Updated: Jan 15
As mentioned in Chapter 8: Nguyen it Ends, our traditions and culture have found a blend of both Vietnamese and American traditions. Much of the adaptations have been to “blend in” to the Western world, so in some senses, you could say it’s a mourning of pure traditional customs. At the same time, there is an opportunity to create that new identity of Vietnamese Catholic and Vietnamese American customs. This is unique, of course, to every family.
We don’t often talk about planning funerals within our family, but our father’s sudden passing meant that we had the opportunity to organize the week in a way that was both meaningful to us and honored our father in the best way possible. Together with our mother we decided on the course of events, but we give credit to aunts, uncles, and the whole church community to help us both lean into tradition and find comfort during such a difficult time.
There are a few elements to funeral preparations that we’ve described in the podcast. Here they are in detail:
Saint name is part of the Catholic tradition and it’s placed before the birth name. For our father, we now refer to him as Phanxico Xavie Nguyen Khanh Hung.
Cao Pho is the announcement. This is made to announce to the community that an individual has passed. It shares the individual’s name after death, place and date of birth, place and date of death, and information about the memorial, mass, and interment.
Mourning banner is a purple fabric or a printed banner that is placed at the front during prayer and memorial services. The text says “Cau cho linh hon Phanxico Xavie Nguyen Khanh Hung” and lists the date of birth and death. Oftentimes there is a cross or doves
at the top too. A photo of the deceased can be included, but we did not do so (see next item).
Photo of the deceased is always important. I’ve seen families use different photos. Our mother leaned toward the conservative side, preferring our father wearing a suit. At the bottom of our photo, we put his saint name in a bold print so that our guests would know to keep that saint name in mind during prayer.
Khanh tang refers to the white headbands. In Vietnam, the eldest daughter typically wears a hood, but this has been adjusted by Vietnamese living in the states. Headbands with an extended tail are for immediate family. Headbands that wrap in a concentric circle are for extended family.
Wearing black is a Western custom and it’s been adapted for most Vietnamese American funerals.
Memorial and Prayers
First Prayer after the passing is to be hosted as soon as possible. For us, this
was the Saturday after Bo’s passing so that we could pray for our loved one and ensure
a safe journey to heaven.
Thanh Le Phat Tang is the mass before the viewing. At this mass, the priest blesses the headbands for our family to don them. Guests were invited to pay their respects. When guests arrive at the altar in the front, they are given an incense stick.
Prayer Service was hosted by our congregation. We had a reading and we prayed the rosary before each of us went up to deliver our memorial speech. If guests weren’t able to visit with our father in the morning, they were given another opportunity at the end of the prayer service. As a family, we also decided to close the coffin this evening.
Funeral (usually held in the morning)
Last visit Home Our immediate family went back to the funeral home so that Hoang could ride with Bo’s photo back home for one final visit before we took Bo to his resting place. While the hearst parked outside, Hoang led the procession of our family, our extended family (Bo’s brothers and sisters), and prayer groups into our living room. Hoang placed Bo’s photo home on our altar and we all prayed.
Funeral Mass is held in a Catholic tradition. The theme of this mass was around loss and our family members participated in the readings. At the end of the mass, a close relative would deliver the Cam On or thank you address to the guests. Next, a family member said the Eulogy. Since our guests were predominantly Vietnamese, most of the mass was done in Vietnamese.
Interment at the cemetery allowed for family and friends to join us as we buried our father. We had the Vietnamese choir hold us in music, a priest lead us through last prayers, and here we broke from tradition to place our headbands on the coffin before it was lowered down. (Tradition is that the headbands are kept for 3 years before they’re burned.) Specifically for our father’s funeral, we chose to have doves released after the coffin was lowered. This was a service that was offered in the American funeral services catalog and we’re not sure if it would be something that’s done in Vietnam. Doves are a symbol of hope and peace. This served as a fitting conclusion to the funeral.
As all stories go, there’s a beginning, a middle, and an end. Thank you for joining us in Book 1 of Growing Up Nguyen. This last Chapter 8 was arguably the most difficult, the most heartfelt, and hands down the most challenging chapter we’ve recorded. But we feel lighter and easier for it.
To all our listeners, thank you for joining us as we’ve explored what it means to be Vietnamese-American, to hold onto our identity while fulfilling our parents’ dreams, and as we share our stories of the blessing and challenges of being Nguyen in America.
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.