CONTENT WARNING: This post contains content of deceased persons and may cause distress to viewers. Photos were taken with permission.
I decided to post these pictures because death is obviously a natural process of life but also feels very unnatural. And I just feel like I want to show it in a more natural way. Grieving is weird. Feelings are weird. This is all weird.
Last week, my dad lost his father. It wasn’t so much of a shock, considering he had been sick for some time, but death is always a surprise. My dad, being the oldest of his brothers, along with his uncle took care of the details for my grandfather. It was difficult to watch my dad try to keep himself together; he is a stoic man, not very emotional, but always honest and forthright. I am not used to seeing him hold back tears.
My grandfather was an interesting man, a good man, but I didn’t know him that well. There was a language barrier that always made it difficult for us to understand each other. But he loved my pictures and always shared them on his facebook page and with his friends. That was always cute. I learned a lot about him today through my great uncle and from my dad, about his life in Vietnam, about his capture by the government, his release, and his adaptation to the states.
A brief history:
My Ong Noi grew up in Saigon and studied government administration in university and was respected as an elder, being dubbed The Third because of his rank in his class. He met my Ba Noi at a festival at her school and told his parents that he just had to marry her or he could kill himself (he was very melodramatic). As soon as my Ba Noi graduated, they got married. They lived with his parents in a big house in Saigon - my dad even remembers growing up in that house. When my dad turned five, their family moved to Taiwan for four years (1963-66, during which time Kennedy was assassinated, and the first president of Vietnam was assassinated also, so there was a lot of chaos). Being in the foreign ministry, my Ong Noi started as Councilor Third Class and worked his way up, eventually to second then first Councilor. They had to go back to Vietnam to get recommissioned to Korea for a couple years, then back to Vietnam for a few months (in foreign ministry, you were commissioned overseas quite a bit). In 1968 (during which the Tet Offensive occurred: the North Vietnamese military commander General Vo Nguyen Giap chose January 31 as the occasion for a coordinated offensive of surprise attacks aimed at breaking the stalemate in Vietnam, hoping the offensive would drive the final wedge between them and convince American leaders to give up their defense of South Vietnam), their family came to the way to the United States, but my Ong Noi was waiting for his next assignment (which I think was Germany), so he headed back to Vietnam in 1975. But of course by that time, Vietnam was in some deep trouble, my Ong Noi was taken prisoner, and all communication was lost. In 1979, President Bush created the Orderly Departure Program to permit immigration of Vietnamese to the United States and to other countries. Under the ODP, from 1980 until 1997, 623,509 Vietnamese were resettled abroad of whom 458,367 went to the United States, and my Ong Noi was one of those people, being released in 1989 and coming into the States in 1991. When he was released, they didn’t tell anyone, not the prisoner, not family or friends; they just told him to get out of his cell and gather his things, then dropped him off in the middle of Saigon. Getting out of the “reeducation camp”, he sold quail on the streets but secretly taught English (it was illegal to do so at the time). When he came to the US, he worked for the city of Fairfax, VA to help immigrants move to the US. He was very active, even in his nursing home, involved with groups in which he could help people.
I wish I had known more. I wish it hadn’t been so hard to understand each other. But I am thankful for the life he lived, for bringing my dad into this world, and for being the light that he was.