(PICTURE: Huyen's Great Grandmother, Grandmother, Huyen and me back in August.)
Last Tueday, about ten minutes before Huyen was supposed to come home, she called me and said, "I have some bad news. My great grandmother passed away." My stomach dropped as I felt of the loss that Huyen and her family had just encountered.
Over the next couple of days I'm going to blog about the funeral and death in Vietnam. Yes, it's a downer of a topic right upon returning to Hanoi, but it is the single most Vietnamese experience I've had in my time out here.
When Huyen returned home we immediately got on her motorbike and drove an hour out to her grandparents' village. As we drove through the darkness I asked Huyen to teach me the appropriate thing to say in Vietnamese to a grieving person. She told me the sentence -- which roughly translates to, "Let me share your sadness" -- and I practiced over and over again during the hour long drive. When we pulled up to her Aunt's house (where her great grandmother had been living) there was already a crowd of people going into the house. Before I could even take my helmet off, Huyen's Grandmother approached me, wailing out "Oh God" in Vietnamese as tears streamed down her face. I tried to say the line that Huyen had taught me but it didn't come out right. Frankly it didn't matter though because she was inconsolable at that moment. Huyen's grandfather came out of the house, shook my hand, and escorted his wife back into the house.
A group of men called me into the house and sat me down to drink tea. As they poured me a glass I couldn't help but notice that only a few feet away were all the women standing and crying with her Great Grandmother's body which was laid out on the bed, draped by a mosquito net. Huyen's aunt (not the one the great grandmother lived with but another who lives around the corner who Huyen always tells me takes care of everyone) was laying with the body, wailing louder than anyone I have ever heard wail. In fact, I'm pretty sure this is the first time I can really say that I've ever seen anyone wail.
Huyen's great grandmother was 100 years old as of January 1st. No matter how old someone is, it's always too soon when somebody you love passes away.
(PICTURE: Huyen and her great grandmother last November.)