Birthday Blues

Another year comes to bookmark the journey of this life of mine. For the first time in my memory of birthdays, I am out of energy. Out of breath. Out of patience. Out of motivation. Out of inspiration. Meanwhile, I have an abundance of sorrow, sulk, and tears.

Friends and loved ones ask:

“What are you planning for your birthday?”
“What do you want to do for your birthday?”
“What can I do for you for your birthday?”
“What can I bring you for your birthday?”
“How can we celebrate you?”

I try to be kind. I run through options in my mind.

sunrise beach walks
café mocha talks
breakfast pastry rolls
after brunch strolls
trinket shopping sprees
afternoon charcuteries
sunset excursions
and all kinds of possible diversions
to take my soul to happy places
but nothing replaces
the hollow feeling in my heart.
so I have to reply,
“Nothing.”

It’s truly a blessing, I know. To have too many invitations. How can I possibly say yes to some and no to others? I want to be fair, so I decline them all. Better to see none than to reject some. I’ll spread out my celebrations and push them to dates after this day. Thus today, it is just me and my fur baby Pork Chop.

I’m missing Vu, and it hurts. Knowing the next phone call to hear his laughter, the next letter to read his thoughts, the next visit to see his smile; these will never come again in this life cycle. It wrecks me daily. I need relief from this grief, but I deny relief when it is offered. Perhaps it just feels better to feel melancholy.

I sleep in the a.m. hours and rise before the sun. My eyes are tired. Skin is dull. Silver strands have sprouted in patches around my temples. Several more are sprinkled around the blackness of dry and tangled tresses. Ten months and counting since it was cut. Thirty seven days and counting since he passed.

I eat fine, maybe a little too much, wishing I didn’t, so I could lose some weight. Instead, my body balloons, muscles soften while skin roughens, I hate it, but I do nothing about it. A body that was once in full motion has come full stop, sitting still, in a corner of the couch, under a cotton throw, a state of paralysis, numb. I’m fine with the inertia. Self-care is simply not there, and I really don’t care.

My memories wade through the recent past, a slow pace through the last four months, contemplating how to make sense of all this. I read my Eulogy over again, trying to keep the promises I made to him with hundreds as my witness. Trying to keep the hope, faith, and love alive in my heart. It’s really hard to do.

This morning, I received a birthday text message with a grumpy cat gif. I laughed so hard with my friend about how this grumpy cat gif was the purrrrfect sentiment for my mood. And then I felt light, like the laughter was an injection of a magical happy potion. 

It was like a seed planted in a rich soil, and with a continuous flow of thoughtful messages pouring into me, the petals of joy blossomed from there. I felt that all was not going to be lost in the darkness I was in. Love found its way through the cracks of my heart. I got these incredibly funny birthday memes from some of my gal pals from VAALA (Vietnamese American Arts and Letters Association). I laughed so hard. They’re knock offs of Ryan Gosling “hey girl” memes, but replaced by Lien Binh Phat, a Vietnamese actor who had me crushing hard when I watched him in Song Lang, a film in Vietnam about love and friendship set in the backdrop of Vietnam’s fading opera music scene. What a hoot, I laughed so hard as the memes came through my phone one by one.

Throughout the day, a stream of flowers, candies, books, messages, and other gifts rolled in. Then a floral arrangement came from Vu’s sister, Jackie. She wrote the card as if it was from Vu. Recently, her fur baby, Duy, was laid to rest. She already lost Vu so losing Duy was another devastation. I told her, “Maybe Duy will keep Vu company.” So it was a delight to read the card she sent with the flowers. “Happy Birthday, Sweetie. Jackie sent Duy to me for my birthday so I wanted to send something similar to make you smile on yours. Love, Vu”. Check out the flowers. Isn’t it the cutest thing you’ve ever seen?!

Finally, toward the end of the afternoon, a special gift from above came delivered by a special someone. This story is a super special supernatural one, one that I’ll share one day with the mystical details. It’s a pendant, hand cut from a coin minted in Vietnam. The design is a rice plant, representing the country’s staple commodity. The gift of a coin in jewelry form.


With all of these wonderful respites from the gloom, the power of love feeds me and nudges me toward action. I challenge myself to get up off the couch and do something. I do some stretches. I talk to my siblings and my parents. I take Pork Chop for a walk. I’m feeling very grateful, and I smile. But evening comes, and there’s something about the darkness that claims the dark side of me, too. And I feel sadness again.

