In a small room filled to the brim with fragrant flowers, photo boards and heavy hearts, she glanced down at her hands and fidgeted with her new little silver ring while sharing memories. She stood solemnly in front of the photo board that told the story of an entire life with the casket at the other end of the room. She extended her fingers and stuck out her hand to show her newest most prized possession. It was her grandmother Che’s wedding band. She was always told as a kid it would be hers in the event of her grandmother’s death, a beautiful little silver ring encrusted with diamonds that she almost hoped she’d never inherit.
Serena Pham was born and raised in Waterford, Michigan in a half Chinese and half Vietnamese family. Her maternal grandmother, Che Yuan, who was referred to as wài pó, was born in China and immigrated to the U.S. in her youth and lived an incredible life. Serena’s admiration for her grandmother is so strong, and to her, this ring was a symbol that she would always have a piece of her wherever she goes.
Feeling Che’s presence is so powerful for Serena, she attributes a lot of her current quality of life to the sacrifices and courage of her grandmother. Che’s life was spent doing things for others, volunteering, tutoring, and even taking in and mentoring people who immigrated from China to help them adapt to life in the United States. She spent her life doing what she could to make other people’s lives better and always tried to make a difference in the world.
“The ring is a reminder of what my grandma stood for and how much she valued family, and all the sacrifices she made to be with them,” Serena said. She shared a story of how when her mother, Joanne, was only one year old, she was taken to live with her grandfather in Taiwan and was supposed to stay there until the age of twelve. Unable to bear being separated from her child, Che dropped out of college, saved all her money, got on a plane to Taiwan and practically had to kidnap her own daughter back.
After Che’s passing, her grandkids stumbled upon an audio interview of her whole life story, which Serena’s brother, Nicholas Pham, made into a video along with photos of her life. The interview revealed so many unknowns about Che’s life, which was a testament to how humbly she served others all throughout her life.
Her courage, spirit and values have been passed down through generations to Serena, and Che is a big part of what inspired her to pursue a degree in Health Science with a concentration in Integrative Holistic Medicine from Oakland University to work in the medical field and help heal people.
“Before when she would say, ‘this is the ring I’m gonna give to you when I pass away,’ I didn’t think much of it when she would say it, but when the time came… it became so much more important to me, it’s more than a ring now, like how I saw it before. Now it’s a piece of my grandma and it’s a reminder of who she was and who I want to be.”