Wednesday, April 7, 2010
Grandma and Grandpa (mom's side) in front of their home in Vietnam, surrounded by mango trees.
Just found out my grandmother passed away in March. She lived in Ninh Hoa, in Southcentral Vietnam. Because I lived with my father's family back in Vietnam I didn't have the opportunity to know her very well. We've only seen each other a handful of times, but she's definitely a tough cookie! I'm from a family of hard heads, iron fists and armour plated emotions. We don't say "I love you" or even "good job", encouragement meant not getting chewed out. Having grown up with this in my blood I don't think I would want it any other way.
Grandma was born in 1929(?). She had 12 children, my mother was #6. She has 7 surviving children, 5 daughters & 2 sons. From what my mom told me a few of my uncles passed away during the American War? Others died of illness or when they were very young.
Each phase of our life is like a completely different lifetime. I asked my mom how she felt about her father's (grandpa) death back in 1995. She said she was sad, but felt that their connection was like a thin strand stretched far away. She left her parent's home as teenager to take care of an aunt with TB... a few years later she married dad and moved to Saigon. As she explains it the life she had with her parents was only 17 years. The life she had with my father was longer than that. Childhood was so long ago and seem to have occupied such a great span of time. It's quite a paradigm shift to realize you've lived with someone for the same duration as the years in your childhood. Standing here looking back I'm not the same person anymore, that lifetime is gone. I'm looking forward. I don't mourn the past, I carry it on my shoulders.
Grandpa died in 1995. His longevity was a miracle. He had stomach and/or intestinal cancer. The doctors gave him 6 months to live in the 60's? They removed 75% of his stomach and small intestines, maybe even some of his large intestines as well. I'm not sure what else was taken out. It was primitive medicine compared to today's technology and available medley of cancer treatments.
He survived the surgery and move to a small home in the countryside (top picture). He lived separately from his wife and kids, although I'm sure close contact was kept. I don't know what lead to that decision or how their relationship managed. I don't know how the children dealt with it or if anyone other than my grandfather had a say in the matter. My guess is he thought he was going to die and needed his peace before he goes. Maybe he just wanted to spend some time reflecting.
In the subsequent years he started a small farm, became a devout Buddhist. By devout I mean keeping to a strict vegan diet, observing the daily rituals and embracing the philosophy of harmony and balance. He ate what he grew and completely changed how he lived. He had a good long life in his continuing years. My grandmother eventually came to live with him.
My grandmother ran into his surgeon years later... the surgeon apologized for not being able to do more for my grandfather and gave my grandmother his condolences. My grandma turned to him and said, "What are you talking about! My husband is still alive!". My grandfather died in his 90's.
I remember Grandpa very well. I was the trouble maker on his farm, picking things before they were ripe. I remember visiting his farm when I was 4. We lived in Saigon, a mostly urban area and I've never seen how watermelons grew. I was so impressed with the huge shiny balls of green popping out of the ground that I carried one into the house to show everyone. Along with the melon I also dragged a tangle of vines behind me. I think I must have killed a plant or two. No one could yell at me because I was so happy to show them my prize! For the remainder of my visit my grandfather shadowed me to make sure I wouldn't destroy anything else. It became a hide & seek thing. I'd detect a pair of feet behind a bush or around the corner and run to him.