Great fun and deep loss

It has been a whirlwind two weeks or so. It began with a busy yet amazing vacation. There are too many highlights to mention, so I won’t cover everything.

We met our friends, Aaron and Heather, in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), Vietnam. We saw most of the major sights we wanted to see in the first day, including the War Remnants Museum.

The second day, after many hours of walking, Aaron and Heather treated us to a foodie tour. It was so cool! We each hopped on the back of a moped and sped around Ho Chi Minh, stopping to eat many traditional dishes. One of my favorites was the scallops, served on a oyster shell, with cilantro and peanuts and a delicious sauce.

We took a bus from Vietnam to Phnom Penh, Cambodia. We had a drink at the historical Foreign Correspondent’s Club, learned much about Cambodia’s very recent history at the Tuol Sleng Museum, and saw the sunset on a private boat ride along the many rivers that meet near Phnom Penh.

From there, we took another bus to Siem Reap to see perhaps my favorite part of the trip: the Angkor Wat temples. Built mostly in the 10th-12th century, it was awe-inspiring. We saw both the sun rise and set at various temples. 

And for much of our vacation, we melted in the 100-110 degree heat.

We parted ways with Aaron and Heather, and headed off to Bangkok to meet up with John’s brother, Jason. After a brief stint in BKK, we headed back to Nongkhai for a few days of work before Songkran.

Songkran Festival is a 3-day festival celebrating the Thai New Year every April. The tradition involves sprinkling or throwing water on each other - or lehn nahm in pasah Thai.

We embraced the Songkran spirit in many ways: with a ceremonial and traditional water ceremony, by watching a parade that involved much water throwing every which way, sprinkling Buddhist monks with water, and getting in water ‘fights’ with everyone in our community. Sr. Pranee especially enjoyed catching us by surprise and pouring ice water down our backs.

Unfortunately, in the midst of the first official day of Songkran, during a barbecue with all of the patients and a few of us staff, our dear patient (let’s call her Nan) had a fit unexpectedly. We were inside visiting Sr. Mary at the time, so we didn’t see what happened. It could have been a food obstruction, although John and other nurses and paramedics weren’t able to remove it shortly thereafter. It could have been a stroke. 

Whatever the reason, Nan ended up in the hospital before she started breathing again. But we found out shortly later that she only recovered 20% capacity of her brain. We all visited her in the hospital a few hours later, and shortly thereafter, she passed away.

Nan was perhaps the most well known patient at the Care Center. I massaged her every week, due to her health situation. We all enjoyed laughing with her. She couldn’t speak but she spoke volumes with her eyebrows and facial expressions.

One day, when I was massaging her, I let out a little toot by accident. She and I stopped, looked at each other, and simultaneously burst out into laughter. Even later that day, when I shared the story with someone else, she and I couldn’t contain our laughter.

Before the funeral occurred (which is delayed due to the holiday), Aaron and Heather met up with us in Nongkhai, shared some Songkran experiences, and got to meet many of the dear people in our lives here. We were sorry to see them go.

On the day of the funeral, we were all packed like sardines in several pick-up trucks. Nan’s body was in a white box with flowers placed on top. We all sprinkled scented water on her body and paid our respects. Each person lit some incense in her honor. The Buddhist monks and all in attendance who are familiar chanted various prayers.

There were many tears.

Despite the grief, I am grateful that I got to know Nan. She brought so much joy to our lives, and it’s hard to imagine the Care Center without her in it.

I’m also grateful to our friends and family who support us near and far. It was really good to have Aaron and Heather and Jason here with us.

Antonia just told us that when she first arrived as a volunteer 16 years ago, there were often 3 funerals per week - since there wasn't HIV/AIDS medication available. I can't even imagine how I would handle that.