When it was Vu’s birthday on October, 8, I invited some friends to come over throughout the day and celebrate with honey buns (one of his favorite sweet snacks) and RC Cola (his favorite drink during visitation). One came at 7 in the morning, then another at 9:45 am. It was nice, but by noon, I had to cancel everyone else. A headache took over me, and I ran out of the energy I needed to host. I tried my best. But it wasn’t good enough to make it through the day. And that is what life has been like since he passed. I try my best when I start the day, even though I know it won’t be good enough to make it through the remainder of day without feeling sick or blue.

My sincere apologies to anyone who has asked to treat me to a meal or spend time with me. I know you understand why I declined. I will ask, though, for a gift if you should feel inclined. On this day, October 19, for my birthday, I ask for the gift of memorializing Vu. There are two ways you can do this. 1) I’m going to share my Eulogy so you can read it and remember him in your heart through my words. 2) I’m going to share a link to the Hoang Vu Tran Memorial Scholarship that I established for justice impacted students. Your gift is 100% tax deductible.

I am grateful for your support, and mostly, I am grateful for the patience and grace you’ve given me while I’m a mess of a person right now. Thank you from the depths of my broken heart.

Link to donate to scholarship: https://foundation.miracosta.edu/donatenow-hoang-vu.html

Eulogy for my Beloved, Hoang Vu Tran
Friday, September 25, 2020
St. Maximilian Kolbe Catholic Community Church

Good morning, everyone. I would like to give a very sincere “Thank You” to everyone who is here. My name is Thao. Who am I to Vu that I would get this privilege to speak at his celebration of life? Vu would tell you that I’m his fiancé, and mostly, he would say I was his best friend. He is my best friend, too.

Xin chào tất cả mọi người. Tên mình là Thảo Hà. Nếu ai hỏi Vũ Thảo là ai, Anh sẽ nói Thao là bạn thân nhất của Anh. Anh Vũ cũng là ban than nhat của Thao. Thao muốn gửi lời cảm ơn chân thành sâu sắc đến tất cả những người đã đến ngày hôm nay.

I would like to honor Vu’s life in the best way I believe I know how. Through a letter to Vu. You see, over the 28 years that we had known each other, I think he would agree with me that writing letters and poems to each other was one of our most favorite things to do. We have been writing to each other since 1992.

Before I start the letter, please allow me to start with a few words about Vu with you. Vu was an incredible thinker and a beautiful writer. It was always a delight for me to receive letters, cards, and poems from him. He loved reading letters, too. He would tell me, “I’m always happy to get letters from my family and friends, and I would love it when I got them from you. I try to wait to read it when I have time to myself. But sometimes I can’t help it sometimes. I read it right away, only to read it several more times throughout the day.”

To honor his life with words in a letter is what I feel he would enjoy. It will not be a heartbreaking farewell, but rather, a celebration of a man who lived life filled with purpose and intention, and although there were dark moments of despair, as we all have had in our lives, Vu lived with a vibrant smile and held in his heart a true hope for a bright future.

Vu had many admirers. Girls gushed over his good looks, good hair, and adorable smile. I was one of those girls. Guys everywhere respected his loyalty, strength, and relentless way of protecting them at all costs. He was also a protector of his family. His brothers and sisters each have their own episodes and adventures of when and where Vu came to their rescue. His heart was huge, and he wore it on his sleeve. Everyone could feel the love emanate from his presence.  But people with big hearts also find themselves in situations where they save others at the cost of themselves. Vu did this for many of us, and it brought a series of heartbreaking events in his life. And yet, he stayed true to the nature of his heart. No matter where he went, he always carried himself with composure, confidence, class, humor, and good cheer. Through the years, many people who knew Vu told me he was their best friend. He was that guy. The one who so many felt was their best friend. I find myself extremely fortunate that he considered me his best friend. And so, this is my eulogy letter to my best friend.

My Most Precious Anh Vũ,

I know this letter is reaching you with a smile on your handsome face and that you are in the most ethereal and majestic of places. I would ask you how you are feeling, but I already know the answer – you are feeling the sheer happiness that you fully deserve. You are in the glorious splendor of God and the angels that surround you, and you are now one of those angels, too. I have much to say in praise and celebration of you, but I’d like to share my time with some very good friends of yours who could not be here today. They are often voices missing in this world.

Jordan says, “Words could never truly express how I feel. This whole thing has me broken hearted. I have always looked up to you and have always been able to talk to you about anything. I will always appreciate what you did for me, inspiring me to write and made me believe in myself. It changed my life. I must honor our friendship and keep you in my heart forever, I will keep writing and one day speak to students and always tell people who inspired me to tell my story – you. I love you, brother.”

