June 8, 2018

Chris, Can You Hear Me? Our Whole World Needs to Talk

This past Saturday marked the first anniversary of my brother-in-law Chris’ suicide. My sister called me to ask if I could spend Sunday with her and my now 12-year-old nephew, Drew, and 9-year-old niece, Serena. We spent a beautiful day hiking at Land’s End along the San Francisco coast.

Hiking with my sister, niece and nephew in San Francisco.

Chris loved to hike, he loved nature and he loved his family. I know that 100 percent for sure.

I do not know why he chose to commit suicide.
I do not know why he didn’t tell anybody about his pain.
I do not know why he shot himself in the chest.
I do not know why he did it in his home, where my sister and niece could discover his bloody, lifeless body.
I do not know why he left us.

My brother-in-law Chris and family.
I just know that one year later, it still hurts like hell. Suicide — a selfish act that multiplies the pain 1 million times for everyone who cares for you. I search for answers by asking people who knew Chris, how they are doing? I do care, but surreptitiously, I am also seeking answers and ways for me to deal with this grief, this darkness inside me, this heavy heart that beats faster every time I see his two beautiful children.

Recently, I asked Chris’ best friend during dinner, “How are you feeling since the loss of Chris?” He looked me straight in the eyes, pursed his lips and said, “Chris left us. We didn’t lose him.” I could feel his pain transferred across the table.

Clearly, his BFF, and all of us touched by Chris’ charisma, kindness and energy, are still in pain a year later.

This week, we lost two legends: fashion designer Kate Spade and foodie, chef and TV host Anthony Bourdain from apparent suicides. The news of their tragedies triggered my grief — I couldn’t stop crying today.

I awoke this morning and found out about Bourdain’s death via Instagram. I wept in bed. I pulled myself up and headed to my CrossFit class, hoping to work out the pain, and cried in the car all the way to the gym.

On the way back home afterward, I spoke to my soul sister, Kala, who called to check in on me (she and I have soul connections). She wondered how I was doing after the news broke about Spade and Bourdain. We talked about stories of other recent suicides in our communities and how others have chosen to leave us.

After our short call, I prepared for a meeting then jumped in the shower. When I was drying off, I suddenly lost it. I couldn’t stop crying. I still have more questions than answers, but I do know this: people are hurting and we need to do something about depression and suicide. It’s OK to talk about it, though so difficult.

I wanted to write a letter to Chris, but the tears stopped me. I couldn’t even see the computer screen. So I pulled out my camera and created this video diary and spoke to Chris. I am also speaking to everyone in my family, everyone touched by Chris’ life and everyone who has been touched by suicide and find it hard to talk to people about it. I am sharing this video with Chris because I know he can hear me from above and I wanted to share it with you to let you know my life, your life, our lives aren’t as perfect as we paint in our curated Instagram boxes:
Chris passed when he was 52. His absence has amplified my awareness of the present moment. I turned 40 this past January and was pretty proud of how I handled the death of Chris. Both of my brothers told me how proud they were of me for showing up the way I did for the kids. I am a GSD person — you know, “get shit done.”

Immediately after my sister called me the evening of June 2, 2017 — minutes after discovering Chris’ body — I flew out to Florida, hugged the kids, prepared for the funeral and helped pack and move their belongings to Sacramento, where the rest of our family lived. I took my nephew and niece back with me to California and watched them for two weeks so my sister could clean out her home, close her business and say her goodbyes. I even came up with a list of 20 things to do to help her family readjust to their new life in Sacramento — and adjust to their new reality — without Chris. And hardest of all, I dealt with the family drama that comes with tragedy and loss.


Although I’m the biggest promoter of self-care, I know I wanted to, and did, take care of the kids and my sis more than I took care of myself. So it wasn’t until a month after my big 4-0 that I became riddled with sadness. Grief had set in. I realized I wasn’t taking care of myself as much as I should have and the heartache finally caught up with me. I’m still dealing with it now, the best way I know how:

1. I work out.
2. I eat well.
3. I feed my soul by being around people who nourish my soul.
4. I talk about how I’m feeling — this was the hardest thing to do. I’m not good at it, but I’m talking about it.
5. I let myself be sad, then think about the blessings and love that came from the experience.

I admit, it’s hard for me to talk about how I feel about Chris’ death — afraid that I would be judged for being mad at him, my sister, or anybody else who may have been able to help. There is a stigma around suicide, mental illness, mental health and grief.

And while I still have more questions than answers, I think it would be healthier if we opened up and started a dialogue around how we are feeling. We are not alone in what we’re going through. It’s OK to reach out for help and share your emotions and not hide them. SO, I am sharing my story of suicide and the grief I’m still experiencing.

Healing is organic and each of us deal with it in our own way. Some of us seek solitude and nature, while others want to keep busy and be around people, or both. But I urge you to talk about your feelings and let others know how you feel.

Since this tragedy, parents have asked me how they should talk to their kids about suicide or other difficult topics. “Should we tell them white lies?” “Should we tell them part of the story?” “Should we tell them at all?”

Shortly after Chris’ passing, I wrote a blog after doing research and seeking answers, to help other parents and guardians. I asked my friends who are psychologists and psychiatrists and penned this blog on how to talk to your kids about suicide in hopes it will help begin the conversation.


If you are going through depression and don’t feel you have people you can talk to, there is help — National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 800-273-8255.

You’re not alone. There is hope. You CAN get through this.

