Granddaughter Shames Smithfield for Tam Mai’s Lonely Death

The family would have held a traditional Buddhist funeral for 80-year-old Tam Mai, but the same virus that killed him prevented all but four family members from gathering in a Nebraska funeral parlor on Friday morning 

“A brief viewing, just the four of us,” his 22-year-old granddaughter, Vy Mai, told The Daily Beast. “I guess it was just goodbye. That was it.”

When the hospital reported that her grandfather had tested positive for COVID-19 late last month, Vy Mai and the rest of her family figured she was the most likely source of infection.

After all, Vy Mai had passed through several airports while returning from her final semester at a college in Pennsylvania to her home in Lincoln. 

Upon her return, she had spent time with her grandparents, who had been sheltering-in-place in apparent safety. They lived with her paternal uncle and aunt, who worked at the Southwick meat-processing plant in the nearby town of Crete. 

The uncle and aunt seemed to be in good health. And the family did not yet know that their place of work had become a virus hot spot. Vy Mai might have otherwise been spared experiencing just how terrible it can be to feel that you have passed a deadly pathogen on to one of the people you love most in the world.

Her grandfather was what she calls the family’s “good luck charm.” He had survived long years of war and imprisonment in Vietnam before coming to America in 1994. He had gone to work at the now shuttered Cook’s Family Foods meat-processing plant, which required endurance but not English.

“I’m sure it was tough work, but he’s a very hard working man and he pushed through it,” Mai later said.

Mai had been just 3 years old when her grandfather arranged for Mai and her parents to follow him to Nebraska as refugees in 2001. He retired not long afterwards and picked her and her sister up after school. He guided her along the immigrant’s path that continues to make America great.  

“My grandfather came to the United States for a better life,” she reported. “There was no way in hell I was going to throw away my life and not get a good education.”

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