Recently I attended the funeral for Betty Ochs. The funeral was a small gathering at the beautiful, peaceful, Arlington National Cemetery. Betty’s surviving husband, Bill, was happy that we were all there to support him through his pain of the loss of his wife of 62 years.
As I walked into the church, I fought extremely hard to hold back my tears when I saw the coffin and heard the eulogy.
I failed miserably when I glanced over at Bill and saw the sadness and pain in his eyes. Without this wonderful woman and man, I would not be where I am today. They made such an impact on my life and I did not get to share this gratitude with Betty as an adult.
I sent her a thank you card over a year ago to request a visit, but the timing was off because I believe Bill was going through his chemo treatments. Betty was special to me and my family because she and her husband extended their kindness by sponsoring our entire family of six so we could emigrate to the United States thirty-five years ago.
We resided at a refugee camp in Guam with families living in hundreds of canvas green tents. Each tent was shared with three to five other families where we all slept on army cots. The tents were built on dry yellow dirt. All I can remember of that place was dirt… dirt everywhere as far as the eye could see. Having grown up surrounded by green rice fields and lush green banana plants, I wondered if where we were heading would be the same as this barren place. My family escaped Vietnam and arrived in the U.S. with nothing. Hot dogs and the yummy chewy red Jello…all this food was new to me. I loved Coca Cola (and drank that sweet delicious bubbly drink for many years after we arrived in the U.S.). To me it was just camping and we were well taken care of. We were fed by the soldiers and they were always nice and smiled at us.
Bill and I exchanged stories, at the reception following the funeral, about the shopping spree he had taken us on at Woodward & Lothrop’s department stores. I had never seen elevators or escalators before; this was all foreign to me. Wow, the steps moved all by themselves, you could just hop on and they would take you up and down without you moving your legs or feet… how FUN! I thought. I recall thinking, what are these unusual looking maniquins all dressed in these fancy outfits? How cool would that be to have that fun outfit on the first day of school?
My sponsors bought me this beautiful, latte-colored fur coat. I wish I still owned that coat just for keepsake purposes. They looked on proudly each time I gleefully tried on an outfit. I wanted to ask them why it was necessary for me to buy a coat, but had no way to communicate with them, I only nodded and smiled happily. The only English words that my dad taught me were “thank you” followed by a smile.
At the funeral gathering, we continued to exchange funny stories. I do not recall the variety of stories, but the perceptions of our sponsor’s children about us while we were living in their home were interesting. Her son told me a story of a time where I was very bossy to my three younger brothers. I shared this with my husband and he tells me that I have not changed much. Funny but true! The abundance and blessings that I have today fill me with joy and gratitude. I trace all of those blessings back to the simple generosity of strangers who became in a way, my family’s saviors.
What I took away from the funeral warms my soul. The Ochs family was grateful to be a part of our family. They had the means to give others the opportunity to have a better life in America and I was proud to be their adopted family. I am grateful to this wonderful family and their unbelievable generosity. I aspire to pay it forward as many times as possible over in my lifetime here on Earth. For your kind and generous hearts, I thank you Bill and Betty.