In early October, I returned to Hanoi to celebrate the life of Hoa Tran. She would have been 27 on October 6th, but passed away one year ago from cancer. I had gotten to know Hoa well when she lived in my house during the last year or so of her medical treatment and as a student when I taught at SAIS. In visiting her grave and attending the one year anniversary ceremony marking her passing a few days ago, I was reminded of the sense of joy Hoa brought to others. She lit up a room with her smile and her laughter warmed the heart of everyone. Over 150 people attending the lunch for the ceremony, all coming to take a moment to acknowledge their connection with this beautiful young woman. Others wrote on her Facebook page, which continues to live on despite her passing. Hoa the butterfly lives on.

I was so glad I came, as this trip marked an opportunity to reaffirm her memory and connections to others. For me personally, while I continue to feel a sense of injustice for a life lost so young of a person who was gifted, it was important to remind her friends and family within in Vietnam that we outside care, that we do not forget that she brought people together, across the world. While we gave support financially for her treatment, we continue to honor her memory not only through formal ceremonies but in our everyday lives.

This trip also served as an opportunity to share life experiences. At her graveside, I spoke to her about how her friends and family are missing her, but thriving in their own way. There are those that are finding love, others still partying (some a bit too much but she would not mind), others devoting themselves to their careers. In connecting with her friends, I was reminded of one of Hoa’s important lessons of her life, that no matter how hard you work – you must have some fun. I shared with her my own challenges of trying to find justice and move on from loss. Even though she was not physically there, I felt that she listened, and cared. When we spoke, the wind blew strongly at her gravesite. I felt that she continued to have a lot to say, even though she could not be with us to say it.

Hoa’s spirit lives on despite her passing – the sense of connection, fun and caring. We miss you Hoa. We honor your memory always. You are not forgotten.

Post Script:

In December, with Andrei and Hoa’s mum, we made a donation to the Hanoi’s Children Cancer Association and to the Breast Cancer Association in Hoa’s memory. The link to the story can be found here (in Vietnamese):

We plan to continue donating for her annually with the focus on the Hanoi Children’s Cancer Association in the future.