This month we celebrated the three year death anniversary of our father, Bố.
Vietnamese rituals have offered a therapeutic effect for us with our father’s death. In the beginning, we had the funeral and burial (Lễ An Táng), the 100 days (Lễ Giỗ 100 Ngày) and now three years later, the funeral completion mass (Lễ Mãn Tặng). These markers helped us transition our family to a new structure, reminded us that grieving is necessary, and to continue having conversations about Bố, who watches over us from his photograph on the altar.
Last weekend, our family hosted a small gathering in our home that began with a Catholic mass presided by Father Joseph. He reminded us about the five stages of grief and that the spirit of our loved one - Bố - remains with us in our lives. He encouraged each of us to recall a memory or a quality of our father’s spirit that we still experience today.
Hương began: “Wherever Bố went, Bố loved to talk to people… He was always interested and curious to hear about others' life experiences.” His life experience was so unique to him and he wanted to encourage people to share their stories too. His hospitality to all people set an example for her.
Hedda Hiếu reminisced about Bố’s value of education. He chaperoned school field trips, he took her to Mexico to learn Spanish, and when she was accepted into Columbia, Bố wore the Columbia shirt everywhere - he was so proud. Education was his passion and he instilled its importance in Hieu.
Karin Hạnh recalled how Bố always reminded her to return to nature whenever she was going through tough times. There was a moment in grad school in Oregon when she got discouraged with her studies. He came up to visit her for a week. They hiked every day and he would tell her stories, current events, and antidotes from his day. These walks with him lifted her spirits, so now whenever she's having a hard time, she’s reminded that she can always step outside to rest and reset.
Benjamin Hoàng spoke about the little things that Bố did to take care of him. He drove Hoang to school and then took him to get after school snacks, he drove Hoang to choir practice and then got dinner, and when Hoang started college, Bố helped him move in and… you guessed it - take him to get food. Bố supported Hoang through his life transitions and that’s what Hoang continues to remember.
In participating in these rituals we found comfort and reminders of the values we carry with us. Simultaneously, it facilitates the process for us to continue unifying the identities we choose to take on: children of immigrants and proud Vietnamese-Americans.
What cultural traditions have been passed down through your generations that bring you comfort? What rituals are you building for yourself that help you remember and honor your loved ones?
Growing Up Nguyễn is a story of four siblings holding onto our identity while fulfilling our parents’ dreams: the blessings and challenges of being Nguyễn in America.