Writing a book about my sister, so soon after her passing, has been an interesting process. On the one hand, it has been very therapeutic. On the other, I have been forced to confront some very painful memories and feelings. Overall it has provided some healing and I believe in the end, I will see the bigger picture with having written the book. Another Aha! moment which came to me recently was to share what I have written to date with you, rather than waiting until it’s finished. My thinking on that was triggered by the fact that I wanted you to join me on my journey of processing the loss of a loved one from grieving to healing. If you have been or are in mourning, perhaps you will find good company here. If you haven’t been able to grieve, perhaps my sharing can help get you to open up, to go where you need to so you can heal. No matter where you are in your journey, I hope you will find something of value to you while you’re here.
My Sister’s Eulogy:
Good morning everyone. I’m Lee Giacalone, one of Chanh’s four sisters. On behalf of my brother-in-law Alan, her two sons, Bryan and his family and Jeff, my mom, my sisters and brother and my own family, I would like to thank you all for being here to honor Chanh and to be with us. Your love and support is very much appreciated and we thank you from the bottom of our hearts.
I think we can all agree that when an event like this takes place, we are shaken to our core. There are many questions and few answers. As with many families who have been through this before, our family relies on our faith. And right now our faith calls on us to celebrate and to remember Chanh for having lived out her mission in life. I personally believe that our faith also calls on us to keep her memories alive by sharing our experience with her and by sharing her story.
Her story begins in a little village outside of Saigon, Vietnam. Growing up in a poor and war-torn country, Chanh was forced to make life-changing decisions at a very young age. When she was 12 a relative offered her to come live with them so she could continue her education in the city. Culturally Asian females are expected to live to serve. In our family we were reminded of this mission often. “In the home your role is to serve your parents and take care of your younger siblings. When you get married you serve your husband’s parents, your husband and take care of your children.” I’m sure she knew the expression well. Because of this expectation She had no hesitation in choosing to leave her family temporarily so She could finish school, get a job and come back later to help us. Can you imagine, a 12 year-old kid having that kind of thinking and taking on that kind of responsibility?
In high school with her fighting spirit and having a family with a deep sense of nationalism, she organized and participated in many demonstrations against foreigners. Ironically, it was a foreigner who caught her eyes where she worked her first job. A Big Man On Campus (BMOC), former Marine Corps Captain, Alan Frederick Myers met an assertive 18 year-old receptionist with beauty queen good looks Chanh at a hotel where he had extended stay privileges. After a rough start they began an exciting and at times dangerous courtship as it was not socially acceptable for Vietnamese women to be seen with foreign men, especially American. Chanh loved ballroom dancing so she and Alan hosted and attended many dance parties. She introduced Alan to a lot of her favorite Vietnamese foods and they ventured out together yet separately on the streets of Saigon. They married three years later and began to plan their journey to the US as the war was coming to an end. The only regret Chanh had about her marriage to Alan was that it was kept a secret from our father, who’d spent his entire life preaching against foreigners, whether they be friends or foes.
In 1971 Alan and Chanh moved back to Norwalk. A few short years later, life broke lose at a head spinning pace. Bryan arrived as the world watched the inevitable fall of Saigon, South Vietnam to the Communist North. There was no question as to what Chanh wanted to do for our family with the few options she had. With the help of some relatives (Uncle Cliff Brown and Alan’s brother Mike, his wife Fran and her family being some of the main players) and friends from the military they moved with lightning speed to get Chanh her US citizenship. She and Alan became our sponsors and several weeks later, 6 people, between the ages of 5 and 46 moved in with them. Another life-changing decision made because she was living out her mission of taking care of her family.
From 1975 on life was very chaotic as everyone tried to blend two different cultures, three generations and 9 people in a 1200 square feet home on Stoutenburg Drive. We have some very fond memories during this time with Chanh and Alan, Alan’s family and relatives, friends, co-workers and how the whole community coming together to teach us western customs and etiquette. We learned to cook and eat different foods and shared ours. Together with my mom Chanh created two new family favorite dishes, egg rolls and fried rice. Till this day, everyone who has had those egg rolls will tell you that they are the best.
