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At 82, My Grandmother Has Lost Her Husband — And The World As She Knows It

Sâm and Lệ Khanh on their wedding day in 1959

The disarray and social upheaval caused by the virus took a life event that’s already fraught for most — the final days of a spouse — and made it unbearable for my Bà

She is still grieving. Even though Bà has moved in with my parents, trading in the familiar hub of Little Saigon in Westminster for a whiter, more affluent Orange County suburb, she at times seems lost. On a visit home last month, I sometimes found her sitting in the garage by herself for extended periods of time, or praying in her bedroom. Without Ông, whom she had spent the last six years caring for around the clock, she seems to lack a sense of purpose.

“A core part of her identity was taking care of him,” my 24-year-old cousin Sarah Nguyentran, and their eldest granddaughter, told me. “Most of her life gravitated around him and going to temple.”

Bà is perhaps fortunate that she’s not in a nursing home and has the ability to live with her oldest daughter, but that doesn’t mean she’s without issues. She has diabetes, which has largely prevented her from leaving the house besides her morning walks with my mom around the neighborhood. She’s also lost the support systems she relied on while Ông was sick — her younger sisters and neighbors who she used to see in Little Saigon and her Buddhist temple, which she visited every weekend. In the last months of Ông’s life and in those after he passed, she sometimes stopped eating.

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