Today is Mom's birthday. She was born on May 4, 1943, and would have been 71 today. She died on January 6, 2010, in an ICU berth at Walter Reed Medical Center, a little after eight in the morning. It's been more than four years, and there are still moments when it feels as if her death happened yesterday.
At her tallest, Mom stood a puny 5'3"—barely 160 centimeters for you metric types. For a tiny woman, she contained a tremendous amount of will, much of which I inherited. She and I fought a lot; I think it's fair to say we had unresolved issues, even up to the very end, when brain cancer stepped in, like a grim referee, and stopped the quarrel. Life with Mom wasn't just conflict, though; I don't want to leave you with that impression. In her later years, Mom and I began to see more eye-to-eye, and in part I have my experience in Korea to thank for that. Understanding Mom's people was a big help in understanding Mom. There's still much about Korean culture that I disagree with, or even outright reject, but I understand more. And that's important. Such knowledge has even been therapeutic, you might say.
There are times, even now, when I imagine taking Mom to places I'd visited—especially places in Europe, like Nice or Interlaken. I imagine her delight as she whooshes along inside a TGV, awash in the French language that she wouldn't understand, captivated by the gorgeous rural scenery. I imagine her barking at me to Wait up! while she catches up with me on a Swiss mountain-hiking trail, or I imagine her sitting on a flat rock, as I did in Nice, enjoying the caressing breeze of an evening on a pebbly Mediterranean beach, staring out at the waves. I imagine Mom's happiness as she takes one more trip to Korea, freshly astonished at how much the country keeps changing, and changing, shedding its old skin every year.
What would you give for one more day with your mom, for one more opportunity to take a trip somewhere with her? I can say without hesitation that I'd give my life. My whole life. Sometimes, the silence is deafening; it's still hard to believe I live in a world without Mom. The planet, like clockwork, hits that moment in its orbit, the one that marks when Suk Ja Kim was born in 1943, just seven orbits before the Korean War. Now, the Earth simply passes that birth-moment by; there's nothing—no one—left to herald, and all that remains to mark Mom's coming-into-existence is memory, and the three sons who do their best to keep memory alive.
Happy Birthday, Mom.