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Facing personal tragedy, Tina Nguyen set out to learn the piano to show her dying mother how much she loved her.

“You know how they say, bad things come in threes? I now believe that. Last summer my uncle-in-law passed away from a sudden heart attack; then our family dog was put down; and that June, my mother was diagnosed with adenocarcinoma – non-smoker’s lung cancer – stage 4. The doctors gave her six to 12 months to live.

One day, while waiting for my mom’s diagnosis, I was at my in-law’s house and walked past their piano. I stopped suddenly and stared at it, and it was like we had a silent conversation with each other.

My family is not musically gifted. None of us can really hold a note, but the pull I felt was too strong, so I decided to start lessons. For Christmas, I wanted to give my mom something that could not be purchased, something from the heart: her favorite song. When I showed my teacher the piano piece I wanted to learn, she had this terrified look in her eyes. It was very advanced, especially for a first-time student. But, I was determined and got to work. I practiced and slowly learned the piece line by line.

I finished learning the last note three days before Christmas. My mom was able to be home, and with the entire family present, I played the song. It’s called “Lòng Mẹ,” which means “Mother’s Love in Vietnamese. It was the first and the last song I ever played for her.

I devoted so much time to the piece so that my mother could know how much I loved and appreciated her. It was as if the music grieved with me. All the pain and anger, all the feeling that I could’ve possibly felt, was flowing out of my fingers.

My mom passed away in March. Learning the piano allowed me to live, while a part of me was dying. Now, I play for my mother. I play for what I lost. For my emotions and my recovery. I had a fantastic support system. But it was the piano that helped me with the journey of grief.”

— Tina Nguyen , University of Utah Information Security Office

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