Losing a Loved One



(Oneprachanh and her dad)


When senior Thinh Oneprachanh was a child, a continuous dream of hers was instilled in her mind. Her mother would give her a toy and wave goodbye each night in her dreams. But at eight years old her father told her it was not a dream. At the age of two, her mother disappeared. Oneprachanh wouldn’t see her again until she was in college.

“When I last saw my mom, she told me to always take care of my dad because he was the one who raised me,” she says.

Since the age of two, it had always been Oneprachanh and her father. She never imagined a life without her father.

“During the late fall of 2013, dad started feeling sick. It was ironic because during this time I was beginning to have thoughts of something bad happening to him,” Oneprachanh says.

 Oneprachanh’s father was diagnosed with colon cancer in February 2014.

“While my father was sick, the battle of everything began to hit me. I had to get my dad insurance, all of the hospital bills fell on me and I had to tell the hospital my dad was homeless,” she says.

Oneprachanh grew up homeless for most of her life. Her and her father lived with his friends around Washington state until the age of 14. During her freshman and sophomore year of high school, they lived in a low-income housing community, but during the 2008 recession, Oneprachanh’s father lost his job and they were evicted from their apartment.

To finish off high school and exceed in her academics, Oneprachanh lived with a friend while her dad lived in his car. From the age of nine her father told her she must work hard, get good grades and apply for scholarships because he wouldn’t be able to pay for college.

Oneprachanh graduated high school with a 3.93 grade point average and was able to receive scholarships to attend Western.

In order to see her father while he was sick, Oneprachanh had to get her father transferred to a nursing rehabilitation center in Bellingham to be with him while she was still in school.

“This was one the hardest parts to get him transferred. It was the ultimate goal to get him close to me and it wasn’t easy because I would have to deal with social workers telling me they are working on it, but nothing seemed to happen quick enough,” she says.

At first, doctors said her father would be able to live two to three years, but time got shorter and shorter.

“All my dad ever wanted was to see me graduate,” she says.

Right before fall quarter 2014, the doctors told Oneprachanh her father could lose his life any day.

Her father told her he didn’t want to wake up. At this moment, she asked her father, “Do you want to see grandma and grandpa?” He said yes. He lost his battle with cancer in September 2014.

Oneprachanh’s father was able to be in Bellingham with her for a month before he passed. Before he was located in Tacoma and she would have to drive down to see him every weekend.

“So much was lost when dad was lost. The concept of family feels like it’s a foreign word. I feel alone because dad always said we were all each other had,” she says.

Oneprachanh is still coping with the transition of losing her father and preparing to graduate this spring. She never took time off school because the importance of education was one of her father’s wishes.

“My dad always told me you have to be strong because people are always watching,” she says.

Oneprachanh sees a grief counselor and attends a grief support group every week to help her with this transition. She says she is realizing plans aren’t always going to work out.

“The most important thing is for students to stay connected to their support system.  While some students might tend to isolate themselves when feeling emotional about their loss, being able to balance some time alone with the support of loved ones is most helpful for moving through grief,” explains Nancy Corbin, director of Western’s Counseling Center and psychologist.

“I am starting to see growth within myself, which I think is really positive for me. I’m learning what I can handle,” Oneprachanh says.

To cope with grief, it is important to have a good self-image, have the ability to relate easily with others and have the willingness to take the action to help oneself, according to Western’s Counseling Center.

“Dad had a checklist for me. To graduate from college, get married and get a good job. I have made this my personal checklist because I feel I need to accomplish something for my dad,” she says.

Although she is scared to move on, she keeps trying and strives to be the person her father wanted her to be, she says.

“I’m realizing I can cry and it’s not going to be forever. I know I have to go on,” she says.

Her father’s last wish was for Oneprachanh to have relationship with her mother, but Oneprachanh doesn’t know if she is ready for that relationship. She is still hurt from her mother disappearing but knows it would make her father happy.

“I have always wanted to succeed in life and take care of my father, to repay him for all he’s done and show him that his hard work paid off,” she says. “That’s what has driven me to work hard. And now that he’s gone, I want to be that image that my dad always imagined.”


(Oneprachanh's cap she made for graduation)