I remember a turning point in my relationship with my Oma < Mother >. I was visiting her and I had enough of her telling me to take care of my brothers. What about me? Now I had brought her my first born son and was told to stand aside. I did not know that she was raised where the family raised the child. The Mom was suppose to watch her Mother and aid her, thus she gained experience by watching her elders. Here in America I had learned that it was insulting if anyone took away this role from the mother… no matter how inexperienced she may be. I felt the way she was treating me was as if I had no worth and I lashed out.
In so many words I sharply told her that I was an American and I live the American way.
She told me to leave. She told me others had left and I should call my grandparents up and ask them to come pick me up. I was angry as she was. I realized my temper and stubbornness came from both of my parents and I was an equal match. I also realize that she was a woman who needed someone to prove to her that she was loved. She was my mother and I loved her.
I did not pack my things. Still angry I told her I would not leave. I would not play any games. She could push me away but I would not leave.
I stayed in the apartment with my mother, observing a cold silence. She did not attempt to make me any meals. On one part I was glad because sometimes the food was too much. For example I would normally have a cup of tea and toast for breakfast. My mother would have me eat a large plate of eggs, bacon, rice, and kimchee… the amount was too heavy for me but I felt forced to eat it. I don’t know if I thought refusing breakfast would be bad luck for me or simply the end of the world… The other part of me realized it was a Mother’s Love that was being with held from me. She could not do much for me or my brothers. She sent money < most likely borrowed from her friends > and when we visited she cooked for us a King’s banquet.
When she realized I would not leave her, something in the air changed. That morning she made be a breakfast as she had done before, but not so much. It was delightfully manageable. The way we talked to each other changed. Our expectations of each other changing with it. Our hearts opened to each other.
She asked me for my opinion and or ask me for my preferences. LoL Sometimes it did not matter as she had an idea what is better quality. However if I said I did not want it, she listened. In turn when I needed help making a decision I asked her.
I called her to let her know I was going through a divorce. She chewed me out as only Korean mothers can do… she hung up the phone saying it was all my fault and he seemed like such a nice guy. I was upset because that was what everyone thought. Who was on my side? How much was I to bear alone? I did not argue with her. I told her I was sorry. What could be done? This man left me pregnant with twins… and he left me with nothing. We hung up the phone. When I thought I could take no more… the phone rang.
“Christine, I’m your mama. I don’t have anything to give you. You must be strong… Ok?”
Raising twins by myself was no joke. However there is something in a mother’s voice that gives you strength and helps you to carry on.
A couple years later and another failed relationship and I found myself in the same situation. “Mom, what am I to do?”
“Your my daughter. I am coming to help you.”
She flew out to me… even though she hated to fly. She came with me to the hospital and held you newborn in her arms. My oldest son was there and I think it was a happiness match between them. I was grateful my mother came. I did not have the energy to eat or take care of all 4 of my kids. She watched them all and made sure I fed the baby. She fed me Seaweed soup and nourished me back to full energy. She cleaned and cooked for us. We laughed and talked. The more I knew my mother the more I knew about myself. Finally she had to leave. She didn’t want to go but more importantly… I didn’t want her to go.
Even when life gets busy we find time to talk to each other once a month. 2 years ago there were several months that went by and I realized something must be wrong. My emotional roller-coaster began as I found out how sick my mother was. She never wanted to burden her children. She never asked for help.
She kept telling me she was ok. Finally I felt I needed to come for a visit. During our visit she seemed to get better. I gave her Double X vitamins and ate with her at every meal. Her appetite and her weight returned to normal. We tried to get my husband’s command to help us with a compassionate reassignment. They told us it was impossible. They would not help us. We thought maybe we can do this drill school assignment, and then maybe afterwards figure a way to be closer.
My mom and I talked about plans to live together. I wanted to make her life comfortable. We talked about building a Korean residential compound where we could all live together. We talked about going into business together.
I felt nervous about leaving her. This chemo pill they were giving her sounded like a bad idea… like something out of Bourne Legacy gone wrong… There was nothing they could do for her but they kept giving her this pill? I felt like they were putting more unnecessary carcinogens in her. I had to leave. My husband was coming home from deployment. I can not tell you how much I wanted to stay.
