I’ll Be Seeing You

“The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living.”
— Marcus Tullius Cicero

My maternal grandmother passed away on April 1, 2015. She was 75 years old.

When I received my aunt’s phone call that morning at work, I thought, “This must be a joke. It’s not funny.” When I called and texted my family, they all thought the same. Well, my sassy grandmother did have a sense of humor; she passed away on April Fool’s.

As I sat there looking at her lifeless body, I kept thinking that she was just going to wake up and greet me as she usually does, “Mev Npauv  (Her nickname for me—a play on the English pronunciation of my name), koj tuaj los (A general Hmong phrase to welcome someone into your home)?

I knew she wasn’t going to wake up, but a part of me was in denial. She was going to greet me and then scold and nag at me for whatever reason, like usual. My dear grandmother couldn’t have possibly left. I still needed more time with her.

Grams knew she didn’t have a lot of time left. I always took her to withdraw her monthly SSI check. And each month, because she knew I would refuse the money she tried to give me, she would hand me a $20 bill and tell me to split it for my two children. However, in March, she handed me two $20’s and said, “Muab ib daim rau koj muab faib rau koj ob tug me nyuam. Daim no kuv muab rau koj saib ua dab muag cia (Split this one for your two children. Please keep this one as a memento of me).” Maybe I knew she was going to leave too, because I accepted it without resistance.


For as long as I can remember, Grams has always been a second mother to me. When my father left when I was 12, she helped my mother nurture and take care of me and my 6 siblings. She was the voice of reason when my mother was being unreasonable. She loved to sew and passed that love down to my mother and then to me. My grams was also a woman of tremendous knowledge, despite being illiterate. She had a profound knowledge of Eastern medicine and grew many medicinal herbs in her backyard. She was a mother and played her role with great wisdom and a big heart.

Grams suffered greatly the last couple years of her life. Her heart was broken when someone very close to her betrayed her trust. She was struggling with mending the relationship, her resentment, and broken heart when, a year later, she was diagnosed with cancer. She told me that although she didn’t want to die, she just didn’t have the energy to hold onto life anymore. Thus, we watched helplessly as she withered away.

I’m glad I got to spend as much time as I did with her the last 2 years. I got to know my grams on much deeper level than I could possibly have. I got to know Sao Vang, the Hmong woman who never wanted to marry but was bride-napped; the Hmong woman who lost a husband and braved the Vietcongs and Pathet Lao and brought her family to Thailand; the Hmong woman who suffered from the injustices of the Hmong patriarchal system.

It has been almost 4 months since her passing. Struggling with the loss of a loved one is hard. There are moments when I miss her terribly, and today is one of those days. But I do find solace believing that she is in a better place, watching over us.

Niam Tais, peb nco nco koj heev. And as Frank Sinatra sings, “I’ll be seeing you in all the old familiar places…

My Mermaid (Part 4)

This post is part of the My Mermaid series.
Click on the links below to take you to previous posts:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

I was studying for finals.  My mom was gone the whole weekend and when she came home, she complained bitched about the house being a mess.  She yelled at me for not being like other Hmong daughters and keeping the house spotless clean.  This was not the first time and I knew it wouldn’t be the last.  I was tired of her comparing me over and over again to these Hmong girls in town whom I had no desire to be.  I yelled at her to stop comparing me because I am my own individual and it hurts my feelings when she does so.  “How would you feel if I were to say that you don’t love me the way I see other mothers love their daughters?”

My mom was furious.  She yelled obscenities at me, calling be a bitch and a slut.  Then she grabbed my hair and dragged me around my room.  She pushed me here and there, still holding on to my hair.  For 3 years, I had endured my mom’s physical abuse without ever hitting her back.  This time I had enough and I fought.  I grabbed her hair and pulled it just the way she was pulling mine.  I even punched her a few times so she would let go.

My mom’s boyfriend saw what was happening so he tried to break us up.  He pushed my mom off of me, grabbed me and held me to my sister’s bed.  My mom took advantage of him holding me down and sat on me and started to strangle me.  She said she was going to kill me because I was a disappointment to her.

My mom’s boyfriend pushed her off of me.

He stood between us and tried to reason with her, “Puas yuav zoo koj siab yog tias koj muab nws tua tuag kiag lawv ma (Will it really please you if you killed her)?”

