I wanted to follow-up on my incredible and moving exchange with Andy Bell now that FIRST SHIFT: LEGACY has been released. If you notice the dedication in that book, it was inspired by an interaction with a reader on their Amazon review. You never know where innocent replies will lead. The story is right here if you want to catch up.
After posting that entry, I heard from Andy, who was moved similarly to how his comments moved me. He shared the following, and said I could post it on the site. This is what was put together by Tongjai’s and Andy’s children and read at her too-soon funeral. I think it paints an incredible picture of this amazing woman, wife, and mother.
We thank God for her life.
It is not possible to give anyone who didn’t know her, a sense of the essence of Tongjai Bell. How do I summarize in a few minutes the person who was the heart of our family, the sun around whom the rest of us revolved, the rudder of our lives. We are adrift.
She was the strongest personality in a family that includes my Dad. That’s saying something.
Here are some words that may give you just a trace, a whisper, of this vibrant woman.
Beautiful -Mom was the type of beauty who didn’t think she was attractive. Dad always wondered what such a beautiful woman was doing with him. She turned heads wherever she went. Her smile was dazzling. Dad says it was her smile that hooked him the first day he met her. The lifelong bachelor was done for. She will always be beautiful.
Funny – Mom loved to make people laugh. She had a childlike sense of humor. She especially got pleasure out of making Dad laugh when he was grumpy or too serious.
Adventurous – Who else would marry a man from the other side of the world and months after meeting him fly to the heart of the Middle East with him?
Honest – She just never lied. Period. We sat around trying to think of a time that she was dishonest. We couldn’t think of one instance. We could think of plenty of instances where we had been dishonest.
Entrepreneurial – Mom figured out a way to sell pork bacon to westerners in the middle of Saudi Arabia where it is outlawed. Dad always said he took all the risk and she made all the money. She always had a money making scheme in the works. From giving massages to old folks in the neighborhood when she was a child to raffling off gold jewelry in a taxi to Asian nurses in Saudi Arabia.
Brave – In her final hospital stay after the doctor left who told her and Dad that she would not survive, she pulled the sheet up over her head. When Dad asked what she was doing she said, “Practicing” and started laughing.
Proper – Mom always taught us to act properly, politely and respectfully in public. She taught us and Dad not to “Break her face”. Whenever Dad acted inappropriately in public she would tell him, “You have a face like a concrete” meaning it was impossible to embarrass him.
Forgiving — Mom always forgave people that had wronged her instantaneously, even against the advice of Dad and us kids and even after having been mistreated by the same people previously.
Generous – It is customary in Thailand, if you don’t have means, to loan your children out to relatives. Mom didn’t live with her mother and father until she was 14. She lived with various relatives doing chores for their families for her keep. However, she always felt an obligation to her parents. The eldest daughter in a family of 3 boys and 2 girls she always found a way to support her family. In her late teens and early twenties she started a business that employed her parents, her brothers and her sister. She bought them a house, provided them healthcare and provided for their other needs. She left them a substantial amount of money and Dad’s promise to continue to take care of them. At a time in her life when she was destitute and the business she created was taken from her through no fault of her own, she refused to loan her children out to relatives. The family blamed her for losing their livelihoods. They didn’t treat her very well. Somehow she kept her children with her. Raised a Buddhist, she prayed to God to send her a good man. Dad met her within a year of her losing her business. She held no grudge against any of her family members and resumed helping them.
Mom never passed a street person she didn’t stop to give money to. She once tried to give $20 dollars to a rumpled construction worker who was only waiting for a bus.
She loved animals and animals seemed to love her. As a kid she would get kicked out of the market because every stray dog in the neighborhood would follow her in.
Tough – Mom lived a rough life growing up in Thailand. She never complained. She laughed, she danced, she made the best of it. She lived through and survived some things we in the west would have trouble comprehending. She taught herself to read and write English. At the top of her class thru grade 7, there was no money to allow her to continue her education. She was resolute that she acquire the means to give her children the education she was denied. She succeeded.
When she was diagnosed with cancer she told Dad simply, “If you have to die, you have to die.” She became a Christian and wanted a Christian funeral service because, as she told Dad, she wanted to be sure she got into the same heaven as Dad so she could be with him forever.
Toward the end, when the pain got bad, she would look at Dad with mournful eyes and just say one word – “Suffering”. She is suffering no more. Heaven is a brighter place because it is now the beneficiary of her smile and her irrepressible personality. We thank God for her life.