Friday, February 01, 2019

visiting #3 Ajumma

I saw #3 Ajumma last night, arriving at her doorstep with 2.5 kilos of marinating galbi. Ever skeptical of my ability to cook Korean food, she smelled the meat and exclaimed that I ought to be married by now if I can make galbi that's that good. The two issues foremost on Ajumma's mind are my singleton status and my weight, and she once again gave me shit about the latter. "You've gained more weight?" she cried. I guess the simplest solution to that situation is simply to lose the weight, but as solutions go, simple doesn't mean easy.

For a woman who lost her husband two weeks ago, Ajumma seems to be doing about as well as can be expected. She radiates concern for others; she talks proudly about her sons, one of whom teaches voice and works as a professional singer in Seoul, the other of whom works for Porsche in Stuttgart, Germany. She is also still in the habit of trying to foist all sorts of items on me; after I'd refused all her other offers of fruit and vegetables and articles of clothing, she still got me to take home a huge handful of German tea that her second son had given her.

We spent some time seated on her incongruously posh couch, looking at photos on each other's cell phones. I showed her some pics of my brother Sean in Paris; she showed me a video of her second son's new baby, a smiling little chipmunk-cheeked boy. We went silent at one point and just stared at what was on TV—some travel show about Malta.

I was startled to find out that Ajeossi, Ajumma's husband, had died on the very day I'd received her text message about the transporting of his ashes to a cemetery up north. I somehow thought I had missed the days-long memorial ceremony. It seems he was cremated on the very day he died, which strikes me as strangely expeditious. Do Korean Christians have a tradition about burying someone with 24 hours of death, the way the Jews and the Muslims do? If so, this is the first I've ever heard of it. I also still find it strange for Korean Christians to cremate a body; in this country, cremation is much more closely associated with Buddhism.

The visit was brief—probably not even an hour. When I finished my tea and stood up, Ajumma said it was getting late, and that she needed sleep; this was the only sign she gave of how depressed she might really be. It wasn't even 9:30 p.m. when I stepped out the door, and I've never known Ajumma to be an early sleeper.

We all handle death in our own respective ways. I heard this a lot while my mother was dying, and I heard it a lot more, ad nauseam, after she'd died. I may have written, here or elsewhere, that right after my mom passed away at Walter Reed Medical Center, I drove back home with Dad and, without a word, crawled into bed and slept for God-only-knows how long. It may have been a full day. And when I woke, I lay there in the darkness, with nothing but my breathing and my heartbeat for company, wondering why on earth I was still alive. There seemed to be something fundamentally unjust in the idea that I should go on while Mom had been left behind. Anyway, if Ajumma's response to the death of her husband is to go to sleep a bit earlier than usual, I'm not going to begrudge her that.

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