year in [grief] review & forgiveness

February 11th marks one year of my father’s passing, and a little under one year since I’ve published a blog post. I would love to say that this was intentional, but it wasn’t. I was just dealing with a lot of shit and spending too much time away from what feeds my soul (more on that in another post that’s been fermenting).


I love the momentum of a “new year” whether it’s literally a new year or a turn around the sun (birthdays) which is why I mark significant dates as anniversaries during which we are “starting anew.”

February 11th marks one year of my father’s passing, and a little under one year since I’ve published a blog post. I would love to say that this was intentional, but it wasn’t. I was just dealing with a lot of shit and spending too much time away from what feeds my soul (more on that in another post that’s been fermenting).

When you lose someone as significant to your life as a parent, you’re transformed. This is something I found myself declaring in the early days to my therapist and anyone who would listen post-father loss. I felt a seismic shift within myself but didn’t know what that would look like. But there are some earth shattering experiences that you can’t go through without unlocking a part of yourself that needed to be let loose at some point so you can become your whole self.

So here’s my year-in-grief-review, picking moments that stood out to me and felt connected to my father-loss.

  • I told a friend that I felt like I could “kick doors down” and that I “wasn’t afraid of anything!” and I think it was the adrenaline from the shock of my dad’s death speaking at the time. But little things started taking shape and manifesting.
  • In the wake of anti-Asian sentiment and hate crimes, I took my very Asian name back o f f i c i a l l y, the one given to me by my parents: Lasamee Kettavong.
  • I embodied the “kick doors down” power and somehow no longer gave a fuck whether someone liked me or not. I began to let all of my colors show, wherever I went and with whomever I spoke. Life is short and the unexpected will happen (which you CAN expect, ha. ha.).
  • I’ve thought about what my epitaph would be and what my tombstone would look like since the time I learned what an epitaph was (probably in high school english class). My tombstone sure as hell will NOT read “Laci” because that’s not who I am. My name means something synonymous with “celestial light” and I can’t live with myself avoiding embodying that brilliance that my mother gave me, so here I am, nice and shiny (read: oily, lol) for ya.
  • Throwing myself into learning more about the motherland and connecting with other Lao folx has helped me feel like part of a community and that I belong and am accepted. That’s mind-blowingly heartwarming for me. For some reason, my dad didn’t really help the family become a part of the Lao community when we were younger, and that’s a shame; my mom is a social creature and extrovert.
  • Blake and I finally got married this past year, which we were planning on doing anyway, but … now I actually had an easy reason to tell people why my dad wasn’t present. Before, it was “My father has complex PTSD and can’t be around people” with a big, fat, loaded silence following it. “He’s dead,” is a much easier to digest and say reason, plus, no one wants to upset the bride the day of the wedding and bring up dead dad, right? (Sorry, this is my sense of humor and how I talk … dark and maybe a little blasphemous?) My sweet mama walked me down the aisle.

Me, trying not to let fat tears roll down my face during a moment of silence for the people who couldn’t be with us on our wedding day
  • As the day of the dead/Dia de los Muertos rolled around, I’d planned to read a letter to my dad at an open mic but ultimately that didn’t happen. It’s okay though – I wrote one to him anyway, and now it exists in the world and has helped me do some healing. My therapist was excited for me to take this major step (publicly announcing my father), but that will have to wait.
  • What else did I accomplish? Finishing a podcast, The Untitled Dad Project, which for me is monumental. I’ve only finished listening to one audio book in my lifetime because I can’t stay focused on longer audio pieces.
  • And last but not least, my partner and I started our small business, Good and Golden, which aims to share Lao food and culture (lookin’ for partners here!) with people who don’t know what or where Laos is!

And, I learned a little more about what forgiveness looks like for me.

I hope that he didn’t suffer

January 20, 2019 was the last day that I saw my father in-person at his care facility. My brother and sister went with me. We’d had brunch and mimosas. We pulled in, parked, and my brother and I shared a cigarette, while my sister climbed a nearby crepe myrtle. She gets her anxious energy out in weird ways; my brother and I have our own coping methods.

Samout, climbing a tree and being silly before seeing our dad for the first time in years

I noted the automatic sliding door, the decorated entryway, the fake plants, the office-like feel to the environment, and the front desk person greeted us, asking what we needed and who we were there to see. I was in family historian mode. “Nai Kettavong,” we said, as she searched up where he might be and on what floor. We got on an elevator.