Cruz says, “Thank you so much for everything you did for me. I will always remember you as a strong person with the spirit of a 20 year old, the poet that would always make jokes and the pillar that would be there to support if anyone needed help. At the end Vu I am so happy you finally reunited with your true love and had many rays of light that made you smile even in your worst moments. I hope you are at peace. I will keep you alive in my heart and mind. See you in Heaven.”

Quik says, “Seriously Vu, you are one of the most unique persons I have ever known. There is no one like you nor will there ever be. Your swag was so turnt-up people were inspired to be like you. Not only are you a realist concerning all things, you are extremely intelligent. You are cool, calm, and your collected demeanor caused everyone to take notice. Most of all, your sense of humor had us all laughing. You are my most trustworthy confidante. I will forever treasure the long meaningful conversations concerning our lives, our families, my wife, and your fiancé. Thank you for being my best friend.”

Charles says, “I miss you, Vu. The way you lived your life, I admire it so much. You were like clockwork, always up early, working hard, working out, and cleaning up. You were super clean and neat! You are one of a kind, and I miss my potna, and I cry for you. When I first heard, it was like the air went out of this place. Everybody is thinking about you. Torres said what’s up. Football season won’t be the same without you. Never thought I’d miss you this much! Miss Mitchell cried when I told her. We all admire your character and your walk. You got a lot of love, bro. We all love you.”

Anh Vũ ơi, you had numerous friends who loved you, who considered you like their brother. They were fortunate to have been graced by your presence in their lives. You were like a brother to everyone. And hence, your real siblings were most fortunate to have you as their eldest brother, their Anh Hai. Your brothers Dung and Van wanted to be like you – strong, cool, loyal, and popular with the girls. Your sisters Judi and Jackie Lan could count on you to watch over them, sometimes with the eyes of an Eagle, constantly scanning and swooping in to lift them and protect them from the troubles of the world. I love when we spent hours talking and the stories of your siblings were always a topic of joy and laughter.

Do you remember the time you told Judi you hadn’t had a banana in so long, and the only time the joint served bananas was if someone donated enough for everyone? Judi wanted to donate thousands of bananas so you could have just one. That was one gesture in a million that you recalled about Judi’s thoughtfulness and generosity. She was like you, a giant heart and wore her heart on her sleeve. You loved her so much because of her love for you. You didn’t get the chance to finish the boots you made her, but don’t worry, Babe, she will get them done and will wear them with pride.

Do you remember the time you asked Van to help you send orchids to me on our anniversary? You said he had to make sure it was delivered on the exact date, July 16, and it had to be the exact kind of flowers – white orchids. He made it happen. You said he was always reliable and dependable. You once wrote that you were on the phone with him and when you two were about to hang up, he said I love you bro. You responded I love you too babe. He said “what was that?” You told him you always said that to me so you blurted it out subconsciously. He then said “Ok I love you too babe” then laughed his butt off as he hung up on you. We laughed so much about that story.

Do you remember the time Dung came to visit you and you gave him a hard time because he wasn’t in top shape. Sweetheart, not everyone is a workout master like you. That you can grab a pole and pull yourself sideways like a flag and hold for a long time is extraordinary. You then realized you shouldn’t have given him a hard time because Dung was working hard and taking care of his family. You said that was more important; in fact, it’s one of the most important things a man can do in this life. I know you longed to have a family to care for, and you would have been an incredible husband and father, just like Dung.

And Jackie Lan… there are too many things to recall. I would be up here all day. We talked about her all the time. My favorite kinds of stories were the many times she tried to set you up with her girlfriends. I’m glad she didn’t succeed. But she was the one who helped reconnect us. So, in a way, she did succeed. She always wanted the best for you. She was your baby sis. The one for whom you had a very soft spot. The one you wanted to spoil and take with you everywhere. The one who was our third wheel when we were together – at the park, at the mall, at the restaurants… she went everywhere with us. When you and I lost touch, she’s the one who was your spy, giving you updates about me. You said she didn’t make things easy for you, telling you, “Thao’s even prettier now than she was then! And she’s a professor with a PhD!” That girl, your baby sis, she’s something else. Your love for her is immeasurable.

Through your siblings, you have 11 amazing nieces and nephews who you love dearly and wished you could have doted on more. You made so many beautiful gifts for them through the years. You bragged about their accomplishments and achievements. You spoke of them with the voice of a proud uncle. Their Bác Vũ…do you remember how we realized we were old because kids be callin’ us Bác now? And then there’s Tasi, your eldest niece, but also your baby girl. The young woman who lifted you from a low point and brought you to a heightened awareness of the preciousness of life. She gave you the strength to keep pushing for a better tomorrow. Her sweet voice, “everything will be okay Bác Vũ”, was something so inspiring to you that you wrote about it in your published essay. The bond between you two will continue, as I know you are watching over her from Heaven.

