by Mona Afary - Clinical Director
Keno fled to Thailand in 1979. After 5 years, she was sent to the Philippines where she along with refugees from other parts of the world studied English prior to coming to the U.S. on asylum visas. It was here that she met her second husband, a Vietnamese man with a history of torture during the 11 years of his political imprisonment.
Keo and her husband were resettled in East Oakland. Not having any language skills, education or any job expertise, they were delighted to finally get a job, delivering The San Francisco Examiner. Her husband’s massive heart attack paralyzed him and made him homebound. She continued the newspaper delivery for another ten years but had to quit because of passing out as the side effect of the Insulin shots that she was taking for her diabetes. She was now living on disability.
When Keo came to CERI to get help for her citizenship application, she was asked about her psychological condition. She talked about her insomnia, flashbacks and nightmares of the Khmer Rouge years, along with depression and panic attacks. She had no friends and her only social activity was going to the Cambodian store and conversing with people while doing grocery shopping. She embraced the idea of attending a weekly group where other Cambodian women, all survivors of the Khmer Rouge genocide would meet regularly. She, like almost all the other clients at CERI had never had the opportunity to talk about her psychological symptoms. Cambodians would not ask such question from one another and non-Cambodian physicians who treated her diabetes either did not have an interpreter with her in the session or were not able to ask about her psychological symptoms. Keo was referred to our office to help her with her citizenship status; but like almost all of the other clients at CERI, she began to receive treatment for her emotional and psychological symptoms. With the help of our psychiatrist and homeopathic clinician, her nightmares were reduced from almost every night to twice a week and flashbacks occurred much less frequently. For the first time after more than 20 years she is able to experience deep sleep at night. When she told her story to the group and felt their deep sorrow and empathy, she felt relieved. “It was as if the ghosts had finally left me and I feel at peace.”
Today, she came to her individual therapy session with a request from her husband. "He is skin and bones and in and out of the hospital all the time. He wanted you to know that he and I have saved enough money for his cremation, but because we don’t have family and neither of us knows anything about the system, he wants to know if CERI could help me with arranging his cremation ceremony upon his death."
Chanda, the bi-lingual Cambodian interpreter, and I looked at one another. I paused because of not knowing anything about the Cambodian death ceremonies and rituals. Without verbally communicating that with Chenda, she read my mind and said, “Yes, we would take care of it.” And I nodded. Tear rolled down her eyes. “We both know that he is going to be gone soon, so I cook him a delicious meal every day. He is not able to eat much and has a bite or two, but I enjoy looking at his face when the food is set in front of him. Today is going to be one of the happiest days of his life. He knows that he will be cremated respectfully and that his wife will not be left alone with all the women friends that she has made at CERI. So, I am going to Chinatown to buy him Roast Duck for dinner.