Love,
Toan

P.S. Chris, while we are still here on earth grappling with why you physically left us, I know you will forever be in our hearts. You still have a major impact on us, including my zest for adventure, love of nature, crazy obsession with physical fitness and, of course, moving my furniture around every other week. As Serena “Sissy” says, “Love you to the moon and back.”

May 31, 2018

The Secret to Being in the Flow

How many of you feel in the flow? The truth is, even when life isn’t going the way we expect — and Lord knows many times it seems that way — we can be in the flow.

Everyone and everything is here to teach us something. It’s up to us to glean the learnings or they will reappear in a different way, shape or form. Challenges are merely opportunities for us to spread our wings when we’re ready to fly.

May 10, 2018

Recipe to Manifesting Your Desires

Update of blog originally published on Sept. 9, 2015

I believe every single person on Earth is brought here to share their unique gifts with the world to make it a more beautiful place. Our desire is the GPS to this zigzag road that seems confusing, daunting and overwhelming. But that gift has a responsibility. We have to follow it, no matter how hard, until that dream is realized.

But let’s be real. It’s hard and we all feel like giving up from time to time. Or perhaps you haven’t even begun the journey. This convo is a reoccurring theme in many of my circles and conversations. My hope is these words will lift and gift you to achieve, believe and receive. The secret is a mantra I repeat to myself and words that I share when friends feel like giving up: Trust + Action = Traction. Keep believing, take action and if it’s authentic to you – you’ll see and feel traction.

May 2, 2018

I Woke Up with $86,400 in my Account and I'm Sharing Some with Y'all

Morning y’all. I’m so excited. I woke up today with $86,400 in my bank account!

I am sharing $180 of it on you, yes you, because you need to hear this. How do I know you need to hear this? Well, you’re here reading this and watching the video it cost me $180 to make. My hope is that this $180 I spent on you is shared with others and is multiplied many times over into infinity.

Take a deep breath and watch this video about why I am sharing this precious $180 I will never get back...

March 20, 2018

A Love Letter to Me — and Spring ❀

Dear Toan,

Remember to be bold, share beauty and have fun this year! The words that describe the essence I envisage this new season are BOLD, BEAUTY and FUN.

This winter, as I waited patiently for buds to bloom and spring to arrive, I had a quiet epiphany: Everything leading up to the cherry blossoms and flowers started long before buds emerged from branches and stems. The soil, water and sun all played a part in determining how big the blossoms will billow and how plentiful the yield of flowers and fruit will be. Just like how the intentions we set are the soil, the conversations and baby steps of action we take are the water and sunlight.

February 1, 2018

A New Story for 2018

By Kathy Chow
Go Inspire Go Contributor

As we closed out last year, I spent the final month in moments of reflection. Over the course of 2017, I’ve witnessed family, friends and people in my professional network struggle. Some have lost their jobs, some have developed health issues and some have encountered the personal loss of family members, pets and friends.

I’ve listened to friends struggling to find their professional footing, manage the stress of family and are questioning what’s ahead in the next chapter of their life. From an outsider’s view, it seems we all struggled. And amid these struggles, we connected through the pain and sought new directions in editing our own stories.

Looking ahead in 2018, I’m challenging myself to rewrite my story. As a start, I plan to stretch myself in three areas:

January 9, 2018

How Oprah Speaking the Truth Helped Me Discover Mine

Like many of you, I was one of the millions of viewers glued to the TV during the 75th Golden Globe Awards, mesmerized and energized by every word our teacher-preacher Oprah Winfrey uttered as she made history, becoming the first black woman to receive the Cecil B. DeMille Award.

In true Oprah fashion, she taught us about phenomenal figures in history — Recy Taylor and Rosa Parks — whose lives should not be forgotten. She expressed sincere gratitude to all the women who have endured years of abuse and assault with emotion-filled words that felt like hugs reaching through our screens. She even gave a nod to men — her partner Stedman Graham and others who believed in, inspired and challenged her.

She called for a new day on the horizon, inspiring us all to speak our truth, which she preached “is our most powerful tool.”

One of Oprah's crowning achievements — inspiring us to follow our authentic truth. (Thanks Yasi and Luis for my fave birthday shirt. Now I can keep Oprah closer to my heart. LOL)

Her words and work have even deeply touched someone outside of her primary audience — a little immigrant boy on welfare, who grew up in the ’hood of South Sacramento, Calif. A boy named Toan. I may not be Oprah’s main demographic, but her words have touched and molded me just the same.

After watching her speech, I was inspired to write an ode to Oprah and wanted to hear how you were affected by her words. This from someone she probably never intended to reach, through the eyes and window of a gay, immigrant Asian male soul — me.

January 4, 2018

How to Achieve Productive and Successful Intention-Setting Sessions

Happy New Year! New year, new you?

How many of you subscribe to this way of thinking? New diet? New job? New boo? Do you set new personal, professional and spiritual goals during the new year?

So cliché, no?

I personally don’t set lofty goals just for the new year. Why? Because of a pattern of disappointment and feeling like a failure. Instead, I do check-ins periodically throughout the year. I call them “intention-setting sessions” and do them with my two soul sisters, Kate and Keely.

Kate, Kelly and Toan

Several people have asked me what happens during these special intention-setting sessions, so I’ve decided to share with you. Remember, this is all about what works for you, so feel free to soak in what works and expunge what doesn’t resonate with you.