A few days before my 41st birthday in late May, I received news that the health of my Thai grandmother, 85, was in poor condition. The news was relayed to me from my mother, who lives in Kansas City, via her sister, based in Northern California, who took the phone call from relatives half a world away. The status of my grandmother's health was uncertain based on a phone call charged with anxiety and peppered with inexact details. The exact nature of her ailment was unclear, but the implication was obvious. She may not have much time left.
My mother and aunt quickly made the decision to fly home to the rural village where they grew up over five decades ago. They are two out of seven living children––now adults and parents with families of their own––that live in the United States apart from the rest of the clan. My grandmother bore two other sons who died years ago. In the sporadic words that my grandmother could manage at the hospital, she expressed a desire to see all of her children and that wish would be granted. Boarding a jet at 1 AM on a Friday in San Francisco, two sisters traversed across ocean and air into the dark expanse of night, emerged in Bangkok after multiple stops and well over a dozen hours of flight, and completed the remaining 75 kilometers of their journey by car to a country village.
At home, I was torn between the desire to fly back for a chance, possibly the last, to see my grandmother or to stay behind. Given financial and time constraints, I chose to stay in Kansas City, forgo the travel expense, and send money with my mother to spend with family. The decision to stay in Kansas City was a gut-wrenching choice that can be rationalized in any number of ways. The fate of my grandmother would follow its course whether I was there to witness it or not. Ultimately, I hoped that my grandmother's health would improve and that I might have another opportunity to spend time with her again. She is my last living grandparent.
We like to believe that we have some power, some force of will, that overrides the inevitable decay of flesh and blood and mental faculties, especially when the end may be near. Death is a juggernaut that reminds us how universally powerless we truly are. Surviving family and friends root themselves in grief and acknowledgement, then resume the course of the living albeit more cognizant of the fragility and fleeting state of our time on earth.