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.

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.

what a shame

it me

I’ve deliberated about a project that I’ve thought about for most of my lifetime: telling the story that my family carried with them away from the mountains of Laos across the Mekong River through the skies and to Texas. But I’ve mostly been still, immobile, glued to my spot, and unable to move. And I’ve been silent, afraid, pensive, anxious, sad, playing memories over and over, thinking about how best to paint these pictures as genuinely and honestly as possible and to honor the people within them.

“Why does it feel so wrong to be me? Why am I afraid for people to know who I am and where I come from?”

“The long-term consequences of trauma?” offers my counselor*, a couple of years after we’ve started digging in and doing the work that might enable me to speak. In 2018, he recommended a few books to me that I’m still working through. How on earth did I get through grad school?

True, but maybe not entirely the reason. I realize that a lot of it is shame, for things out of my control.


When I was a child, I was ashamed of being different from everyone else. Different in the sense that I was isolated and couldn’t visit with friends after school or attend the countless birthday parties and hangouts. Different because no one had ever heard of Laos. Different because I didn’t know certain American cultural references. I didn’t meet another Lao child out in the world serendipitously until college. And even then, we were legally adults. Magically thrown together as roommates at the university. I have a feeling we might have been the only 2 Lao girls in that freshman class that year. 

Growing up, I was ashamed of being poor. My refugee parents tried their hardest, and we always had food on the table and our basic needs met. But that didn’t mean that I didn’t have to pick through bags of donated clothing to find “new” shirts and pants that would fit me. (And with my tiny, southeast Asian frame, hand-me-downs, especially from strangers, never fit me correctly.) That didn’t mean that I could afford to participate in any extracurriculars that might cost anything to the family, including time for my little hands to work and help at home.

I was ashamed that people would know that my father was traumatized by the war, traumatized by so much else he couldn’t and wouldn’t talk about, and belittled in a country in which he thought he would be welcomed as a hero. And because of these things, he traumatized his entire family, the ones from whom I wish he could have sought solace. Shame for being my father’s daughter; I am sorry.

I was ashamed of my name even. Moving from grade level to grade level, class to class, apologizing that it was “hard to say” (it’s only 3 syllables), raising my hand to pronounce it correctly and feeling a burning sensation in my throat. Until I finally adopted “Laci” which doesn’t even honor the way you say my real name; it just has similar phonetics. La-suh-me. Lasamee Kettavong. Now, my heart swells when people learn my name and work to say it correctly. To me that is an act of love.

Me and my sweet mother, who gave me my name.

Shame prevents you from doing a lot. Fear eats the soul and paralyzes you. But we only have so much time to really get to know ourselves in this realm of living, so I’m shedding the shame and swallowing the fear.


I’m not certain but pretty sure that I have taken on this project because I am the last child in my family and the one born in America a few years after my family’s arrival on Halloween Day, 1989. No one’s asking for this story, but it’s one that threatens to have me implode if I let it simmer and leave it alone. There’s no pressure from any of my siblings or my mother; just support, happily scanning papers that arrived with my family in their International Refugee Committee bag of official documents when I ask for them. I feel that our family’s story is not so different from immigrant families stories today, and that we have a lot of work to do. Together, with, and for others. 

I can’t imagine the agony that my mother and father would have felt having arrived as refugees and asylum seekers only to have their children ripped away from them and kept in detention centers. It is horrendous that this has happened to so many. 

I’m not certain but pretty sure that there’s no better time than right now to do something about the horrendous things, shed the shame, and swallow the fear that maybe has kept you from moving. 

—-

*Important to note: I started going to therapy after a shitty breakup in 2013 and on the advice of a dear friend who’d also recently started therapy and it improved their life immensely. I’ve gone from counselor to counselor, for various reasons, and finally really dug in to working on childhood trauma with this particular counselor. Don’t give up if you feel like therapy will help you/your mental health but you’re not clicking with someone. Search around. It can change your life.

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