For our Anniversary in August… my husband asked me what I wanted. I asked if we could go to Monterrey and visit my mother. I wanted them to finally meet and I wanted to show him the place with so many comforting memories. The last meal I had with my mother was a Cold Noodle Soup. It was both mine and my mother’s favorite dish.
Over the next couple of months I realized that it was hard talking over the phone. I could not see if she was really “fine” or if she needed anything. She never asked for anything.
The last phone call… her voice was very tired… I asked if she wanted me to come. She said she was Ok… my brother Daniel was there. I told her I loved her. I hung up the phone and celebrated an early Christmas with my family. I wanted to spend Christmas with her… but I did not think I could figure out a way to bring 6 people to her apartment. I did not think the stress would be good for her.
A couple days later my brother told us she was in the hospital. She was in a lot of pain. I really despise the way doctors try to be gentle by speaking between the lines. I asked if I should come. Daniel didn’t know. The doctor called me directly < after she was already in the hospital for 3 days > to tell me her condition. I asked him if he would send a Red Cross message. He sounded surprise… Would I really want a Red Cross message even if she did not make it through the night? What?!!!? This was the first I had heard of her not “making it” and I was pissed. Yes I want a Red Cross message! What do you think it is for?
I frantically looked for flights and at my options. I told my husband that if I felt that she would recover I could fly out by myself to stay by her side. But there was doubt… and I told him if she died… I could not do this by myself. In the midst of making preparations the decision was made for me. My sister-in-law called me and broke the news to me…
A sound… an emotion ripped from me… I didn’t know I was capable of it. It gave my husband and my children concern… All I knew was that my heart was breaking… later I would liken it to a Klingon death cry. I never knew I was capable of crying so much.
As I went through her apartment it was only too clear that she did not have much. She was not wealthy in material things. She lived simply and with grace. Since learning about her passing I had not been able to sleep. I was cold and no matter what I did I could not get warm. I was chilled to the bone. I decided to spend the night and immediately I felt comfortable and I was able to rest with ease. I spent a couple nights at her apartment with the same results I could not find elsewhere.
If I did not know it before, I learned from her medications that she lived in pain. I marveled at how she endured it all. One such bottle suggested she swallowed lidocaine for acid reflux… Some of the things I found brought me a smile as I remembered a long ago time. I found a letter from 2003… I found a Mother’s Day card… I found pictures… I could not take everything with me but I packed. I found I could be practical about such things. Mostly because I already knew my mother’s wishes. Take what you can use, she would have said. Let her friends and church family take the rest. She would have wanted her belongings to be useful to someone…
In death, I found that I was more Korean than I ever realized. I use to struggle with my cross culture identity… I found the balance is always growing into a new understanding. All I know is who I am and who I choose to be. I have always identified myself as an American… but I puzzle at our American culture and I find that I am drawn to learn more about my mother’s heritage to make sense of these things. Here in America we don’t talk about death. We hand someone a brochure about the grieving stages but we do not grieve with them. I realized that our culture here in America does not respect these losses or at least respect someone’s grief. A funeral seems to be the gist of it and then those who are hurting are ignored until they are ready to rejoin the “living.” Strange, because of my religious beliefs I believe in life after death… you would think this event would be easy to bear…
What I really want is a place to go. I picture a classy grieving home or community that I could check our whole family into. < People who wouldn’t understand, would think it was some sort of vacation… > All I know is that I hear by the words and actions of others… a resounding “get over it” and I am not ready to embrace that as my truth.
Several of my friends have been in my shoes this year. I told them I was sorry for their loss… but I did not understand their loss until it was mine to lose…
The realization is that is still hurts and I have given up that I will ever stop crying. When does it end? I don’t know. I found it is the little things that keep me going… throwing myself into business or school work… cuddling with my children… I find I am hungry to eat my mother’s cooking… and then I remember I never will. I lose my appetite and then I force it. Its a daily struggle of wills… In the meantime I hope that I will discover new joys to help carry me through…