March 16, 2013


It's terrible that sometimes something sad needs to happen in order for people to open their eyes. And I'm talking about myself.

Let me tell you about Yen Tran. She's my maternal grandmother's sister, my great aunt, and in some ways a grandma to me. My real grandma was sick for most of my life with Alzheimer's. My memories of her are few, although they are strong, vivid and full of love, there are few due to her sickness. My great aunt however, fills up a lot of my memories from my childhood. She was always actively in my life and I spent so much of my childhood with her.

She did so much for my family, and for countless others. She was a wonderful cook, who cooked for others while she had meager portions because she didn't have an ounce of gluttony in her body or heart. Nor was she greedy. She always gave, gave, and gave. This included money (that she barely had), her time, her help, and her patience. She never asked for a thing in return.

I can't tell you how many times I was a selfish child, with no acknowledge of my hurtful actions, and yet she always took care of me and loved me. I remember going to her little apartment on Cedar in Minneapolis and walking with her to the local bakery for treats, going to the little playground in her apartment complex (with graffiti all over and shady characters roaming), that she was always reluctant to bring me but always did since I always insisted. She always put others first. The very little money that she made babysitting children in her apartment complex for less than minimum wage, she selflessly gave away to anyone in need. She was always donating money, food, and clothes to the less fortunate. She always had high respect for others. I clearly remember her asking me when I was young to help her with her English so that she could write thank you cards to her doctors. Then she would ride the bus to downtown Dayton's to buy them expensive chocolate.

She gave so much with her heart. She never took from anyone. She would never accept gifts. She was the most generous, kind hearted, pure, person I've ever met. She had hardships that are unexplainable from her past in Vietnam, yet here she was, still an amazing woman, always giving, never expressing any greed, envy or pride.

The past three years she has been living in a Presbyterian home in Arden Hills. This happened after she had her hip replaced - even with that procedure she was falling down a lot. She was always an extremely independent woman. Teaching herself enough English to get along, and living on her own in Minneapolis. She carried her groceries home every day, knew all the bus routes, and took care of all her own needs. Never relied or asked anyone for help unless completely necessary. When she started falling down a lot, her independence started to diminish. She needed help. I remember one winter in particular when she fell on the way home from the store on some ice, and with no one around to help her, she picked up a stick and made her way home, leaving her groceries on the street. This just couldn't happen again.

There was talk that she needed to move in with family. However, she didn't want to move far - and 90% of my family live out of state. My one aunt here in MN that could take her in, offered, and she reluctantly started staying there more often. I feel as if at this same moment is when she started to get very mild signs of dementia. I could be wrong, but I feel as if when her independence started to diminish, so did her mind. She started to forget how to do simple things, like turning on the stove, and started mistaking things and not remembering. The unfortunate day came when she left my aunt's house to go next door to ask the neighbor how to turn on the stove to make some tea. That question ended up leading to the neighbor expressing concern on her condition and the safety of the neighborhood. That was when it was decided that she needed to live in assisted care.

Three years after that incident, my eyes are finally open. Where she is so good, I can only come up ashamed and guilty. I didn't visit her far enough as I should have. I stopped by here and there, but never did I spend the quality of time with her that she had spent on me. I became an adult, and with that came dating, getting married, having a family, having a career, enjoying my freedom...also being selfish. I didn't start regularly visiting her until the past few months when I heard that she wasn't doing very well. I came to see her and instantly I knew that it had been an incredibly selfish, grave mistake that I didn't make more time in my life to spend with her. I had come around when it was too late. Her dementia was much worse. Some days she would hold my hand and look me in the face and know it was me. She would talk to me; urging me to leave and get back to my family, and not to waste anytime sitting in her prison, as she would call it. She made it clear that I should go enjoy my life. This broke my heart. Other days she thought I was a really thoughtful nurse. Those days she would thank me a lot. We would listen to Vietnamese music together and she would tell me which songs she liked. When I found out she disliked the CD she had received from her real nurses because the music was too depressing, I searched that weekend for new music. Then other days she didn't talk to me at all but stared right past me while I tried to spoon feed her lunch. She often would refuse food. She became more and more frail. People shouldn't use the term "skin and bones" until they see someone who is literally so.

Last week I came to see her and was shocked. I thought someone had moved her out of her room. The person there was almost not recognizable. She clearly stopped eating altogether. She no longer was speaking. I think she could see me though and I know she could hear me. I apologized for not coming more. I told her I loved her. And thank God I did. And thank God that my family flew in to see her these past few weeks. My Aunt Christine came from California. Uncle Thien from Michigan. Uncle Tran from California. My mom from Texas. My Aunt Tam.

This morning she passed away at 5:13 am. They say she passed away in her sleep, peacefully, and quietly. They said they had expected her to go weeks, maybe even months ago, but for whatever reason, she was holding on, needing to finish her business. She held on for so long, and now she has finally let go.

I'm happy that now she can move on, and that karma will serve her well, as she deserves. I'm happy that she can join my grandma in the afterlife. I'm happy that she went on a sunny, beautiful morning. Of course, I'm sad. Mostly sad because I'm full of remorse, guilt and shame for not being there for her more. I should have come far more often. I shouldn't have waited. I can go on and on about how I feel miserable by my actions, but again I'd only be being selfish.

How I want to move on from this experience, is by knowing my great aunt taught me so much in her lifetime. She taught me how to love and give. She taught me how to forgive others. And now that she has passed, she has taught me more than ever before. I know now how I want to move on with my life from this moment forward. All I can hope is for one day for people to say I was selfless, I was generous, I was kind, I was good. I want to move forward, giving to those in need, spending more time with the people I love, to only take what I need and stop spending time dwelling on things I cannot change. I need to appreciate my life, my health, my family and relationships. I need to remember that Yen had so little, yet never wavered from her giving, loving, kind ways.

This has changed me forever. I don't want to be cliche. And I don't think I am, because I'm being honest. From this moment on, I am a changed woman for the better. Yen Tran, I will miss you more than you'll ever know and more than I ever expressed. I will never, ever forget you. Thank you for being in my life and giving me a chance to be a better person. I love you so much.


  1. This is beautiful. I cried. And I also smiled remembering the good memories and her utter selflessness. --kristina

  2. Very moving. Thanks


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