“Oh no one ever visits Nai,” the staff person on the second floor responded. I cringed. The place didn’t feel real. It felt like a dream where you know that you’re asleep and intuitively, you know where you are and feel like you’ve been there before. This was the first time I’d ever stepped foot in this facility.

We were lead to my father’s room, and it was empty. I panicked a little inside.

“He might be watching TV in the common room,” our guide said, and we followed him, completely silent.

There he was. My dad. The man who I had feared for most of my life and felt some dutiful love towards as his daughter. He was alone. There were chairs here and there in the room and a lonely couch, a couple of small cafe-sized tables along the wall. At least there was a window, wall to wall, behind him. We pulled up a couple chairs to the round table that he was seated at, a walker nearby.

Playing on the television was some mundane show about wildlife or something that I didn’t particularly care about but was glad there was something for all of us to look at when we needed to look away from one another.

He looked so much grayer, pale, and older than I remembered. He had the same smile though, somewhat sheepish and shy. Perhaps he felt as if he were dreaming too. His children were actually there to see him. Chasms of guilt rippled through me.

“Do you remember me?” my sister asked.

“Yes,” he replied calmly.

I’d suspected that the language barrier between my father and staff contributed to my father’s diagnosis of early dementia. I would observe a little more closely, I thought to myself.

“How are you?” my brother asked. “I’m fine here. I get a little cold,” he responded.

Later, my brother would take the scarf that he was wearing and give it my dad because of the comment about being cold, which I’d notice in all of his photos in the years following. Our oldest sister would become his caretaker in Texas City, where he would be moved to in just a few months following this visit.

The conversation was slow. The three of us assessed the situation, asking questions here and there. Speaking Lao out loud to our estranged father was quite the task. And we were electrified by being in his presence again, I think.

I asked him if I could ask him some questions for a project that I was working on, and he said, “Go ahead, ask, and I’ll tell you everything.” That was the last time we spoke. I didn’t get to ask him any questions again.

Gray is how I feel when I think about this. Like hand torn paper pieces that have been mixed with water to become pulp and and then pressed, to live a different life. Lumps. Speckles. Wet. Shapeless until the next step. Amorphous and gray. Lacking any brightness, any warmth.


Recently, I realized that a confident sign that you have forgiven someone who abused and terrorized you and your family (even if it was their own family) is that you pray that they did not suffer during their last days. That hot, boiling rage that you used to feel when you cursed them into oblivion turns into just your body temperature as you sigh and think about them.

The ‘rona finally got me after two years of the pandemic, and it was days of body aches, fever dreams, sinus pressure, sneezing, coughing, and mucus. The first night, I rolled over and said to Blake, “I hope my dad didn’t suffer,” and tried to get a good cry out. It didn’t work. I finally cried typing “He was alone,” in the above paragraph.

It took another couple of days for me to think to myself, “Ah. Yes. I did the work. I have forgiven.”

My father died of COVID complications last year, and we still have not been able to take his ashes to his final resting place. For Lao folks, this is usually the temple in the community. I know that this is the case for too many at this point in the pandemic. I am so sorry.

It’s been nearly an entire year since I’ve published anything on this blog, and it somewhat symbolizes where I’ve been with my grief: in the in-between. Which, I suppose, is where we could say my father’s physical being is too.

If you are in the in-between, I will meet you where you are. If you need help, please let yourself shoot that text, make a call, send an email, or call an anonymous hotline. It’s worth it; you’re worth it.

when it matters : the dream wears off

WordPress records tell me that I first drafted a version of this blog on October 22, 2018. It has taken me two years and 8 days to finally release this into the world in its “final” form. 


One of my partner’s pet peeves is hearing people talk about their dreams. Not their ambition-type dreams, but the dreams that you wake up out of. The kind where you’ve just cracked open your crusty, itchy eyes and you’re still trying to shake off the residual feelings that you were just mentally steeped in and just HAVE to tell someone about it.