Kuv yog nws niam.  Kuv yug nws thiab tus nws loj hlob li no.  Nws txiv khiav mus tso nws ua ntsuag.  Tsuas muaj kuv xwb, kuv thiaj li ua rau nws noj thiab nws hnav.  Kuv xav hais tias thaum loj hlob tuaj es yuav hlub kuv no.  Niag maum dev ntawv tsis hmloog kuv lus.  Tseem muab kuv piv rau lwm tus thiab.  Kuv tua nws lo tsis ua li cas.  Kuv yeej tsis cia nws ua li no rau kuv li (I am her mother.  I gave birth to her and nurtured her.  Her father left her an orphan.  It was me who fed her and clothed her.  I thought that once she’s older, she’ll love me.  That bitch doesn’t listen to me.  She dare compare me to others.  It won’t matter if I kill her.  I won’t let her do this to me).”

I was torn—completely confused and frustrated.  My heart ached for my mom.  I realized what a failure I was as a daughter when I heard these words.  I had hurt my mom so deeply that she felt the only way to solve our problems was to kill me.  However, a part of me felt that it wasn’t right.  I should be allowed to be myself without worrying if I’ll measure up to someone’s expectations.

Anger took a hold of me.  I had had it.  I ran to my bed and grabbed the glass lamp on my nightstand.  I didn’t know how to cope and couldn’t deal with my mom anymore.  So, I hit myself on the head with the lamp.  It didn’t break.  I did it over and over again until my mom’s boyfriend stopped me.  He told me to calm down and talk with my mom.  I sat on my bed, looking down at the floor.  My head was throbbing, but I couldn’t feel the pain.  I didn’t know if it was bleeding and I didn’t care.  I was numb.

Kuv tsis xav nrog nws tag.  Txij hnub no mus, koj txhob muab kuv hu ua niam lawm.  Koj yuav mus hu leej twg niam los kuv tsis khe (I don’t want to talk with her.  Don’t call me mother from now on.  You can go call someone else Mom for all I care),” my mom shouted at me and left my room.

My mom’s boyfriend spoke to me for a minute, trying to make me understand my mom’s actions.

“You know that your mom doesn’t like your boyfriend.  She doesn’t want you to make the same mistakes she did when she was young.  You and I both know that he is a nice person, but she doesn’t see it that way.  However, she is your mom and she loves you.”

“We weren’t even arguing about him,” I cried.

After he left, I just sat there in the room that I shared with my sisters and cried.  No one loved me and the one person who loved me I’m not even allowed to see.  When I stopped crying, I went to the bathroom to wash my face.  To my horror, there were bruises of my mom’s hand prints all around my neck.  I cried even harder.  I was so depressed.

I couldn’t call my boyfriend, not after this fight I had with my mom.  I also couldn’t call any of my friends because none of them knew what was going on at home.  Friends at school saw me as a cheerful girl who didn’t have to try hard to get good grades.  They didn’t know about the struggles I was going through or how I would change for dance class in the girls’ restrooms to hide my bruises.

There are many ways teens cope with their problems.  Some turn to drugs or alcohol.  Some join gangs.  Others cut themselves.  Me, I self-medicated.  Whenever I felt too depressed to the point of not knowing how to cope, I gobbled down acetaminophen or ibuprofen and went to sleep.  It temporarily took away my pain.  This time, I wanted to take all my pain away for good.

I walked to the kitchen and opened the cupboard where my mom stored her medicine.  Death was the only solution I saw.  I was looking for the acid she used to wash Hmong silver coins, but it was not up in the cupboard.  My mom had a new bottle of ibuprofen, 500 ct.  I took almost all of the bottle.  Why not all, you may ask.  Because I was worried that if I took all of the pills, my mom may not have any pain medicine after I was gone.  After gulping down a cup of water to wash down the pills, I calmly walked back to my room.  I laid down on my bed and awaited my death.

To my disappointment, I awoke the next morning.  I hadn’t died.  Instead I had this HUGE headache and I couldn’t concentrate.  I don’t know if it was from the ibuprofen or from my fight with my mom.  I also had a bump on my head from when I hit myself with the lamp.

