Yesterday, my Uncle left the ones who loved and respected him here on Earth to join the other angels who are watching us from above. He was a great man who managed to still make us all smile and laugh hysterically to his last breath. I will never forget the many memories that we have shared.
I arrived here in WA on Thursday and some time around 3am when I couldn't fall asleep, I was on FB and noticed my niece (my oldest cousin's daughter who is my age) updating her FB with, "how can we have a family reunion without my grandpa? i hope he gets better soon". At this point, my heart dropped and wondered what was wrong with my Uncle. I texted her and knew that it was very late in the night and didn't want to wake my Parents up to inform them. That morning around 8am, she responded to me and told me that he was admitted into the ER. Having been at the hospital so much this past year, I knew that it was urgent and just knew that I had to be there. My Parents dropped everything they were doing and luckily, my Sister had just gotten back into town as well and we made our way to the UW Medical Center, which is nearly an hour away. We stopped to pick up my Aunt (his wife, who is my Dad's oldest sister) and my other Aunt who just flew in from Ohio (my Dad's younger sister). We finally made it to the hospital and there was my poor Uncle laying in his bed... in pain from the cancer that he was recently diagnosed with. He also suffered some short term memory loss... what they suspected to be alzheimer's disease... but I don't like to call it that. He saw me and asked me when I came back from California and I told him just yesterday. He asked me why... and I told him that I was there to visit him and there for the family reunion. He asked me why and whats wrong with him. He later told me that he was not going to get better and this was it. Those who know me know that my tears are easy and I had to excuse myself and not let him see me cry. My poor Aunt... she was so strong and tried to hold in her emotions. I later gave her a hug and told her that its okay... and that was when she let herself go and didn't hold back her tears. My heart still breaks reliving the moment and remembering how strong she tried to be for him.
We hung out with him for another 3 or 4 more hours, fed him... though it was hard for him to swallow and he was in pain. It was hard to see him suffer like that and I only wished I could be the one to suffer... not him. He was getting tired and we knew he needed his rest and he couldn't rest with us being there. As we were leaving, my Aunt didn't want to leave him and it was obvious that he didn't want her to leave. Oh... he went on and was being the comedian that he was and was going to tell us a story of him and my Aunt. He stopped himself and said, "no... its embarrassing... I'm not saying it" (in Khmer, of course). I tried to brive him with 5 b ucks and he said that thats too little... he wouldn't say anything for less than 20! HAHA... so my Dad whips out 20 bucks and my Uncle just laughed. I will never forget that laugh. Then I said that I was going to sing him a lullaby so that he would sleep... and I did and so did my Aunt from Ohio... but then he laughed and said that he will only fall asleep if his Wife sang the lullaby to him! Awwww! That was so sweet and my Aunt got shy and blushed... imagine a nearly 80 year old woman blushing! We all laughed at how cute they were. So... my Aunt insisted on staying and of course, we understood and were fine with that. His youngest son and she stayed with him (btw... my cousin, who is his youngest son had been there with him all along). Before we left, I hugged him and told him that I loved him. I asked him to tell me that he loved me too, and he said that he can't. I was like... "WHAT? WHY NOT? YOU HAVE TO!!!!" Then my Aunt and my Mom told him that I'm like a little kid, all he has to say is, "I LOVE YOU" and I'd be happy. So... he said, "I lub you" to me! That made my day!
Our family reunion ceremony on Saturday and Sunday weren't the same without him. After the ceremony on Sunday, my Sister and Sam went to go pack their things and we went to go visit him at the hospital before their departure. My Aunt came with us, of course. He was weaker and in more pain by this time, but he still tried to talk to us as much as he can. He made us all laugh so much! He really does say the darnest things and even Sam said, "I didn't realize he was so funny!". He gave Sam and I our blessings and after feeding him some soup, he started to apologize to me. :( My Uncle is a very respected man in the Cambodian community and was what we called "Ahja"... who is, from what I know, the master of ceremony for all types of ceremonies including weddings. He was asked to be the Ahja for my wedding, but with his age and memory loss, he declined because he thought he wouldn't be able to fulfill the job... which is understandable. He apologized to me because he wasn't able to be the Ahja for us, but there was no reason for an apology. I told him that I was just glad that he was there and was by my side through it. He kept apologizing, and this really made me sad. Its amazing how he has memory loss but remembered everything from my wedding... he even went on and talked about where everyone was sitting and eating. It goes to show that this was something that had been bothering him since and has been on his mind.
After a couple more hours of sharing stories and laughs with him, our other relatives showed up after the ceremony and it was our time to leave for the airport. He gave Sam and I our blessings once again and I gave him a hug and told him that I was going to come see him again tomorrow morning and my Parents were coming with me. He asked me where we were meeting and I told him either there at the hospital or he gets better and we'd see him at home.
I finally checked my voicemail later that evening and there was a voicemail from his doctor telling me that he was doing okay and his condition was stable at the moment. I wondered why and how my phone number got on the white board at the hospital, but I guess my Aunt (his Wife) gave them my number rather than all 5 of his older children because they had both loved and trusted my Sister and I and knew that we were attentive. I was flattered, yet so shocked. I didn't know when the message was left since I hadn't checked my voicemail in days, but assumed that it was old.
Yesterday morning, as we were getting ready to leave to go see him, we got a phone call telling us that he had just passed away. My heart shattered and I couldn't believe that I didn't make it to see him as I had promised. WHY did I wait so long? All I wanted was to see him smile one last time and to give him another hug and tell him that I loved him and hopefully get another "I lub you" from him. He was with his son, Bong Sarim, at the time and he had just finished giving him a back massage and had just laid him back down in bed. He asked if my Uncle felt better and he said he felt a lot better and wasn't in pain. While he was sleeping, about 5 minutes later, he passed away. All I can be thankful for now is knowing that he went peacefully and painless. Best of all, he got to see all of his family before he passed because everyone was there for the reunion as well. He was a great Man and I know that he is in a better place. He lived a long life of 82 years... we all wish it could have been longer.
Oum, may your soul rest in peace. You know that we all love you and miss you so much. Your smile, laugh, and memories of you will always live on in our hearts and your legacy will continue for many generations to come.