The Last of Our Elders: 23 to 105.

On the funeral day of one of our greatest grandmothers (Youa Chang), we lost the very last of our Yang clan’s oldest elders: our great-grandfather, Nyiaj Ntxawg Yaj.

2017 has been funeral after funeral for our family. Maybe like all. Or maybe it is the time.

But at the news of every death, there is a pause.

Pause.

All my fears & worries–pause. All the things I thought was important–pause.

Pictured above is a man, with 105 years of wisdom and experiences instilled within him. Every freckle, and every wrinkle. He was the symbol of longevity. Till his last day, even if weaker, he was still standing.

To me, he is my wake up call. He is the last. The last archive of history of the past 105 years the rest of us will never have known. 105 years I was too young and too shy to retrieve and at least record in my brain. He is the last to know the mother of my orphaned mother. He is the last to have known the maternal grandmother and grandfather I never met. He is the paj ntaub that holds the history of our clan, the stories of each of our parents when they were young, our grandparents when they were alive, and the memories of all the elders when they were still majority of our family.

I let 105 years slip me by.

And here at 22 going onto 23, I had moments that I believed my life was over–but truly, I’m just a baby. 

I want to be better. I want to be more mindful. I want to be more present. I want to be here. 

For years, I heard great-grandfather say “why is it that I don’t know how to die?” His friends left one by one. And I can’t imagine living in a world you no longer know, empty of the faces you once knew. Memories you can no longer reminisce with another, because you are the only one who remembers.

For months and weeks before his time, I heard he woke up and dressed himself in suits and nice clothes everyday, refusing even when told not to, because he knew it was coming and he knew he wanted that moment to be his best.

What is like, when you have lived out your life so much that death is your next chapter. You have accepted. What is it like that everyday now at 23, I pamper my face with makeup to go to work or to meet friends, but may one day be preparing my face for my last.

What is like, when you know that it is time to move on when something no longer serves you and your growth, but when that something is life itself.

Amazing. And what grace that is.

I only wish I was there to see all of that each day for every elder I’ve known and said goodbye to. But I guess just as that was apart of their time in their journey, me being young and learning is apart of mine right now.

They say, you sometimes know when you are going to go. They say you are hungry for your last meal. They say you become better and aware just for that moment right before you leave. So far, my elders have proven that all true. I find that moment in our journey to be fascinating as heartbreaking as it is. I find it beautiful.

I will live out my timeline for things, but I also hope to catch the stories of others while I am here.

With the goodbye of my great-grandfather, goes the memories of my siblings and I greeting him when we visit and chuckling because he reminded us of Master Oogway from Kungfu Panda. With him goes the memories of his belated wife who used to tease me about cutting my hair when she only meant to braid it, the memories of my maternal grandmother who adopted my mother when her mother died, even memories of that death itself, memories of the tragedies of all the deaths in my maternal family that has caused me to only know my mother and her brother because the rest never made it. With him, goes all the childhood stories of the aunts and uncles I look up to today. With him goes all the stories of our clan before the war and after and how we came to be–how our Yang clan isn’t all biologically related but due to multiple clans being too small, we each belonging to our own origins, came together to be one big family.

With you Yawg Nyiaj Ntxawg, the greatest thank you for your 105 years of laughter and extraordinary life goes with you. May you rest with so much peace and reunion with all the elders who have left us before ❤

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8 Comments

  1. His photo caught my eye… and then I read your story. How proud your great grandfather must be to have a newer family member take in and acknowledge his legacy and life. I’m struck with those same emotions each time I attend a funeral. My condolences to you and your Yang family.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your kind words and sharing Alex! It’s great to know that others feel the same during such events. These are the only events that could make us feel such a way when celebrating the end of life.

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  2. Reading your article reminds me of my grandma who will be turning 100 in Sept this year. She too is the last standing person out of her clan, her siblings, and the last grandma in our Vang clan. Hope to celebrate many more years with her.

    May your great grandfather have a wonderful safe journey back to be reunited with his family and loved ones. My condolences and prayers are with you and your family.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for you warmth, Cib! I hope you as well, get to spend many more years with her. Cherish this time and record those stories well. They are a beautiful piece of history we will never experience again. Sending so much health and well wishes your way!

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