I thought, why didn’t I die?  If I had died, I would’ve been free.  Everyone would’ve been free.  I wouldn’t be hurting like I am.  My mom wouldn’t have to deal with a useless daughter like me.  My partner wouldn’t have to deal with my mom.  He would move on with his life and find someone whose mother adored him.

It was a miracle that I didn’t die from taking almost a bottle of ibuprofen.  No one could’ve survived taking that many pills.  I  truly believe that my guardian angel was watching over me that night.  A few weeks later, I saw my mom take out the acid from its usual place in the cupboard to test a new set of silver coins she bought.  Why didn’t I see it when I was looking for death?  My guardian angel had protected me.

I thought I should get ready for school since I was still alive.  I would kill myself that night after everyone went to sleep.  To hide the bruises on my neck, I wore a piece of cloth as a choker necklace.  I didn’t tell anyone about my attempted suicide and have never until now.  Many years after I had gotten married, I found out that my mom suspected it because she saw the almost-empty bottle in the cupboard.

There was nothing to do during dance class because our annual performance was done and over with.  Mrs. Coito was the kind of teacher who deeply cared about her students and took the extra effort to inspire them.  We would regularly have exercises of self-reflection, self-care, and motivation.  That day, she handed out a manila envelope to every one of her dancers.  Inside it were various items to remind us of all the wonderful things life has to offer.  Although I no longer have the manila envelope, I can still remember what was inside:

Eraser: A reminder that we all make mistakes, but we can wipe the slate clean.

Penny: Save this and you will never be broke again.

Marble: To keep you rolling along.

Rubber Band: To keep you bouncing back and flexible.

Candle: To light up the darkness.

Tissue: For drying your tears.

Toothpick: To pick out the good in others including yourself.

Cotton Ball: For the rough roads ahead.

Confetti: To add some sparkle to your life.

Lifesaver: To remind you of the many times others need your help and you need theirs.

Rainbow: A reminder that after every storm comes a rainbow.

Paper Clip: To hold everything together when it falls apart.

A Hug & Kiss: To remind you that someone cares about you!

Thanks to Mrs. Coito, for it was this activity that prevented me from attempting another suicide.  One of these days, I will go back to my high school where she still teaches and personally thank her for saving my life.

The bruises on my neck were so bad, that two weeks later, they were still there.  And so, I attended my boyfriend’s high school graduation without the consent of my mom, with my homemade choker around my neck and a smile on my face.

I was so happy to see him as a graduate, walking on that stage.  The delinquent that my mom belittled had graduated from high school.  She was wrong after all.  However, my happiness was short-lived.  By 7:30 that evening, my mom had already called my boyfriend’s sister-in-law.  She demanded that I come home straight-away or there would be consequences.  And so, my boyfriend drove me home.

I saw more and more of my boyfriend after he graduated from high school.  He attended the local community college, majoring in criminal justice.  And because he now had a car, he was able to come see me more often.  Although my mom and I still had our arguments, she was no longer tripping as much about him as before.  She never looked at him, greeted him, or spoke to him when he came over to visit, but it didn’t matter to me.  It was okay for us to be together now.

Although I was accepted to a few universities, I made up my mind to attend community college after high school.  I was undecided on my major and career goals (all I knew was that I wanted to make a difference).  A community college would help me save money while I shopped around for inspiration for my major and career goals.  Things were looking better.  I was chasing my dreams of going to college.  I was finally able to be with the person I love.  Life was looking good… until I found out I was pregnant.

Click for the next part in this series.

Fear of Death

via Wikimedia Commons

Sendie-Lou wrote a blog after reading an article about a 3-year-old girl who survived on leftover food for 2 days after her mom died.  Sendie thought about what would happen if she and her spouse suddenly died .  What would happen to her children? She lives far away from family, so who would notice if they’re gone?

Sendie is not alone.  I, too, have worried about what would happen to my children if Dear Spouse and I unexpectedly kicked the bucket.

Before I had children, I had already came to terms with death.  I try living life happy and to the fullest so that when I die, I wouldn’t have any regrets.  Death doesn’t scare me. Once I’m dead, I will be gone.  Emotionless, empty, nothing.  A memory for loved ones to cherish and also just another fragment of energy ready to be converted.  Or if there is a spirit world, I will be continuing my journey to my next destination.  No worries.

