Grandma Gulaap was one of the first women I met in the village after I joined the AFM team in Ubon Ratchathani as a student missionary almost two years ago, and our relationship has been deepening ever since. In the beginning, Grandma Gulaap would come every week to our women’s workout club with her ready smile and lots of energy. Her granddaughters have been coming regularly to the creative learning center since we opened, and they attend the Kids’ Church program every Sabbath as well.
Recently, Grandma Gulaap and her family suffered a great loss when her husband passed away after a battle with cancer. The day after his passing, I was able to go and spend the afternoon with Grandma Gulaap and her family. I couldn’t say much, but I wanted to just be there for her.
Grandma Gulaap told me a little bit about her husband and showed me a picture of him. She then asked me if I would help some of the other women in the house make some little flower crafts out of ribbon that Thai people traditionally give to guests at funerals. I watched how they were making the flowers and tried my best, but in the end I couldn’t even manage to make one flower. Grandma Gulaap smiled at me and said not to worry about it because she couldn’t make them either.
In my heart, I know that even though I couldn’t say or do much to help, just being there for Grandma Gulaap was what truly mattered. I am thankful that I was able to support her and her family during their time of grief.
One evening as I was driving our pick-up truck through the village to the learning center, I was passing Grandma Gulaap’s home when I noticed that several cars and trucks and a bunch of motorcycles were parked in front of it. Having heard from a neighbor that Grandma Gulaap’s husband had died that morning, I decided to visit the family.
On the front porch, I met Grandma Gulaap’s two granddaughters, ages 5 and 11. They smiled and greeted me politely, and the younger one gave me a hug. A relative greeted me at the door and invited me inside. As I entered, I found a group of people sitting in a circle on the tiled living room floor around an old man lying on a thin bed roll. It was Grandma Gulaap’s husband, and he was still alive!
After talking with some of the relatives, I realized that I had misunderstood the news. Grandma Gulaap’s husband hadn’t died that morning; the hospital had sent him home to die. There was nothing more the doctors could do for him, and no one expected him to make it through the night.
Thais are typically reserved and do not openly express their feelings and emotions, especially negative ones. They also seldom use physical contact to express emotions. Hugs and handshakes are rare. But when I saw Grandma Gulaap sitting on the floor gently massaging her dying husband’s feet, my heart went out to her. Sensing the Spirit leading, I knelt and embraced her. And, uncharacteristic of Thai culture, Grandma Gulaap pulled me closer and wept loudly on my chest.
Then, turning to Grandma Gulaap’s oldest daughter who was massaging her father’s hand, I opened my arms to her as well. She immediately embraced me and sobbed openly.
After that, I spoke to Grandma Gulaap. “Grandmother, you know that I respect the Thai Buddhist religion. But you know that I am Christian. May I please have permission to pray for your husband?” Fresh tears came to her eyes as she nodded her permission. As I bowed down, closed my eyes and placed my forehead on her husband’s shriveled hand, I heard Grandma Gulaap and her relatives around me start to weep. When I finished praying and looked around, there wasn’t a dry eye in the room. Grandma Gulaap’s husband died less than an hour after my visit.
I’ve heard it said that people often forget what you say or do, but they always remember how you made them feel. Though I am sad for Grandma Gulaap’s loss, I’m glad that I was able to be there with her and her family and be a safe person with whom they could openly share their grief and pain.