My Momma left Vietnam in 1987. Only 28 at the time, left the only home she knew and traveled to a new country. Her culture, friends and way of life would soon become a distant memory. What would life be like in Canada? Would she fit in? Shy and homesick, my Momma made the best of her situation and soon found a job working as a Housekeeper at the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel. Adjusting to a new culture was her biggest challenge. She would never forget the first time she took the bus in Calgary. Back in Vietnam, you had to sit down on the bus but here in the city, you could stand. So there she was holding on for dear life when the bus driver announced “Lansdowne”. My Mother thought he was saying “hands down” and so dropped her hands and flew to the back of the bus!
Fond memories of her Father bringing her and her siblings to the beach in Vietnam to swim were ever present on her mind. She remembered her Father waking them up at the crack of dawn to go swimming. Water was her solace and connection with home, so she went fishing on her days off.
My Parents moved to Prince Rupert shortly after my baby sister was born. My Father was working as a Fisherman at the time and money was tight, so my Mom, being very resourceful, came up with the idea to babysit other children for extra money. Along with looking after 4 children, she also cared for two other children. Even with all her obligations, she still found the time to attend “Home and School” meetings and help us with our homework.
My Mother would stay up for hours long after we all went to bed, cleaning the house and preparing Vietnamese food for the next day, which took time to do. Generous and loving, she opened her home for guests, making sure there was always enough food on the table. This is the Vietnamese way! Bringing over food to neighbours who were sick and helping to shovel their driveway, was the norm for her. She soon earned the name “Angel”.
Growing up, she was my best friend. Even as a teen, I remember helping her clean windows and paint the house. We went camping and on many long walks together. I was proud to be with her. “You teach others to respect you by respecting yourself”, she would often tell me. Her life’s example spoke to me as she taught me to be disciplined with my money. “If you want something badly enough, you have to save for it.” Save I did and was able to put a good down payment on my first house.
Mothers must have patience, especially when children go astray. The day my Momma caught me smoking was when I truly experienced her patience and compassion in a real way. I was only 17 at the time. My Dad was ripping mad but my Mom, remaining calm, told me how it would ruin my health and rescued me from my Father’s wrath. I never smoked again!
My Mother’s dedication to her family has not diminished over the years. She spends time teaching her grandbaby how to cook delicious Vietnamese food and how to grow her own fruits and vegetables. My Father the love of her life, the only man she ever held hands with and kissed. Her children are her world and she shows us every single day through all her loving actions.
My Precious Momma,
You and Dad had one boy and three girls, Brother, Sisters and me. You gave us yourself and then you gave us each other. We were a team, even when…especially when, things got hard.
Remember when Sisters told us they were going to Vietnam and Australia? And remember how every bone in your body was screaming NO and how you wished you’d never taught them to be so brave or care so much? Do you remember what you said? I do. You said: Go Bibi. Do what you need to do. And remember how every night between the time you gave your blessing and the time they left, you made them all their favourite dishes…so they’d have a reminder that even an ocean between you couldn’t stop you from loving them.
When Grandpa passed away, your grief was so deep and so relentless that it scared me, Momma. What I learned watching you grieve for Grandpa…watching the Steady One shake is: You are just human. I think this is the moment a woman truly appreciates her Mother for the first time, when she watches Her Rock cry and she suddenly understands: this woman has loved us this fiercely, this steadily, this completely all of these decades and she is only a human being.
You are so brave and tender and beautiful Momma. You told us, our love must be greater than our grief. Nothing, not fear, not fatigue, not deep, deep despair can keep us from showing up for our people. Love often means doing the hardest things, the impossible thing. We understand. There is always something more important than your feelings, and that is your family.
And then two months later, you were trying to heal and recover when you got the call that Grandma was sick again. You must have been so afraid and so tired. But you did not consult your exhaustion or your pain or your fear.
I went out to British Columbia to be with you for Christmas. And I asked you what your dream would be? A cruise around the world? A trip to Hawaii? You said: “I don’t have a single dream other than being with you. I don’t want to see the world, I just want to be with my grandbaby. You guys are my world. Being with you is all I need.” I watched Sophia with you and it melts my heart. Do you remember what you kept saying to her as you were teaching her how to make your famous Bánh bao? I was listening from the dining room table, Momma, and you were saying: “Just try bibi. Don’t worry at all. If you mess up we will fix it together and begin again.”
That’s why I’m out there taking risks, Momma…because you taught me if I fail, so what? I can come home to you and you will look at me and your eyes will always say: You are my dream come true. Who cares what else you are? Who cares?
Momma, what I’ve learned from you is that there isn’t a damn thing more important than loving your people.
Your love has written the entire world of our family into existence. The characters in your story are bold and brave because your love made them that way. Our plot line is love and courage and hope and steadfastness. Our family is a beautiful story, Momma…and the hero of our story is you. You are the hero. You are the one. You created this family and watch over it and tend to it and delight in it and you are the closest I’ve ever come to seeing God, Momma.
Here is the moral of your story. You taught us that what matters is love, and that love is relentlessly showing up for your people.
And so Brother, Sisters and I will take care of each other forever. When the phone rings, we’ll answer it, and we’ll start packing. We will sleep on the floor and we will walk our people home. We will sit with our grand babies and we will teach them everything we know. Everything we know is what you taught us.
We will always remember that the most world-changing work we can do is this: We can live in a way so that our children will be able to say, not one moment of my life did I wonder if I was adored. Never, ever did I feel alone. And they will pass it on. They will answer the phone. They will start packing. They will know that when your people are hurting, you go. You show up. Again and again forever. That is family. That is love. That is your legacy. Your legacy is that none of your people will be alone. Not ever. Because you made that rule for us, and then you lived it. We just don’t know any different.
Momma, you are such an inspiration and a pillar of strength for me and for others. Thank you for believing in me, even when I didn’t believe in myself. You’ve taught me that no matter what trial I may go through. God is always with me. By your example of faith, I keep strong and with your love, I am blessed. You will always be my hero and my best friend. I love you and cherish you with every ounce of my being – you are the reason I love with all my heart.
To all Mothers – You each have your own unique story. Happy Mother’s Day and may God Bless you!