Juana Ho Chang: December 20, 1916 – December 25, 2011

December 25, 2011

I come from a family of fighters.

Two days after I arrived in Honduras, we took Chat Tai Tai to the hospital because her breathing had become dangerously haggard. Doctors hooked her up to various IVs for medications, liquids, and monitoring. Her vitals were generally stable, at least for someone of her age and condition.

Tuesday, she made it to her 95th birthday, and we brought her a strawberry cheesecake to celebrate. She was barely conscious of the mini party but she did get to sample some of the dessert cream.

I don’t know all that much about Chat Tai Tai’s life history save that she was the (very young) seventh wife of my great grandfather’s (very old) uncle. There is a glimpse into Chinese culture for you. She has been old and widowed and around and trucking for as long as I have known her (my entire life). I have distinct memories of her padding up and down the stairs speaking her unique mix of Spanish and Chinese, and standing at the stove churning out paper thin egg roll skins one-by-one from scratch. She is one of the most permanent fixtures in my archive of Honduran memories.

Wednesday, she started to decline, and the doctor solemnly gave her approximately five hours to live. We took turns watching over her along with the round-the-clock nurses, but five hours passed. Then six. Then several more and she was still hanging on. At night, my grandmother came rushing back to the house kitchen because Chat Tai Tai had torn off her breathing apparatus herself and asked for food! Not to be inappropriate, but this lady is like the cat with nine lives. The legacy lives on…

The next few days, she remained stable and much to our amazement, extremely lucid at that. She could understand and even answer our questions. Her eyes were open and consciously roving around.

Yesterday, her heartbeat started fluctuating between extremes and she moaned quite a bit about pain. Suffering is surely the most difficult part of watching someone die. But still, she clung on.

By this morning, she had deteriorated significantly but fortunately remained resting in a deep slumber–not able to hear or feel anything. We sat in the room for the majority of the day and watched her breathing become progressively more shallow. She passed away quietly before 4:00pm. I think the doctor put it best when he said, “We can all only hope to pass like this: well taken care of and surrounded by family, with dignity and little suffering.”

I am sure there is a lot Chat Tai Tai endured in her lifetime of which I will never know. I am aware that she was the most alert 90-something-year-old I have ever met, and fought valiantly against two hip fractures, old age, and ultimately pneumonia and bed confinement. More than anything she deserved to slip peacefully away, and I think we are all grateful she could finally do so without pain.

I was thinking the other day that our family doesn’t really have Christmas traditions. I guess we do now. Today also marks the exact 20th anniversary of my great-grandfather’s passing. He was another character who kept right along in life.

It has been a somber Christmas, but truly, I am honored to be here celebrating and appreciating life with a remarkable family of truly legendary fighters.

Que descanse en paz, Chat Tai Tai.

5 Responses to “Juana Ho Chang: December 20, 1916 – December 25, 2011”

  1. Joseph Lee Says:

    Thanks for sharing… Praying for you and your family.

  2. Joy Brougher Says:

    We are thinking much of you and your family, Lauren, and praying for you in this great loss. Mandamos abrazos a todos. We thank God you were able to be there. Love you…. Joy w/Bob

  3. Victoria Quan Liang Says:

    Lauren, thank you for sharing your experience with Chat Po. Though I don’t know much about her, I know she’s a very dedicated and caring person. I was fortunate enough to meet her again when I was in Honduras a few years back. My prayers are with you and your family.

  4. Auntie Elaine Says:

    Thinking of & praying for God’s comfort for all your family.

  5. […] The day after Christmas, I was sitting in the funeral home, reflecting on the many ways this era was ending in Honduras. I wondered how many stories would remain without opportunity to derive personal closure. […]

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