I recently had one of those bizarre, captivating dreams. In this dream, my childhood best friend (hey, Mirna) and I were in her little sister’s apartment (a place I’ve never actually been and am not sure it exists) and one of our best friends from teenager-dom was there. He was hanging out in the spare bedroom and I noticed him from the corner of my eye.It wasn’t strange that he was there; when we were young and all hangin’ out, we were always taking over our friends’ homes (sorry parents and relatives). It was strange because he’s been dead for ten years. Mirna tells me that maybe I shouldn’t go into the room to talk to dead friend, and of course I ignore her.I approach, all dream-state-like and question said dead friend, “Hey, uhhhm, I thought you were dead? Where have you been the past ten years? What’s going on?” But I don’t wait for him to answer.Instead, I tell him, “Okay, wait, I have to pee, hold on,” (even in dreams, I have a tiny bladder) and his response is “Wait, we only have so much time before the dream wears off!” And then, I guess I’m snapped out of that dream and into another one.


But that’s it. That’s all that fucking happened. Thanks, dream-dead-friend. Was there a message you needed to relay to me from the other side that you just didn’t get to?Yeah, maybe I’m mad at him still, for his sudden departure from this plane of existence. I don’t know. Ask my therapist.


Shortly after said friend’s sudden death, I’d wake up with my dreams and reality swiftly blending. Just upon waking up, it was as if nothing had changed, until I remembered. One of my closest friends had died in a bizarre accident, days before, and his departure was saturating every waking and sleeping moment of my life. He had been part of many firsts in my life, and I loved him deeply, as any 16 year old would love a person who they spent most days out of the week with. Funny, how you can be suspended in feelings like that, right upon regaining consciousness and reality hits. 


My mother had been watching over me during those long days and long nights, when friends had left for home, and even when they were asleep on the floor rolled in blankets and sleeping bags or next to me. This particular morning, I was alone with her. I wiped at my eyes and sat up to look at my mother. Her hands were crossed on the arm of the armchair beside my bed, and she began to tell me a story of her life that she’d never spoken aloud to me before.“When I was young and about to be married, my fiancé died.” She said quietly, simply, frankly. I sat up quickly to lean in and listen, resting my pillows against the window

“…What?”


I wanted to ask more questions, but that was all I could get out. In the nearly two decades of my fragile little life (teenagers, so dramatic and bursting with emotion, am I right? That was me), I had no idea about this part of her life and that she had gone through something like this. Her warm brown eyes, graying around the edges of her irises, responded first. With empathy, with wisdom, and with love, remembering. Oh boy. Gear up. Grab the tissues.


“He was hit by a car. He didn’t make it. The neighbors were gathered at my mother’s house as I was walking home from the market.” I imagined a dusty, rural road and a young Lao man with messy hair crossing it, wearing leather sandals and whistling, without a worry. I couldn’t come up with a face. I could only see my mom, right then.“I’m sorry mom.” I began crying again. There was no doubt I was skipping whatever the fuck was supposed to happen that day.


“Don’t be sorry.It’s been a long time since.It was his time to go.I’m fine now.”


She let these words come out slowly and certainly. I looked more closely at my mother and measured the lines of worry across her forehead, and wondered when they had first begun to appear and to settle in.We were both quiet for a long while, morning sunlight streaming in through the battered windows of our aging family home.“Why didn’t you ever tell us this mom?” I asked, after the tightness in my throat had lessened enough to speak.Her response:“It didn’t matter that I told you. Until now.”


Lately, I’ve been thinking about how trauma and depression can have you floating through life as if you were asleep. How many dreams do you fully remember? How many days do you fully remember?I’m sure many of us have experienced the familiar inability to scream, to run, to punch, to fight, in a dream. (Have you ever had all of your teeth fall out in a dream? Yea, it’s awful. Do not recommend.) Your motor skills don’t work. You can’t function like you intend to. Things are fuzzy. Things are dark. Things are bizarre.Either you feel pain when you’re struck or shot or stabbed in a dream, immensely, or you feel nothing at all, and you wonder “WTF?”


I want to feel. I don’t want to feel. This is what my wrestling match with depression is like.When I feel nothing at all, despite every reason to be happy, to be sad, to be excited, to be joyous, I know that a depressive episode is at my doorstep.When I can acknowledge and really feel my senses and clarify my feelings and put reason behind why I want to explode or break down and feel alive (in all the ugly and beautiful ways)… the depression has worn off. I’ve done whatever it is that I needed to do to take care of myself, or enough time has passed or … I’m not certain what it takes but pretty sure that it matters when the dream wears off and what it takes to get there.