Chanh’s personal dream came true when her prayer was answered with the arrival of her second son Jeff in 1984.
As we all grew up, moved out and started our own family Chanh continued her service mission at work. Meeting and listening to her co-workers and clients share their experiences with her last night was a complete joy for me. Chanh was not only good at what she did, she was also good at serving her clients in the most caring and personal ways. Everyone I talked with appreciated her and I know along with our family and friends, they too, will miss her very much.
Faith was a big part of Chanh’s life and she had become the prayer warrior my family counted on. I know she would want us to turn to faith to move forward without her presence here. I know faith will give me the strength I need to process our loss and perhaps to make a few life-changing decisions for myself.
As we gather together to assist Chanh with her transition home to the Lord, I am comforted by a beautiful vision I had upon receiving words of her passing: I saw her sitting peacefully at the feet of Our Father. Her head was resting on his lap. He looked at her lovingly and said to her, “You’ve done well daughter. You’ve done well.”
May God bless your eternal soul Chanh and May God bless us all. Amen.
Then I walked back to my seat and took a few deep breaths as Bryan began to talk about his mother. As he spoke, my breathing became more labored. It was almost as if my emotions had been stored in my lungs, and now there was no room left. My eyes were focused on Bryan, but my head was one big vacant space. Bryan’s words were soft and measured. He talked about Chanh’s faith in God, and how even in the midst of painful moments, we are all a part of God’s larger plan.
As I listened to my nephew’s words, I felt every single emotion rushing up from my lungs to my throat, and without any warning, they exploded inside my head. And then I broke down with an uncontrollable cry as my body began to convulse. I had held it in and tried to be strong, but I could no longer contain myself. I put my head down and wept. I continued to weep until the pastor approached the podium. At that time, I slowly began to collect myself and was able to calm down a bit. There wasn’t much he could have added to what we’d already shared. After he finished, he invited people to come up to share their condolences with the family and bid my sister farewell.
Many people I did not know walked past me and said, “What a beautiful tribute to your sister.” Then, everyone ranging from Alan’s relatives, to old high school classmates and friends, to neighbors and former co-workers, came up and embraced me. “You did right by her,” someone mentioned as they squeezed my hand. One of Chanh’s former Arbonne clients, a young woman named Kate, tearfully shared, “She was like a mother to me…so patient and generous. She even taught me how to make Vietnamese egg rolls. I’ll always remember how willing she was to help anyone and everyone.”
Those testaments to Chanh’s generosity stood out to me the most. It warmed my heart to know that people had seen her in a light that my family had forgotten because of all the drama we couldn’t get passed. They’d seen Chanh’s warmth and kindness. I knew that Chanh rarely complained about her job, even though she’d joked about making “chump change.” I believe she enjoyed being part of a group of people who appreciated her, where she felt her self-worth validated and she welcomed the opportunity to help others, given that her life mission was service.
Two of Chanh’s close Vietnamese friends, Kim and Hoa, whom we’d first met right after moving to the U.S., were also there. They were devastated by the sudden loss and couldn’t contain their grief and stop crying. I imagined that because they were Vietnamese women who understood the notion that their lives had little worth beyond the service they could give to others, Chanh’s story had resonated deeply.
At no point in time during that week did my mom and all of us sit down and cry together, or share stories about Chanh’s life and our memories of her. In retrospect, I think we were purposely avoiding this. The weight of our guilt was almost as heavy as the weight of our grief. After all, we’d been accustomed to commiserating over Chanh’s explosive personality. Now that she was gone, it almost seemed disingenuous to turn sentimental.
Are you experiencing any of these feelings?
- Feeling overwhelmed with family expectations and obligations?
- Having to sacrifice your own goals, dreams, and wishes to take care of others?
- Feeling not worthy or deserving of what you want out of life?
- Chasing one success after another and experiencing little joy?
Are you ready to make a life-changing decision?