Dear Grandma Chheng:

It has been nearly a year. Next Sunday we’re gathering to honor your memory. I will be surrounded by the intimidating, judgmental relatives that I spent so much of my adolescence avoiding. It’s bearable, though, because it’s for you.

You, who used to make lunch and dinner for a dozen people every day.

You, whom I used to kick at night when I shared a bed with you when I was in kindergarten.

You, who came to get me from school and held my hand as we crossed the street to our house.

You, whom I used to fear because you always seemed so strong, so tall, so imposing.

You, with whom I used to watch old Chinese dramas dubbed in Khmer– the reason I have any ability to speak it at all today.

You, whom I watched grow sicker, paler, weaker, smaller as I went through high school and college. It always startled me to see you, to know you were in pain, and to feel so helpless to anything about it.

I wish that I had known how much of an influence you were, how strong I became because of your example. You were the matriarch, as so many of your peers were, so many of you who had lost husbands and sons to war. When I think of you, I always see you standing in the kitchen in your shiny black pants, hair permed into that short, Asian mini-fro (that I’ll probably have someday), about to yell at me for doing something. I think of that with a smile, because I know what a rascally child I was.

I couldn’t begin to articulate these things in Khmer, but when Grandma Korn passed away, my mom told me that I should pray to her in whatever language I felt comfortable, that she would understand it. So these are the things that I am going to think about, tell you, as I light that incense for you next week.