Mom and me in Hawaii, summer 2010, just a couple months before the conversation mentioned in this blog. …we all had our phases, didn’t we?…
Drake, Preston, Mirna, me. RIP Preston Ray. Yeeeaaa we all wrote music together; we were teenagers. That’s another story.

portkeys

Some moments in life when they’re happening you think to yourself “I will remember this forever.” Some moments happen and you’re unaware that they’ll remain with you for the rest of your life, even if you resist and even if they’re buried deep within you. Occasionally, they will float back up to the forefront of your mind. Sometimes you won’t be prepared for it and you will find yourself crying at work. Or in the supermarket. Or just on a walk in your neighborhood.


Those moments with floaty bits that come to the front of your mind can be sparked by seeing and experiencing a piece of mail in a backpack (before she left, my sister asked me to save her mail for her…so my secret place as an 8 year old was my backpack), crayon boxes (dad thought new crayon boxes were completely frivolous if last year’s were fine, which is NOT what a first grader thinks AT ALL), white bread and vanilla ice cream (IYKYK, my Southeast Asian fam) in a way that is connected only to you and your life’s history.

Thunderstorms. Pepper packets. Puffy, blue winter coats. Go Fish. Phone books (remember those?). Sometimes they’re not objects but scenes. You might witness a sweet-nothing moment and feel something tugging at your heartstrings. Or the smell of a sterile place makes you feel sick.

These moments are like Portkeys that snap you to a time and scene rather than a place. You’re transported. You feel like you did on that day, in that moment, in the monster’s presence. Your heart races. Your throat tightens. You are a naive adolescent again.

If you’re not familiar with the Harry Potter world in which I love to get lost in annually, usually near my birthday, a Portkey is a magical object that serves as a transportation tool. When you touch this seemingly inane object, you are magically transported somewhere. (Link to a very HP nerdy site)


How did I get here? Let’s start with an on-again, off-again relationship.

Which is what my relationship with my counselor was for a while (yea wow millenials all cringe at the sight of those words in relation to something between another person). The spring that my fiance proposed to me, I “graduated” (my words, I think, not my counselor’s). I had been relatively healthy, mentally, and we put a pause on my previously bi-monthly sessions in therapy.

It was a wonderful summer. Picture perfect, in my memory. Freshly engaged, loving my work, life on the upswing, looking forward to a trip to Hawaii to visit family I hadn’t seen in years. Occasionally the depression and anxiety would knock at my door and I’d slam the door shut in it’s fuckin’ face, dust off my hands, and pour myself a celebratory drink.

And then one day, a sweet little child in a baseball uniform popped into my workplace, walking next to his dad. I watched them talk and laugh, head towards his dad’s desk, and the little boy plopped himself in an office chair and spun around. Joy. His father worked and he read (or was he playing a video game? Probs.) and I sat at my desk. Wanting to sob. I felt a few powerful emotions all at once. “This is so sweet!” “I wish I’d had a dad like that.” (See previous blogs if you don’t know why I’m saying that.) “Why am I about to fuckin’ cry?” So I called up my counselor later that day and told him I’d just had some childhood trauma pay me a visit. “When can I see you next?” [Insert millenial joke about dating here.]


My general questions before deciding to either do things or not do things include “Is my life inhibited by this?” and “What will the repercussions/consequences of my actions be?” and “If x is preventing me from living my life to the fullest, being present, and enjoying x, then I need to do something differently/do something about x.” Seeing children happy in the company of their dads should not make me want to cry.

So therapy was on again. Hello darkness, my old friend. Let me fight with you again.


Then, last fall, I met Roxane Gay, author of Bad Feminist, Difficult Women, Hunger, and many others. Sitting in the audience with two of my best gal pals, I hungrily swallowed up her words and tried to memorize her voice and listened to the brave and fortunate souls who were able to pose questions to her at the end of her readings.

If you have read anything by Roxane Gay, you will know how profoundly her writing can affect you.

You will think, “Yes, demons, come forth and let me slay you!” She calls them nemeses.

And so it was, for me. I was profoundly touched. I prepare for battle. I am mother of cats. I am a Lao princess warrior, and I have an army of elephants, and I will smash. my. trauma. into the. ever-lovin’ ground. (That actually is written in Lao history, elephants in battle – and then! A general was crushed by his falling elephant and that was that. More on that later, it’s from a A History of Laos by Stuart Fox.)

But the thing with trauma is that you do not know when you will be challenged to a duel. You do not know what object, scent, or sound will call out to you, “Heeeey girl hey, I am about to mess. you. up.” And so, how do you prepare for battle when that sneaky bastard, childhood trauma, doesn’t play fairly?