Your siblings, your nieces, and your nephews – they all come through the lineage of your mom and dad. You always reminded me to visit them whenever I could. You wanted them to know how much you loved them, how much you appreciated their sacrifices, and that you thought of them every single day. You wanted to be better at communicating with mom and dad. It’s ok Babe. It is like that for many of us. Language barriers. Generational gaps. Cultural differences. As children of Vietnamese refugees, we all struggled with that. You are not alone. But now, you can communicate with them through your shining spirit as a guardian angel, watching over them and protecting them. You will always be their beloved eldest son.

Anh Vũ ơi, so many people love you. People who have never met you admire you, respect you, and are inspired by you. That is because to know you is to love you. To feel you is to feel loved. To receive your gifts is to witness your meticulous attention to detail and the love and care you put into doing everything with your best efforts. You taught me so many things. You taught me to love myself, saying to me, “Sweetie, you have to love yourself and take care of yourself. How are you going to help and serve others when you aren’t good yourself?”

You truly are like no other. Your soul is so gentle yet also filled with a fiery passion to love and protect. You lived your best life despite the cruel circumstances you were subjected to. You shined like a radiant star despite being cast into a dark and gloomy place. You soothed and counseled and consoled me through so many of my moments of hardship even though you were living in a constant hardship.  And now, you are still shining, still radiant, still filled with love, still protecting, still consoling all of us. We know you are here with us, I can feel you, and your soul is holding hands with mine.

Meeting you and loving you 28 years ago changed my life because I met my soul mate. Since then, through everything that we have experienced, you have impacted me deeply and shaped me into the person I am, and you will continue to be part of our lives as we continue to learn and grow. You loving me and wanting happiness for me gives me great strength and confidence to go into the world and conquer whatever goals need to be achieved.

It is my hope that through your passing, we will all remember your spirit and celebrate you by living our best life like you did. Maybe we’ll hold our loved ones a little longer, maybe we’ll be grateful for what we have regardless of our circumstances, maybe we’ll look at our partner sitting next to us and know what a precious gift it is to have them right there with us, maybe we’ll serenade love songs directly to the one we want and not sing the songs in our head to the one who got away, maybe we’ll love like there’s no tomorrow. 

Anh Vũ, you loved poems very much. A poem came to me the day after you passed. It reads:

I am watching over you from the stars
Don’t be scared I know exactly where you are
Cause there’s a piece of me and it’s burning in your heart
Even death could never tear us apart.

Anh Vũ, người thương mến của em, you said your favorite poems are ones written by me. And so, I’m gonna end with two that I wrote. The first one is for all of us to honor you. The second one is from my heart to you.

“Vu is Free”

From the Earth, Vu has departed
Leaving us all, so broken hearted

But we must remember, he’s with God in Heaven above
Shining down on us, with his unconditional Love

He would want us to live our lives like today is our last
Do not grieve too much for his painful past

For he is now feeling ultimate joy and peace
His struggles and sorrows have all ceased

He is healed from any disease
And his shackles have been released

He is smiling, trust us, we believe

So find the strength to smile for him if you can
Seek the sweet memories of this incredible man

Who always gave us his best while he was here
And keep him in your happy heart
Because his beautiful soul is always near.

“We Don’t Say Good Bye”

We don’t say Good Bye
It’s not meant for us, my dear
Our connection will continue as it has
We have nothing to fear

I will miss who you were on Earth
But I will look to the kaleidoscope skies
And hear your sweet voice singing to me
Those romantic crystal lullabies

I will whisper back
Sweetie, I hear you, it’s so clear
I’ll close my eyes to see your face
And feel your presence like now, you are so near

I will gaze at the bright moon
And the twinkling stars at night
Thinking of your embrace
Holding me oh so tight

When I’m feeling blue
I’ll think of your good cheer
I’ll remember our precious love
And it will banish my tears

I’ll think of you every day
Until my time here is through
I’ll miss you more than anything
Until I can join you

I know you are my guardian angel
Watching over and protecting me
I know your soul is tethered to mine
Always, forever, in eternity

I know that you are now Glowing in a Radiant Peace
My Love, you are truly now free
You can laugh and dance and sing
As the angel you were meant to be

Be Free, My Love
Soar High
But remember
We don’t say Good Bye

One thought on “Birthday Blues”

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