However, Ut and many of the residents showed the resilience we find so admirable in the Vietnamese. Our group in 2006 was greeted with welcoming smiles and those who were able came forward to shake our hands, to show us their rooms, to share small stories which because of our lack of skill in the Vietnamese language were short, often befuddled and funny. But we did make friends and over the subsequent 9 years, Ut became a very special friend indeed.
We visited annually with TOP and witnessed a special bond grow between Ut, Jess Devaney, TOP's founder and Vu Duc Anh our guide. Ut seemed to be the center's Ambassador of cheer. She embraced all of the TOP trippers and had a great fondness for Bruce.
Sadly, on our visit in September 2015 we learned that Ut has liver cancer. Here she is though, with Anh, Marsha Devaney and Jess Devaney on that day, still smiling.
But there were tears after the smiles. Ut knew that her cancer was terminal and some of our group members knew that this would probably be the last time they would see Ut.
When Bruce and I returned to Hoi An in early 2016 a visit to Ut was high on the list. Ut had failed dramatically. She was very thin and confined to her bed and in severe pain.
The network responded and Ut has had medications since March. Miraculously she lives on, although our friends in Hoi An were deeply saddened on their last visit to see her distended abdomen and her frailty. This picture was a clarion call and more donations were sent to ensure that these last days will be as comfortable as possible for dear Ut.
Ut has been a great teacher. By example, she has shown us all how life can be rich and full of laughter. She has shown us grace despite her humble life and her painful ending.