January – ceremony in Keo and Chouen’s bedroom

(Notes from my blog and what was written for the funeral.) Keo was born in Cambodia in the Khmer Rouge years. As a baby, she didn’t have enough to eat, no medicine, no home, so she was often sick. Her father was taken away by the Khmer Rouge not long after she was born. Through the miracle of her mother’s love, she lived through the terrible Khmer Rouge regime. Her mother, Roeuth and her grandmother, Lon carried her from Cambodia to Thailand. From there, they were sent to Utah, and from there to Dallas. 

Keo and Chouen were married in 1994. At first, she and Chouen lived with her mother and grandmother. Later, she and Chouen lived separately from her mother and grandmother, but still very close. Keo worked in several different jobs and everywhere she went, she made good friends, some of whom are here today. Keo and Chouen traveled to their homeland, Cambodia in 2005. Although there have been hard times in her life, she has lived a good life. She has loved and been loved.
Many people have helped and the family extends their deep gratitude. I want to also say the names of three other people who were long-time friends and with Keo until the end: Suasaday and her husband, Jimmie, and Suasaday’s Mom, Keo Thorn.

I made some notes over the past 6 weeks when Keo was so sick from the cancer. I hope these will speak to the question of who she was and what kind of person she was.

December 2015. Keo began talking… sometimes whispering, sometimes a little stronger. She talked a long time about her life as a poor refugee child – what it was like for her learning a new language and customs, going to school, helping her grandmother take care of neighbor children, struggles in school, and her hopes and dreams. 
Altar set up immediately after she passed away

She graduated from high school and passed the TASS. She went to work in a factory, where, being so young, she was given a hard time by older workers and had to fend off unwanted advances by other workers and supervisors. There were gangs in some of the places she worked and there were many problems.

These were gripping stories. She would start a new one and I would be kind of holding my breath, hoping that she wouldn’t be hurt and every time, she made the right decision. 

She also talked about visions she had – being baptized in the clear water by Jesus; being protected; making the decision to leave the gold behind. She said, “I was born this way.”

January 2016. Three weeks into seeing Keo as life slowly slips away from her body. Three weeks since she first said, “I’m ready to go.” 

I thought about Jesus’ agony in the garden of Gethsemane right before he was crucified. “Remain here… watch with me,” he said to his disciples. They didn’t do it. 

February 2016. Keo continues to waste away. A couple of days ago, I said to her husband, When I first started coming here, I think I was very helpful. Now… I’m seeing something beautiful (and so sad).

  • Something beautiful like with only a couple of exceptions, every time I come in, her husband is sitting or lying on the bed with her, massaging her legs, cradling her, wiping her lips, loving her. Her mother is there, too.
  • Something beautiful like seeing Chouen sitting against some pillows and Keo (she couldn’t weigh more than about 65 pounds now) propped up and leaning into his embrace.
  • Something beautiful like it’s all so clean, no smells, no tv, the altar moved from place to place depending on which way she’s lying (oh, so small now) on the bed… this is sacred space.
  • Something beautiful like love and faithfulness as real and palpable as the walls of this room we’re in right now.
  • Something beautiful like her husband and her mother touching her in ways I know are to memorize the feel of her.
March 2016 – ceremony in living room
She was born in hell – and her mother kept her alive through the Khmer Rouge years and across the border and across America and 39 years later here they both are on this bed in a room overlooking a playground.
Keo passed from this life in March 2015. And in the end, the sum of her life is integrity. A lovely, sweet person, who loved and was loved.
Her husband and her mother were with her, holding her in her last moments – just as they did throughout her illness. 
Matthew 25:23 (the parable of the talents) speaks directly to what Chouen and Roeuth did: “His master said, ‘Well done, good and faithful servants!'” Chouen and Roeuth, In the most difficult times, you never gave up, you never quit, you never faltered. You were the embodiment of love and faithfulness.

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