I’m writing to apologize that 24 years passed before we hosted a Đám Giỗ for you. Although it took me so long to invite you home, that ceremony shifted my relationship with you, your life and your death.
Even the simple act of choosing the photos for the altar allowed me to revisit memories of you. You seemed so happy in the black-and-white images shot in Cambodia and Vietnam; although you and I both know that life—and your life in particular—was not always light and joy-filled.
I’ve often wondered how you could seem so carefree and full of love, despite the fact that war and fighting filled the air of your daily existence, infiltrating every breath you took. But now I know that this was one of your gifts: to find joy in the mundane and to spread that joy to others.
Last year, when planning the Đám Giỗ, a Vietnamese friend informed me that each place setting at the altar would be an invitation for other spirits as well.
“Don’t you want your mom to bring her spirit friends to the Đám Giỗ?” she asked me.
A “yes” reverberated through my entire body. How could I not ask you to invite your spirit friends as well? You were the very person who showed me firsthand what it meant to strengthen a community around you. Even the small towns where we lived, despite the fact that you didn’t even have a driver’s license, you somehow nurtured a loving community.
The instant we lit the incense and bowed to the altar to officially invite you home, your gracious presence filled the room. My grandparents and Uncle Gerard and my friends’ ancestors—two fathers and a grandfather— were present as well.
As the incense burned, the marker of the time you’d be with us that evening, your spirit, integrated in my home and within me. I often looked at your death through what I lost: a mother, a sense of family, an unwavering source of support.
But after the Đám Giỗ, I saw clearly what I had gained from contemplating your life over the years. How I had finally integrated your spirit into my world. How everything that you embodied in this realm is now what I deeply admire in others and, actually, long for in a life partner.
Do I know you more intimately because you passed away? Did your absence enable me to continue to imagine and reimagine what you would do, say or advise? And while those ruminations may never replace having you physically near me, I wonder if those 14 years I lived as your daughter compare at all to the years we might’ve journeyed together in other lifetimes.
Mother dear, I’m wondering now because it’s the 25th anniversary of your passing, would you be interested in co-hosting this Đám Giỗ with me? Why not modernize the way we celebrate Vietnamese death anniversaries? You can invite as many spirit friends as you would like! And we can do this together. I’ve hired a musician/sound healer. There will be more than enough Vietnamese food, and each spirit can have their own plate!
Only now, 25 years after your passing, do I feel your spirit of celebration, joy, gathering and community so embedded and integrated in mine. It’ll be the most beautiful Đám Giỗ—one that brings together the earthly and spiritual realms that we inhabit, making it apparent that there’s only a thin veil between these worlds that easily drops with a simple invitation.
Love – Christina
Christina Vo is an event curator and floral designer based in San Francisco, California. Christina regularly hosts “salons” in her home that focus on deepening individual and collective consciousness. Christina has worked for UNICEF and Solidaridad in Hanoi, Vietnam, and the World Economic Forum in Geneva, Switzerland. She holds an MSc in Social and Public Communication from the London School of Economics.