Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Rest In Peace
My sister-in-law passed away yesterday. She had just turned fifty.
My wife never knew her sisters growing up. Her parents divorced when she was born and her father had custody of the two older girls. Her mother remarried an American and the three of them moved to the United States when she was seven. Two years later, South Vietnam fell and the country was reunited but the family was permanently divided.
In the early 1980s, the oldest sister was allowed to immigrate to the United States. In what I think is one of the great melting pot stories of this country, she met a Cuban Marielito in English class at the local community college and got married.
The middle sister chose to remain in Vietnam. In 2005, our family took a nine-day trip to Vietnam, in part to meet the missing sister. She lived near the center of Saigon (nobody really calls it Ho Chi Minh City) in a four story townhouse with her long-time boyfriend. Because of their jobs, they both spoke broken but passable English. Their neighborhood was full of shops and restaurants and they had two fairly worn scooters that are the ubiquitous form of transportation in Vietnam.
She seemed happy and her life was comfortable. Like many Vietnamese, she and her boyfriend were reluctant to talk about events during the more authoritarian decades of Communist rule, but life has improved immensely over the last decade. Their townhouse which was a standard size for the city was big enough for a family of eight or more but they shared it with just a couple of dogs.
We saw them twice. The day we arrived they took us out to dinner at a fancy Chinese restaurant. Near the end of our trip we spent an evening at their house where we talked and ordered talk-out food from a local market. While the house had a small kitchen that Nixon could have impressed Khrushchev with, we were told they, like many Vietnamese, ate out a lot because it is just as cheap as cooking for yourself.
Shortly after our visit, the sister was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She has spent the last year traveling back and forth to Singapore for treatments not available in Vietnam, but it was a losing battle. My wife’s mother went over last week to comfort her in her final days.
The loss, like that of any close relative that leaves too soon, is heartbreakingly tragic. My wife never knew her sister, but she always represented a path her life could have taken but didn’t. Our journeys in this world are often punctuated with forks where events could have changed everything radically. My wife's childhood move to the America was one of those. Because of her sister, she will always have one thread connecting her back to the country that she only has a child's memories of. We will always remember her sister and cherish the one brief moment of connection we had. May she rest in peace.