And then all that changed when I had children.  Although I’m still not afraid of death or dying, now I’m not ready to go.  Not yet, anyway.  Not until I know that my children will not suffer without me.

I don’t want to leave my children at such a young age.  What would happen to them if both my spouse and I died?  I think about who would care for them and if that person would love them as much as I do.  Will they love them unconditionally?  It’s easier said than done, especially when it’s not your child.

I think about what Dear Spouse would do if I died?  Would he remarry?  If he does, will his new wife love my children?  (Fairy tales have definitely distorted our perceptions of step-mothers).  If he doesn’t remarry, will he be able to care for them while working full time to support them?  How will my children grow up without my love—a mother’s love?  My dear spouse is a wonderful father.  He loves our children and tries his best, I know.  But he lacks nurture—which is, in my opinion, one of the main components to raising a healthy child.

Then I think about everything that I would miss if I was gone.  My children’s birthdays, first dates, first kisses, puberty, high school, parenting them through adolescence, being there to encourage and support them, their weddings, my grand kids.  The list just goes on and on.

It is every loving mother’s nightmare to suddenly leave her children behind.  It is a scary thought.  Sometimes, I try to reassure myself: there will be people to love my children.  And even if they don’t love my children the way I do or want them to, they will do their best.  And then, doubt starts to set in and I’m scared all over again.

Death is not a scary thing if you know you won’t be leaving anyone behind who aren’t able to fend for themselves.  But when you think about death as a parent of a very young child, it is horrifying.  And maybe that’s the reason why so many people are afraid of death.


My brother was diagnosed with acute leukemia in April of this year.  He is only 24 years old.  He hid his illness from us for a while.  He also refused to take any treatment that his doctor recommended.

It was hard for me to understand my brother’s refusal to treat his cancer.  He’s still very young and has so many years ahead of him.  Even if treating his cancer would give him only 2-3 years to live, why not?  And what if he was cured for longer or for the rest of his life?  Acute leukemia can go into remission.  There’s nothing to lose, but a lot to gain.

My brother doesn’t want to prolong his suffering.  If he dies, he dies.  I guess he believes that by treating his cancer, it would give him more time to think about his death, more time to build relationships, and then he will eventually hurt himself and those around him when he dies.  (Doesn’t this happen to all of us anyway? It’s just a matter of time).

I struggled with his decision for some time.  Then I realized that it’s his life.  I can’t tell him how to live, especially when he’s facing such a hard situation.  It’s his life.

This is how I feel about life in general.  It’s my life, and please let me live it the way I want to.  You are allowed to express your opinions.  You can give me advice.  But in the end, let me make my decisions with the information that I have; let me live my life.

I have never told someone what he or she should or shouldn’t do.  Everyone has always told me that I’m a great listener.  One of the reasons why is because growing up, I’ve always felt that I didn’t have enough experience or knowledge to give someone else advice.  For example, I’ve never experienced a break up, so when my friends came to me after a bad break up, I’d just listen, empathize, validate their feelings, and help them process their thoughts.  And I wasn’t the type to suggest we key his car or toilet paper his house.  So, this habit of mine has been with me since.  No advice, just listen.  Who am I to tell you what to do when it’s your life?

I also feel that if I don’t like it when someone tells me how to live my life, I shouldn’t do it to another person.  (And I don’t.  If you’re wondering, I didn’t tell my brother what I believe he should do.  I asked because I wanted to know and just listened).  Everyone has his or her own standard of living.  Living is a very arbitrary thing.  Money, career, reputation, political power, family; just to name a few things that people live for.

Why should it matter to others how I live my life?  The decisions I make are mine and if they end up as mistakes, I’ll own up to them and take the consequences.  I don’t care what other people view me as because I know myself and the actions I’ve taken.  I don’t care if people think I’m living my life “wrong.”  Don’t tell me I won’t go to heaven or I’m living a life of sin just because I don’t practice your religion.  Don’t tell me I’m a selfish person because I started to say no when before I’ve always said yes.  Don’t tell me I’m a bitch when I stand up for myself or the people I love whom you’re stepping on.  Actually, on second thought, say all you want because I don’t care.  It’s my life.  I’m happy and content with it.  Nothing you say will ruin it for me.

