It was January 2014
I just finished unpacking my bags from an epic west-coast sojourn through the national parks.
The food, the conversations, the sights and the drive – being guided by the stars and motivated by the hidden food spots brought a sense of wonder in me that drove me to pursue travel more and more. And this wonder lingered at the tip of my tongue – a lasting flavor that I was trying to savor with each passing minute on the long flight back from LAX to EWR.
I land in-between snowstorms during a raging North-East winter season when we hear of another large storm system on it’s way.
Turns out it wouldn’t be the last bit of bad news that was also barreling towards us.
Two days into my return from a glorious winter west coast trip, we got the call from the motherland.
Grandfather’s cancer relapsed. He won’t make it one more week.
Come home now.
We had to wait out the coming storm to find Newark airport thawing itself out.
The plane had to traverse a barely melted runway to take off toward Detroit where there was a slightly larger aircraft that was waiting to take us all the way to Korea.
That whole travel ordeal was a blur. 18 hours from airport to airport. Waiting two hours at the terminal for a bus and then a four hour bus ride to find our half-sleeping uncle waiting at the bus terminal to pick up my mother and I.
We declined a warm meal and a bed – usually a welcomed reprieve from a long day of travel but we weren’t worried about rest.
Let’s go straight to the hospital.
beep…. beep…. beep….
It was nearly 2 in the morning and the hospital ward was only half-occupied but dead quiet.
We entered the moonlit ward to still hear the familiar faint whispers that I’ve come to know and trust.
My grandmother hasn’t slept in days. She catches naps here and there but stays awake to keep her post. Her eyes betray her sheer mental will to stay awake – her body is screaming for sleep. But she’s been through longer nights – she knows that the time is near and this moment will come to pass.
She doesn’t notice her oldest daughter and her oldest grandson standing behind her as she finishes her prayer.
Who knows. We all lost count. How many prayers can one lift up in desperation?
God knows.. right?
The human body is truly fragile. My grandfather was no exception. He laid there on the bed as three different lines pumped medicine and IV into his veins as a ventilator pumped the muscle in his chest that used to be his heart. He eyes were open but they showed no life. He was wheezing between every other painstaking breath as he only responded when his wife of 50 plus years spoke softly into his ears.
It would be years later that for the week and a half he was hospitalized because of his relapse, my grandmother would only speak to her husband in prayer and stories. Praying for a peaceful end and remembering their years together and all the blessings they’ve had.
I still remember that night.
It was a surreal scene. Seeing the body wasted away by cancer. A body already ravaged by radiation from years past – and six years later I still remember how I felt.
The end of life – what we can modestly look forward to at the end of it all?
Such a culturally appropriately term. We can’t bear to fucking call it for what it really is.
The end is so cruel. Like the fall of a razor sharp knife.
So sudden. No emotions. Swift. Quick. End.
I still can’t reckon it. I can’t make sense of it.
No one can.
Even in the movies or Korean dramas when you see a person ripe with age and filled with wisdom, you see them welcome the end with grace as they move on from this world to the next.
I can’t make sense of it for the life of me.
Maybe death is but an experience. The final experience of life.
Maybe that’s why grieving is for those left behind. The lingering emotions that come with being bereft is the aftermath of having to deal with loss. The dead cannot share in this sentiment.
This is how I embraced by grief.
This is how I choose to remember my grandfather.
Not as the wasted shell of a cancer-ridden body – but the man who led his family faithfully for over 50 years. I deal with his loss by cherishing his memory.
because the other option is so damn cruel.
8년전 사촌 누나 결혼식에 가려고 준비를 하고 있었습니다. 그 때 할아버지께서 축의금을 쥐어주셨습니다. 그 봉투 겉면에는 한자가 너무나도 아름답게 쓰여있었습니다. 경주에 도착해서, 큰 고모께 그것을 전해드렸습니다. 큰고모께서 글씨를 보시고 “아따~ 할배 글씨도 잘 쓴다.” 하시며, 다른 고모님들께 봉투를 보여드리기 시작했습니다. 그때 글씨체가 당신의 성품, 인간됨을 나타낸다는 것이 어떤 의미인지 깨달았습니다. 그 글씨가 할아버지의 평소 모습과 너무나도 닮아있기에 놀랐습니다. 가족 한 명 한명을 섬세하게 돌보시던 할아버지의 성품을 가슴 깊이 느꼈습니다. 무뚝뚝하시지만, 언제나 말씀보다는 행동으로써 사랑을 표현해 주신 가정적인 분이라 기억하고 싶습니다.Grandfather’s Eulogy; Feb 2014