never know when she would have her last breath.

She suffered and survived many more severe strokes after that. We were always even more grateful everytime, but her condition worsened everytime. It eventually got to the point where she was unable to walk and have to be carried everywhere. Her bedroom was only feet away from the bathroom, but she would have to be carried regardless. She lived in her bed, and would only be out of the bed for one or two hours at a time to sit on the couch in the living room or on the chair. She had to be rotated every few hours so that parts of her body wouldn't become numb. It was difficult for her to bathe and my aunt had to do so for her. My aunt is such a strong woman and continued to take care of Grandma to the best of her ability... AND Lyna. Leroy played a big role in this, and that is why I commend him and admire him for being so strong and able to help out. He sacrificed a lot, and as a teenager he was more responsible and caring than anyone else his age. My aunt never complained about her duties, but you can only imagine what it was like for her. She was on duty 24 hours a day, it makes me wonder how she ever had time to breathe and time for herself. Its heartbreaking to even think about what was possibly going through Grandma's mind, feeling like she was a burden on everyone. She wasn't a burden, she was the heart and soul of our family and no one would have ever wanted to trade her in for anything, not even freedom from anything it may be.

My Granny was a survivor. She spent a few years in her worst condition. It was difficult for her to talk, and it seemed like the only thing that she was able to do was moan to let people know that she needed something. She was unable to express what she wanted and needed, but everyone always figured it out because it had become so routined. Despite the physical state that she was in, she was well aware of everything that was going on. The day after I won the beauty pageant, I went over to her house to visit her. There she was, lying in her bed as usual... but this time she gave me a sweet and genuine smile that let me know that she was proud of me. That was the first smile I had witnessed from her in a long time, which brought tears of joy to my eyes. She tried to murmur something to me and it took a long time for my mom, aunt, and I to interpret. She wanted to say that she wanted to be there. I was overwhelmed with emotions and broke down. My Granny used to love watching pageants, and I know that I made her proud. She even tried to give me the last of her money that she had saved up from many years before, but of course, I refused. Thats her, so loving and generous... not an ounce of hatred in her.

About a year later, a little bit past midnight on March 24th 2003, my aunt called and told us that Grandma wasn't breathing and didn't move. We lived only minutes away, and I didn't even have the patience to wait for my mom, I drove there by myself in what seemed to be seconds while everyone else came a few minutes later. I think that everyone was a bit prepared for this time to come, but it was still difficult. I walked into my aunt's house and it was quiet besides the Buddhist chanting that was played on the stereo by her bed. I tried to stay calm as I approached her room to find my cousin and aunt with their arms over her body, crying. She looked so calm, still in her bed. I thought that I was prepared for it, but the tears that streamed made me realize otherwise.

Many of the tears that I cried that night was due to my regrets of my own actions. How could I have been so selfish and careless? I know that my parents taught me better, and so did she. It bothers me to know that there was so much more that I could have done, but I didn't. She only lived a few minutes away and I could have easily paid her more visits than I did. I shouldn't have been asked to go stay with her all those times, I should have been the one asking for the opportunity to do so. I've spent my money carelessly on other things for myself, but I had never gotten the chance to buy my Grandmother anything. She loved fruits, especially mangos and I never even bought her one. Why did I ignore her when she called out for me at times? Because I was lazy or felt that her needs weren't as important as mine? How could I have been so selfish?

I am guilty of many things. I never got the chance to fully tell my Grandmother that I loved her. I never reassured her that she was not a burden to anyone, but was a priceless gem to us. I never got to let her know that I felt so fortunate to have been able to know my Grandma... the best Grandma there was. I always admired her and her generosity towards anyone she came to contact with. I was never good at talking and dealing with death. Hers was my first that I really had to face. I must admit that it was hard for me to look at her picture for a while because it just reminds me that she is no longer here. It also made me feel even more guilty because it reminded me of all the things that I regret and should have done.

Its hard for me to express my feelings in words. I've been hiding behind this monitor at work hoping that no one would notice me crying. I dread the month of March because it always reminds me of the day that she went to a better place, while everyone who loved her lost a piece of themselves. It just hit me because we're down to the last days of February, and I know that the anniversary of her passing is quickly approaching. I really miss her, and I know that everyone else does too. My sister told me that she had been having dreams about our Granny, which made me miss her even more.

My Grandmother was well loved, and she still is. She had many children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren that still miss her to this day. She was loved by everyone who ever crossed paths with her, I'm sure of it. Its a loss for anyone who never got a chance to know her and have a piece of memory with her. She was a wonderful person who holds a place in all of our hearts. She's in a better place now and is silently watching over us. I never believed that Angels existed, but I do now. She's my Angel, the sweetest one of all.

When someone makes an impact in our lives and hold a place in our heart, we should never take them for granted because we never know what tomorrow brings... or if tomorrow would even come. I have learned that I need to say the things that I want to say before its too late. I don't want to have any more regrets and live the rest of my life feeling guilty because it could have been different, but I didn't do anything to change that. I never really said everything I felt about Grandma, and it was an emotional thing to do writing this. Yet, its a nice release to speak how I feel without holding back too much. I know that there are others in the family who feel the way I do, but its difficult for us to express it to each other. I would hate to look back a few years from now and be upset at myself for not having done this.

I love you so much, Yeay!

May you rest in peace.

Yours truly,

Jow Thyda

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