2016 has been cruel to my friends already. Two of my closest friends here have lost a grandparent since we returned from the holidays. One friend is home in Canada with family, but the other opted to mourn here. Ricki was also generous enough to let us celebrate the life of her grandfather with her, in a way that would earn his approval.
Her grandfather was an Irish Catholic family man who had worked as a pharmacist in Wisconsin until he was able to retire to a sailboat in the Caribbean. To honor him, she decided to rent a boat, make his favorite drink, and live her life to the fullest. She opened the boat ride with lots of hugs and a toast to her grandfather that made me cry. Ricki is one of the most open, honest, and loving people I know. I admire her ability to recognize her feelings and share them with others. She talked about the life-changing magic of meeting her grandfather after her mom married into the family, and it made me adore a man I never met because he offered the child version of my friend the acceptance and stability that she deserves.
Once we toasted Grandpa Phil and her wonderful memories, we were off on a trip down the Saigon River to reach a floating temple. The day was sunny and hot (winter doesn’t understand how much we want a hint of it), but the “Get Friendlys,” the special drink, were iced and free flowing. The boat was full of people who love Ricki, a couple of whom had just lost parents of their own and needed a reminder that our community is awesome and that life is for the living. Grandpa Phil had named his boat Vivimus, from the Latin phrase Dum vivimus, vivamus, which means while we live, let us live. And, without ever meeting him, I know he was proud of Ricki for choosing to live while she lives, even though it meant experiencing the whole range of human feeling. She laughed and cried, and those of us lucky enough to be on the boat with her got to witness a real triumph of loving expression. Ricki is good at life and love.
When we reached the temple, Ricki wanted to light a candle for her grandfather. While the temple didn’t have Catholic candles, there was some incense and some sand pots that you could place the burning incense in to honor the dead. The boat captain and our friend Lucinda, the only Buddhists on the boat, helped Ricki say some prayers and light the incense. Then, she bought some bracelets for her brothers and released some fish in a Buddhist ceremony about releasing the lives of others. Another Catholic teacher who just lost her mother participated in the ceremonies too, and she and Ricki got to share how important faith was to their family members and how much they would have liked the ceremonies of the temple, even if it wasn’t exactly Catholic. It was really great that Ricki got this chance to meld the familiar and her new world.
Then, it was back to the boat. We finished up the pitchers of Get Friendlys that Ricki had lovingly mixed and we all had time to enjoy the company, the sunset, and the city skyline. When we returned to the dock, a few of us ventured out in the Tet decorated streets of downtown to find an Irish pub and raise a pint. Then, we returned home, exhausted but glad we had lots more days to practice dum vivimus, vivamus.
Rest in peace, Grandpa Phil. Thanks for teaching us how to live. Because she knows how to ask for what she needs, Ricki is in good enough hands.