Wednesday, June 30, 2010

to leave when someone needs you

There may be legitimate reasons to abandon someone during a time of extreme need, but I can't think of any at the moment. Already feeling a bit somber this evening (I have good moments and bad moments; Mom's been dead for only six months, so the wounds are still fresh), I came upon this entry at the fine blog ROK Drop. The entry quotes a news article about yet another suicide by a Korean celebrity:

A popular South Korean actor and singer was found dead Wednesday in an apparent suicide that would be the latest in a recent string of high-profile suicides in the Asian country, police and a news report said.

Park Yong-ha, 33, apparently hanged himself in his home in Seoul, Yonhap news agency reported, citing police.

An official with Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency told The Associated Press that Park was found hanging by the electric cord of his mobile phone battery charger. However, police were still trying to determine the exact cause of death, the official said on condition of anonymity, citing department policy.

Park debuted in the late 1990s and starred in the 2002 television drama “Winter Sonata,” which drummed up a following in Japan and Southeast Asia. He held several concerts in Japan and one of his fans was said to be its former first lady Akie Abe.

Yonhap reported no suicide note was found, but the Seoul police agency said Park told his family “I’m sorry. I’m sorry” while massaging his father, who is terminally ill with stomach cancer, early Wednesday.
(emphasis added)

That last sentence kicked me in the gut. How could Park abandon his father? How could he?

Someone needs to teach courses in demon-wrestling.



John from Daejeon said...

You are casting that first stone without realizing that the onus might be on the father (even if he is actually a saint) for bringing his “son” into a world where the son may have only experienced profound misery and battled not demons but something far worse--his own mentally unstable brain.

I’ve had several of my own relatives commit suicide with some awful consequences, but they weren’t living lives that normal people can, or will, ever really understand. The mental pain and desperation that they felt caused most of them to live miserable and suffering lives under the influence of not only alcohol but also both prescription and illegal drugs. My own father, who tried taking his own life well before he ever got married twice, ended up having seven children thanks to the indoctrination of not only the Catholic Church but society in general, and now one of my siblings is dealing with a mental illness so crippling that he/she cannot find any joy in his/her life even after bringing three truly awesome children into this world.

I love my sibling to death, but the last few years have been a living hell for our whole family and truly one for him/her. The worst part of it all is that no one in the immediate or extended family brought it out in the open and really talked about it until it was too late for all of those who came before my sibling, and we still aren’t convinced that he/she will not end up going out the same way.

Whoever coined the phrase, “life sucks then you die,” was probably more often right that wrong for so many of the travelers on the road known as life. It’s just too bad that most of the travelers are extremely judgmental and not very sympathetic to the plights of others that don’t pretty much mirror their own.

We don’t know if this troubled young man in the article had a great childhood or if it was the opposite and maybe his father was as vile and evil as a mother of one of my kindergarten students who ties her talkative young daughters’ wrists and ankles with rope of some sort that ends up cutting into her flesh and causing scars that make me sick to my stomach just to have the perfect conforming daughter. Just the day before yesterday, the little girl screamed worse than anything I had ever heard in my life because the class was over and she didn’t want to go home to her mother. But no one here (South Korea) wants to get involved (and as a foreigner it is really dangerous for me to try and do something), and we have already taken in another child who basically lives in our institute. After seven hours of public schooling, one young girl stays for eight additional hours in our school each day and on the weekends to avoid her own deranged and violent parent. These two little girls should not be having to fear for their lives from their own loved ones, so it won’t shock me in the least if they can’t cope with life in the end by living it with the expectations of “normal” people.

Kevin Kim said...

Thanks, John, for a different perspective on the matter. My own suspicion is that the son's final good-bye indicated that he felt some sort of love for his dad. Maybe the son was indeed too overwhelmed by something-- mental illness, the enormous pressure of his circumstances, etc.-- but this doesn't make the situation any less horrible from the father's perspective.

I haven't followed the story, so I don't know what's been discovered by the police since this article came out. At a guess, it's another case of a star experiencing the full fury of the Korean Netizenry for having disappointed them in some way or other-- perhaps it was a sex, money, or drug scandal, or the star had crossed the line in becoming "too Westernized" or some such problem. If it's any of those cases, then I'm afraid I take a dim view of the suicide. Mental illness might also have been a factor, and given that such illness is harder to control, I might be more understanding of the young man's situation.

