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Life and Death

Reflections on social media

I share on social media the beauties of my life, my current trip to India, but Life continues to happen in myriad ways in the background. I guess I share because in the midst of our crazy lives, the ‘social’ aspect really happens here through cyberspace; when was the last time you got to share about an intimate story of your life at a happy hour, a work social, or even at your own wedding? But how many celebrations do you get to congratulate, rejoice in, and high-five through social media and how many losses have you gotten to console, reach out over time and space and pause to think about someone who has mattered, and quietly still does in some special part of your past, to you?

Maybe part of it is arrogance in thinking that what I have to say has weight, depth. Maybe it’s just personal therapy. Maybe.

Regardless, here’s my blog, and here’s my space, and my decision to be social in sharing a death that has made me reflect on Life.

I left for my trip to India frazzled and worried for my mom who lost a man who was her father-figure, my (작은) 할아버지, in lieu of her own. I frantically booked her a ticket back to the US from Seoul after halting everything at work and spent the night with her as she continued to say, “I’m okay” from a day spent calling other family members to deliver the news of his passing.

I was too young to comfort her when her father died. I was in my late teens when her mother passed, and I sat up with her in our dark living room in Pittsburgh as she grieved and shed inconsolable tears. I remember the feeling of utter helplessness, knowing there was nothing I could say to make the pain fade. This time she was calm and collected but filled with sadness at the loss of a second father who loved her so well and she him in return. As a daughter nearing her forties, what I could do was buy her airfare home - something she could not do for herself when my grandmother passed, ever so unexpectedly, because every dollar was important to earn to raise the four of us. There was no extra to be spent, but moreover, no replacement for the chef she was to keep our restaurant running.

He’s the only grandfather I remember having a conversation with. We sat at the Hilton having dinner just a few weeks ago during one of his bimonthly business trips to Seoul. It was the first time I’d seen him in years. He treated my husband and me to a grandiose dinner and congratulated our marriage. He told us to eat a lot, enjoy, and shared only a few words per the usual elderly Korean male fashion and was whisked off to yet another meeting in one of the conference rooms. His warm hug was the same as I remembered when I was 9, a new immigrant to the U.S. His smile was just as kind and soft, laced with a life of hardship and sadness that only my mom understands.

“I’m okay,” Mom says, even when I check in with her from India. She sends me this writeup about my 할아버지’s funeral written in The Michigan Korean Weekly.

I click on it and read about a man whom I barely knew yet love for the man he was to my mother. And I ache at her loss, worry for her, as if I’ve become the adult and she the child. She says she’s okay yet I can’t help but worry that she’s not. How many times and sleepless nights she must’ve worried over me, I begin to wonder, as I read through this article awake at 2:30 in the morning in bed, feeling the warmth of my husband who’s sleeping soundly next to me.

My ‘small’ grandfather had over 300 people attend his funeral. He established a scholarship fund and touched the lives of people whom he encountered. He lived a life of generosity toward others, and the photographs of his life tell a rich story of happiness. Yet, I wonder if my mom would ever write a story of his underlying sadness that I think is richer than any of the facade that usual obituaries share.

Life is beautiful, as the cliché goes. It is, for its surface and hidden layers that make the weaving intricate. Dust to dust we return, and I hope that I can share with my mom before her passing how much she’s meant to me... and how much I always want her to be more than okay.

I’ll ask her again tomorrow.

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