Those who don’t know me well may think that I don’t care because I don’t butt in when they’re having problems or give them advice.  It’s not because I don’t care.  I do, I just don’t believe it’s my position to say anything, especially when you haven’t seeked me out.  If you seek my help, I shall give it.  (I shall listen, empathize, and express my opinions on the matter. I won’t tell you what to do).  But if I hear about your problems from around the grapevine, I won’t say anything.  I’ve had experiences where people tell me I’m too nosy, it’s none of my business, or they want to be left alone.  That’s why if I don’t butt in, it’s not that I don’t care.  I care enough about you to respect your decision to not want to share your problems with me. (Hopefully that makes sense).

Everyone should live their lives according to their standard—no one else’s.  I’m not telling murderers, rapists, abusers, and etc to continue hurting other people.  I’m not condoning those things.  I’m just simply saying to live your life your way, just as long as you’re not committing a crime.  Find your own happiness.  We all have that simple right.

‘Til death do us part

A man in my town passed away recently.  He was healthy, up until a couple of months before his death.  The doctors said that it was multiple health conditions (diabetes, cardiovascular disease, kidney failure) that led to his death.  He left behind his wife and children whom are all still mourning for him.

I visited my Grams the other day and heard such an interesting story from his wife.  I’m going to take you back more than 20 years.

In Thailand, a young teenage boy and teenage girl promised to love each other in life and in death.  If one dies before the other, that person will come back to take the living person’s soul, so that they can be together, forever.  That is the ultimate promise anyone could ever make with the person they truly love.

Well, the unfortunate happened.  The girl got sick and passed away.  A few weeks later, the boy and his family boarded a plane for the United States.

Decades passed.  The boy went to school, graduated from college, got married, and had children.  His wife knew about his promise to his girlfriend in Thailand.  But promises are meant to be broken.  And when a person dies, a person is gone forever.  They can’t come back and harm you, even if they wanted to, right?  I mean, even if her ghost is wandering around, they are separated by an ocean.

Last year, the man and his wife decided to visit family in Thailand for the first time.  It was when they got back that the man’s health started to deteriorate.

Everyone saw that he lost weight and looked very pale.  Everyone, except his wife.  And no one told her because they all thought she knew.  If they could see it, she should be able to see it too.

He was admitted to the hospital a month before he passed away.  The doctors tried their best, but to no avail.  He fell into a coma and a couple of days later, died.

After his death, his wife looked through photos on the computer just to comfort herself.  She came upon a picture she and her husband took in a village in Thailand.  She remembered that her husband had made a comment about seeing a white shade or shadow next to him in the picture.  She had told him that she didn’t see anything.

“Are you sure?  It’s right there.”

“No.  I don’t see anything.  You must have something in your eye.”

It wasn’t until after his death, that she saw what he was talking about.  A white shade.  A very hazy blurry white shade.

She told my grams her husband’s story.  The story about his promise to his girlfriend, that even in death, they would be still together.

It is speculated that the ghost of the girlfriend found him during his trip with his wife to Thailand.  His wife mentioned that he tripped and fell to his knees once while they were in Thailand.  The man had a headache all day, but everyone thought nothing of it.

It’s romantic, in an eerie way, that someone would wait for you for over 20 years and then, take your soul, all out of love.  And to prevent anyone from interfering, you blinded the eyes of his wife and children.

This story reminds me of a Hmong folktale my parents used to tell my siblings and me.  Aib Kam and Xaum Kam.  To make a story short: Boy and girl are from different villages.  Girl passed away.  Boy, not knowing about her death, went to visit her.  He didn’t realize until later that she was with a ghost.  She tried to take his soul, but he escaped.

I know many of you are probably thinking that this is all just a load of BS.  It could just be that the wife is looking for other reasons besides bad health for her husband’s death because then it wouldn’t have been her fault (we all know it’s not her fault) that she didn’t see it coming or that she could’ve prevented it.  It could be.

But Hmong people believe in these things.  Many of us believe in the supernatural.  Our world is surrounded by it.  We worship our ancestors.  We respect our shamans (the mediator between the living and the dead).  We hold 3-days and 3-nights funerals, just to guide our dead into the underworld.  Our dreams are omens.  But most of all, we warn our children to never ever make a promise to love someone even in death because something like this could happen.