I got in trouble for expressing my opinion about suicide some years back, after blogger Shawn Matthews had killed himself in China. Unless we're talking about a person in the grip of a mental illness so severe that they are completely incapable of rational action, I tend to think that everyone faced with such a situation still has the power of choice. This is how it is for most of us, actually: we all suffer from one or many disabilities and limitations, but we retain our fundamental freedom of the will, and can pull back from the edge. We might need help, but the decision to pull away, if it occurs at all, will be our own.


Kevin Kim said...

I got curious and just found this from the Chosun Ilbo:


Two or three days before his death, Park apparently told friends that his work and life were "too difficult." Police heard testimony from Park's friends that he suffered from insomnia due to stress and was taking sleeping pills. According to the wishes of the family, no autopsy will be conducted.

Park had returned to Korea on Saturday for a brief stay after a series of successful concerts in Japan marking the release of his new album. He had been busy meeting with friends and associates on the day before he died. On Tuesday he returned home around midnight after drinking with friends and spoke with his father, who is in the terminal stage of stomach cancer, massaging his back and legs. Park is said to have cried and told his father he wished he was the one who was sick.

Police believe his suicide was impulsive. One executive at an entertainment agency who was close to Park said, "He often seemed sad and gloomy because of his father's illness."

His father, Park Seung-in, was an album producer in the 1970s and 80s and a manager for several popular Korean singers. His showbiz background had a profound influence on his son.


Given the above circumstances, I'm not sure how much slack I can cut Park. It boggles my mind that he could have put his own suffering first when his father was dying. Work-related stress is nothing compared to terminal cancer.

It could be, too, that the Korean in me is offended by Park's inability to be a hyo-ja, i.e., a filial son, during his father's time of need. In such extreme circumstances, the hyo-ja puts everything of his own aside-- his personal worries, problems, and obligations-- in order to help his parents.

There's a larger discussion to be had, here, about the enormous psychic pressures under which modern South Koreans find themselves. Many blogs have commented on various aspects of what they see as a sort of collective insanity; we expats all have personal stories about Koreans who face adversity with an all-or-nothing, success-or-doom attitude. But despite those pressures, I can't persuade myself that Koreans who commit suicide-- as they so routinely do these days-- are bereft of all choice. What pains me is that many of the dead seem not to have had (or to have relied on) a support network of friends and family.

But that brings us back to the insanity of the overall sociocultural situation. In Korea, hinting that you might not be mentally stable is still stigmatized and anathematized, which puts everyone who is feeling an inordinate amount of stress "into the closet," so to speak. Perhaps, in such a social context, friends and family don't constitute a support network. How sad a commentary is that?


John from Daejeon said...

My father was rarely there for his family due to his own mental illness, so I had a hard time cutting him any slack growing up (especially as young kids have no understanding of it). I even had him arrested for nearly killing my mother in one of his drunken binges because he refused to get, and then continue, treatment for his illness. The eight years he lived after that horrible night were truly awful for those of us closest to him as he basically committed suicide by drinking himself to slow and drawn out death (he couldn't do it quick and easy because of his religious indoctrination).

Towards the end, I became even more and more upset with his "selfishness" until my aunts took me aside and told me about their own drawn-out ordeals fighting mental illness and basically called it a "cancer" of the brain that no one sees (or refuses to see) until it is too late. I also found out just how close to death he came as a young boy when his own grandmother (whom he loved dearly) went berserk herself and tried to kill him and his brother in a fit of mania. She ended up spending the rest of her life locked up in a prison mental hospital and never even knew if her two grandsons survived her vicious attack on them.

But it took until my close sibling went off the rails for me to “really understand” just how cancerous his/her brain has become because of the insidiousness of mental illness and that the majority of the population pay it no more heed than a bit of lip service here and there. My sibling actually wishes that the his/her disease could have been something that elicits more sympathy and effective treatment along the likes of cancer instead of mental illness because of the stigma it receives and medical funding that it doesn’t even in the U.S. So, I can’t even start to imagine the horror that those with the disease in a country like South Korea must be dealing with.

I live in dread of getting that middle of the night phone call, but if it comes, I know that at least my sibling’s tremendous suffering as a child of “god” is over. Other people might call them cowards and irresponsible, but they themselves are hypocrites who must supplement their own lives with various crutches (drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling, religion, shopping, sports, the Internet, gaming, etc.) in order to survive their own day to day existences.

