CHEA Somnang   2000 to November 6, 2022 

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of you who have sent in so many wonderful pictures and shared your beautiful memories of Somnang. I know he was all of the things you said he was… and more, however, my memories unfortunately have been clouded by the skeleton Somnang that walked breathlessly into my kitchen just a few days before his death. I was frustrated and angry at him for letting himself deteriorate to such a point again because I realized that only a miracle would bring him back this time… and I had to prepare myself for what was almost certain to come.

I was also upset that no one had told me he had for the third time stopped taking his medicines for TB and HIV because he didn’t want others to know his status… as his condition worsened and he could no longer work, he told everyone not to tell me because he knew I would be upset.

He was right of course… I was upset. Upset each night he kept me awake with his persistent cough, each time I had to insert an IV in him, each time he called me to help him to the bathroom in the middle of the night, and I was upset when we had to take him into Phnom Penh to start him on his ARV drug only to receive a call that he needed to start his TB medicine first… but when we called to make an appointment we were told to wait 5 days until after the holidays.

He knew I was upset and he apologized several times for being a problem. One night I heard a commotion outside my bedroom and found out he was trying to mop up a trail of loose stools. He had tried to make it on his own to the bathroom because he didn’t want to bother me. What he needed most from me was a hug… but what he got was more of my frustration. 

The next day I bought him adult diapers and complained about the price. He didn’t know how they work and so I had to put it on for him. This was embarrassing for both of us, but wearing the diapers gave him a bit more confidence, and by the next morning he had actually gotten up on his own to make himself some breakfast noodles, instead of eating the rice soup from the kitchen. I was encouraged and told him so as I finished my own breakfast and walked out of the room on my way to the office. He was watching a movie on TV… IRON MAN, I think it was. One of his favorite heroes.

I was working on the finances when he called me about an hour later… he could barely talk. I jumped on my bicycle and returned to the dorm to find him breathing very deeply, on the couch where I had left him. He said his heart was pounding and he had the look in his eyes that I have witnessed so many times in the past. I knew immediately that we had to get him to the hospital. 

He asked me to change his diaper before they took him to the car, and I did so, but this time with a bit more compassion. He died a few hours later at the hospital after being told by the Doctor that he would not be able to come back to Wat Opot until he was stronger.

He was brought back a few hours later in a hearse and I and three of the older boys performed the cremation immediately. The driver of the ambulance had been here several times before, during the COVID pandemic. We did not let the children view the body before cremation because we wanted them to remember Somnang as he was.

Some people may question my motive for sharing these less-than-positive memories about Somnang, and I understand your reasoning… however, I do so not to make Somnang look bad, nor is it to gain sympathy for myself. The Truth is that Somnang let go of Life because so many people failed him, including me. 

There are many people in today’s society, people of all ages, who, like Somnang, are living fraudulent lives. Guarding closely a closet full of secrets, that they believe would make them unacceptable to others if they became known… and the reality is, they most likely are right.

I suppose it could be said that it is only human that we protect ourselves from getting hurt, as I did with Somnang when I realized he might die… and too, it could be said that it is only human, that we protect ourselves from those things, like HIV and other possible threats in others, that, because of our ignorance, make us react in a negative way toward them. 

“Only human”… an excuse many of us use to negate our responsibility to Love others in difficult situations. “Only human”, is, in my estimation, a rather low bar that we have set for ourselves… but a bar that I wish could be raised to “Not typical human behavior” for both myself and all of humankind.

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