Yeah, I don’t actually have a complete answer to that question either BUT I will say that understanding how and why this happens has been empowering.

The thing with Portkeys is that you’re not transported anywhere unless you touch them. Now I know how to handle Portkeys; some of them, at least.

spoken self & sisterhood

Lao word of the day: euy (sound out each letter and then say it, real fast) and you’ve got it. It means “sister.”


“Describe your sister. In Lao.”

I’m sitting cross-legged on the couch in my counselor’s office and not as present as I should be, confused as to why I’m irritable and miffed about my relationship with my eldest sister. It’s a late fall day, and I’ve been hating how short the days have been getting as we approach winter. I don’t feel like cooperating.

But I’m in therapy for a reason, so I take a deep breath and start.

“She was loving. Kind. Thoughtful. She used to let me pick out my outfits when I was getting ready to go to school in kindergarten.”

I stop. My vocabulary in Lao isn’t what it used to be. I don’t know the verbs and the adjectives to describe my memories in Lao like I used to. It’s hard to think of what words to say. But it’s not the words that get me.

“Go on,” he urges gently.

“She raised me. She was my best friend growing up. We did everything together. I followed her like a shadow.”

…silence… weight. the familiar feeling of heat in my throat. I can’t swallow. Clear as day, in my mind’s eye I see me and my siblings piled into an old tub pretending it was a pool in the backyard on a summer day, an activity engineered by my eldest sister for her kid siblings.

“I miss her.” I choke this out in Lao and then I say it in English. (I mean, this dude has been listening to me speak in Lao for a few minutes after all, so throw him some familiar words right?)

And now I’m fucking sobbing. I keep on sobbing. I suck in air. I breathe. Now I guess I’m just crying, normally. OOP nope, sobbing again. It’s a painful however-many minutes for me. It’s the kind of cry that aches from deep within that spans time and space and what I know and don’t know.

My counselor is quiet, supporting me from across the room. Listening. Waiting. Patient. It’s not the words that get me; it’s the language I’m speaking.


When I was young, my sister inspired me to (eventually) write song lyrics by once encouraging me to “make up the words” to songs that I didn’t know that played on the radio when she was driving us somewhere. It was a lightbulb moment for little me. It delighted me and stayed with me forever. I wrote then, and I write now.

She would make something out of nothing – in a good way. Cutting and pasting pictures from junk mail to make collages with me. She even made an entire card deck so that we could play Go Fish (money was tight) and to me, she was an incredible artist. In so many of our family photos, she’s holding one of us in her arms. The best big sister we could have.

She was always there for me. Until she wasn’t.


When I say “my sister ran away” many people ask, “Well, how old was she?” and I stop and think … she was at least 18. Leaving home is common for 18 year olds in American culture. But not for my family, and definitely not under my father’s controlling watch. To leave was to break a family, household rule.

There were circumstances that I didn’t understand that lead her to go. I realize now that I forgive her. Was there anything to forgive in the first place?

Suddenly, I was alone. I didn’t have that kind of bond with my other siblings (not yet at least). I felt abandoned by someone who was the world to me. Left behind. And I held on to that feeling for decades.

I missed her. But who could I tell? So I held it in. Until that seemingly normal, “I’m grouchy” day in therapy.


Language has the power to unlock memories and emotions.

“Discovering your Self in language is always an epiphany, even if finding the words to describe your inner reality can be an agonizing process.”The Body Keeps The Score, Bessel Van Der Kolk

I’d been hitting a wall with describing how I felt about my eldest sister. Why was I so annoyed with her? What couldn’t I understand? She experienced so much pain and trauma; she did what she had to do. How could I continue to be upset with her for something that I felt like I understood now, as an adult? How had I forgotten this initial upset that was followed up with so many other things I could. not. understand?

Until my counselor asked me what language I spoke growing up.

Lao and English, interchangeably, was my response. My parents mostly spoke Lao, and my siblings were the ones who taught me English until I entered grade pre-school.

How much I had loved and adored my big sister when I was a little girl, and the pain that I felt when one morning, the family rises, and she is gone … returned to me only when I described her in Lao.


She and I have lead very separate lives for a very long time it seems. But we’re okay. We’re re-building our relationship. And I miss her. I finally told her so.

Love you, fam.

-Lasamee

Our most recent hangout, post cry-fest in therapy: my sisters (the one closest to me in age & the eldest), me, and ma.