For all of the religious freaks of a loving god in this world of ours that I constantly see proudly thumping their religious and infallible book of choice, there really isn’t much love for those who don’t fit into that perfect round peg, but there is more than enough finger pointing, gossiping, and blame to throw at those who can no longer defend themselves and who, arguably, couldn’t have defended themselves in the first place due to the cruel joke played upon them at birth by a cruel and capricious god. It’s really screwed up world in that we can cut sports and entertainment stars tons of slack for their mistakes/misdeeds but average Joes are thrown to the wolves at their first infraction.

John from Daejeon said...


If you have any free time this weekend, you might want to check out the film, Splice.

It's one of the best films I've seen in years, and I'm still trying to wrap my mind around all the questions it raises about god, science, greed, and parenting. Oh, yeah, there's a quite a bit of mental illness involved in it as well.


Kevin Kim said...


Sorry for the late reply. First, thanks for the movie recommendation. I saw the preview on a while back, but haven't seen the movie (I go out so rarely these days).

Second, I don't envy you the hardships you've endured. When I see phrases like "nearly killing" and "went berserk" and "committed suicide" and "locked up," I have no idea what to say. For what it's worth, you have my sincere sympathy. Life is hard, and for whatever reason, human existence requires us to earn every breath. Every moment is a constant struggle against infinite forms of entropy.


John from Daejeon said...

---I have to break this into two to post---

I guess that even with a hard childhood, my siblings and I (for the most part) were able to bounce back pretty well from some pretty disturbing events like attending a funeral for my still living and unborn brother (my father was so out of his mind that he had an actual funeral for him—my mom did not attend and brother was born healthy a week later) and being pulled off a bus early one morning a couple of months later to attend an intervention to try and get my father into treatment. Hell, we spent that year’s Christmas day without presents and in a park as my father was able to get a day pass out of the hospital.

In the end, he was never able to stick with the right combination of drugs and off of the alcohol to truly become a “normal” father; however, with lithium, he was the best I’d ever seen him. He was able to function really well, but the side-effects were hard on him because he felt like an uncaring zombie and not in his “right” mind. And, of course, it wasn’t long before he’s go off his medication. This was usually thanks to idiots/relatives who would say, “What can one little drink hurt?” One of these morons happened to be out parish priest. And once the manic state would overtake him, there were many times that he could have easily killed us like when he actually thought our station wagon could float across a deep river if he got up enough speed (luckily, it veered to the left as soon as it hit the water and flooded out in only a couple feet of water), driving our boat at night along the river without lights because he was sure he could pilot by starlight alone (we sank when he hit a tree luckily in four feet of water), or when he thought it would be cool to see how many telephone (electric) poles he could drive his pickup through (one).

John from Daejeon said...

--part 2--But for as tough as my life was growing up, all of my siblings have managed to become productive members of society, and no one has been incarcerated (knock on wood) even though at least two are severely affected by bipolar disorder. It was hard growing up and not being able to have many friends or even spend time with our cousins because my aunts and uncles were dealing with their own mental demons as well, and how do you explain something like this to friends and their parents? It took several suicides before some members of my family really started to seek help no matter the stigma attached to it, but what sucked the most was that the first one might have started the ball rolling but the Catholic Church covered it up because it wouldn’t look good to have one of their parish priests die that way, so they claimed my uncle had a heart attack. He had already undergone shock treatment and had a partial lobotomy to try and overcome the mental anguish gripping his brain, but it was too much for him to endure. It took twenty years before my other priest uncle threw down his vestments and walked away from the church and told my grandmother the truth well after two of her other sons committed suicide.

I actually had it pretty good compared to many others out there. Read through this and the comments that follow. As much as people talk about helping others, not much is being done, and then the stigma follows you for life.

But there is the opposite end of the spectrum, those who can overcome the most difficult of situations. I happened to be watching coverage of the “Ironman” triathlon when this story came on. It blew me away and made me blubber like a baby when I saw what a real father was able to do in the name of love for his son. I just didn’t realize at the time how sick my father was and that that sickness robbed him and those who loved him of so much. I only wish I could have seen the inspirational Team Hoyt before my father died. I might have tried to understand that it was really disease related. The problem with that though would be all the short periods of time when he would seem truly sane and the smartest person I’d ever known until it would reach around from the back of his brain and grab a hold of him again and rob me of my father and replace him with an erratic drunken fool making me forget that his was sick and powerless to control and overcome it.