A difficult goodbye.
Some goodbyes are harder than others, and saying goodbye to Yaai Charlie was one of the hardest. Yaai died quietly and peacefully in her sleep.
We found out of her passing by her relative and neighbor, Nong, the last time we went out to deliver them their care packages. According to Nong, before she died as she was laying down in bed she said, “I’m not in pain, I’m just so tired.”
We are saying goodbye to an absolute powerhouse of a woman. Yaai was married off at the age of 15 to a man twice her age. As she recounts he was fortunately a kind man and took care of her. They traveled the country together singing and playing music for work, and together they had eight children. They moved to Buengkan Province over 50 years ago and at some point had lost her ID. A few months ago we were able to contact the government and renew her ID with her official records, a difficult task to do in Thailand for most. She was officially 105 years old.
Born in Ubon Rachatani, she came to Buengkan with her husband sometime in her 40s or 50s via cow and wagon; the journey took 12 days, a journey that today would only take 6 or 7 hours by car. Her husband was from here, money was good, and there was work, so they settled.
By the time we met Yaai, she was a widow and living in poverty with two of her eight children in a ramshackle house in the village. Over the years we came to know her as more than just an elder in need, we learned her history, some of her remaining family, and her current situation. We got to know Nong, her neighbor, and found out that she was related to Yaai’s now deceased husband, making them family. The son and daughter that lived with her struggled with addiction and mental illness, and life was not easy. But she rarely complained.
Once she told us the secret to a long life is to eat plenty of fish and vegetables, a bit of fruit, and try not to worry about things too much. Yaai Charlie followed her own advice well, and seeing how she lived to be a centenarian, we’d say that’s pretty good advice!
Yaai has been our lives for many, many years now. In fact, she was one of the first elders in our Adopt an Elder Program and the inspiration for us to create the program in the first place! She has met many of our volunteers and some of you reading this may have your own fond memories of her.
We enter into these elders’ lives knowing it won’t be for a long time, but that doesn’t make saying goodbye any easier. It is never easy, and Yaai Charlie has left a big imprint on our hearts. Yaai means grandma in Thai, and she was indeed our grandma, and she will be greatly missed.
Do you have a photo or a memory of Yaai Charlie? Share it in the comments! We would love to see it!