It’s been eight months since my last post – I’ve been busy trying to stay afloat in between work, family and marriage life. But that’s no excuse to not write about my dear father, who passed away this past August, just 18 months after my mother’s passing. I feel his absence each and every day and do not even dare to enter his room to put away his things. Dad worked 80-hour weeks as a chef to support all of us, and on days off, he tirelessly drove four hours each way to visit me at Columbia just to see for himself that I was doing well and eating well on my own. I was daddy’s little girl (being the first-born daughter after a line-up of three sons), and he was truly my inspiration for working hard and staying on path to achieve everything that I have today.
Shortly after my mother’s passing, Jon and I bought a home so that my father, brother and sister could move in with us. I was ecstatic to finally have the opportunity to take care of Dad the way he took care of me. I wanted to give him everything that he and Mom had dreamed of – their own home, a garden, a big kitchen to work in – a safe haven where they would not have to worry about paying the bills or infestation. Unfortunately, after a month of living with us, my dad suffered a stroke, which also uncovered a massive tumor in his brain. We were advised by the neuro teams at Brigham & Women’s that he should get his tumor removed in order to prevent future strokes, sight loss, etc. To that end, we worked diligently to manage his health so that he could be with us longer and be healthy enough to return to Cambodia.
Dad’s passing came as a surprise for most people, including family members, who did not fully understand the status of his emotional and physical well-being. I referenced their ignorance in a prior post, and as my husband, sister and I struggled daily with managing his health and happiness, we were saddened for our father to be abandoned by his children. It was only during his final weeks of life when certain family members began visiting him again. I do find solace in having the opportunity to bring Dad back home to us, with all the equipment and help necessary to make the transition possible, for him to spend his final 48 hours in his own home surrounded by family.
Dad, I am so, so sorry that we did not get the results we wanted from your surgery, despite us pushing you so hard, and that you spent your final months mostly alone in a rehab center. Sometimes I wish that I could just turn back time, forgo the surgery, and take you to Cambodia as promised.
One would think that experiencing a painful loss of yet another parent, we could come together as a family to mourn and pray and remember. Yet, the pettiness of certain individuals continued. He and his in-laws blatantly did not even offer condolences to me and “my” family, bypassing us at both my dad’s wake and funeral services. At the end of the day, we all just have to cut our losses and move on. Life is too short, and time is better spent with the amazing family and friends I am so blessed to have.
Tomorrow, Jon, my sisters and I will bring my parents’ ashes back to Cambodia. This will be my first time back in the country since my first time visiting with my parents back in 2008; and Jon’s and my sisters’ first time ever. I hope that we will all find peace and closure in this trip, and that my parents will be happy and at peace being back in their homeland.
Daddy & I
Thank you everyone for joining us today and for the overwhelming level of support and love you have showed us. For those who knew our father, you would know that he’s passionate about three things: 1) our mother; 2) food – both eating and cooking it; and 3) and us – his kids and grandkids; and most likely, in that order. He loved food, and we will miss our weekly buffet outings.
We knew our father would be leaving us soon, not that really lessens the pain of losing such an exceptional role model for strength, perseverance and kindheartedness. Dad was very sick in recent months, in and out of the hospital, and honestly, he did not have the same fight and willpower that he used to have. This is because he had lost the love of his life, our mother, just 18 months ago. It was tough to witness his grief and loneliness, especially at night when I would hear him have conversations in the dark, talking about his day, with whom I would assume, was our mother. Dad, we are sorry that we could not alleviate your pain nor fill the emptiness that mom had left behind. I can only hope that my marriage will be as passionate and everlasting as yours and mom.
I like to think we all got our sense of humor from our father. You all know each and every one of us is pretty hilarious in our own ways. Dad was lighthearted in spirit and always knew how to lighten the mood, even at times when mom was upset at us. One time, we were walking down the stairs, with mom in the front, and he said, “hurry up, old lady.” Another time, dad randomly walked into our bedroom while we were asleep, and decided to wake us up with a joke. Our dad said, “What do you call Michael Jackson pumping gas in Cambodia? Michael je-sahng” and then he just went to sleep. “Je-Sanhg” literally translates into pumping gas in Khmer. Get it? He also understood nicknames, like for our brother, Phan, aka, Biggie, dad always said, “hey, big-GEE. You want some rice?”
In his early life, our father was a soldier, a monk and eventually settled as a chef here in the US. He worked 80-hour weeks to provide for his wife and 10 kids, to give us the opportunity of achieving the American dream. Although he was not overly vocal about the love he had for us; he expressed his love through his actions. Like driving 4 hours to NYC to visit me in college, to make sure I was well fed, and only to stay for one hour and then make the return trip back to Boston. Or, when during a family bike ride along the beach, he saw that my sister, Phany, was about to fall off her bike, using his paternal instincts, he quickly leapt to catch her fall, and ultimately sprained his arm so badly that he was in a brace for a week, while the rest of us remained unharmed. And then, there are the recent times, when we would try to help him cross the street, because, you know, he’s pretty much blind and using a cane, he would instead insist on holding our hands to make sure that we are safe and sound. And that’s how we’ve always felt with our father by our side – safe, loved and cared for.
Dad, we know you are happy and at peace now that you are with mom. May we be blessed to be your sons and daughters in the next life. We love you and will miss you dearly.