Monday, January 06, 2020

gi-il (忌日, 기일), 10th anniversary


It's been ten years since Mom passed away. I turned 40 the year Mom was diagnosed with the brain cancer that would kill her nine months later; I turned 50 last August, and despite the passage of ten years, there are still moments when Mom's death seems to have happened only yesterday. Looking back at old photos of Mom, both healthy and sick, can trigger the tears. Otherwise, enough time has passed that I'm mostly back to living my life.

I still haven't taught myself the proper way to conduct a jaesa ceremony for Mom. Maybe I haven't been all that motivated because, after all, for whom am I doing the ceremony? It's something of a cliché to note that such events are more for the living than for the dead, and if the survivors have moved on and are living their lives, then do they actually need elaborate ceremonies to mark the passage of time?

Or maybe these blog entries, which I've published once a year, every January 6 since Mom's death, are something of a ritual moment. I don't know.

I've been trying for months to coordinate with my brothers regarding the scattering of Mom's ashes. Her cremains have been sitting in a heavy-plastic bag inside an even heavier stone urn for a decade. I'm of several minds about this, mainly because, on the one hand, I'm a religious-studies student who does possess some lingering sense of ritual and sacrality. Mom's ashes have symbolic significance. On the other hand, as a pragmatist, I don't think of these remains as Mom, per se: I can't hug Mom's ashes; I can't kiss them; I can't talk to them and expect a response. When looked at that way, I don't have any real attachment to Mom's remains, and I've told my brothers that, if they're not interested in doing anything with Mom's ashes this year, then that's fine by me. I certainly don't plan on pressuring my brothers to do anything about the ashes; if they prefer to hold on to them for the time being, I'll respect that wish. If they don't care one way or the other, then I'll respect that attitude, too.

So far, only my brother Sean has promised to email me a response to my cremains-related questions. David hasn't said anything. Maybe this issue isn't important to him. I don't know because he's not communicating.

My company, in a rare show of organized thinking, has mapped out our vacation schedule for this year, and we've got a week-long string of vacation days coming to us in a few months: seven days off spanning the end of April and the beginning of May—until May 5, in fact, which is one day past Mom's birthday. I've announced to David and Sean that I'll be coming to the States then, hopefully to decide on a place to scatter Mom's ashes, and then to actually scatter them. But again, I'm not trying to pressure my brothers: if they still don't want to do anything about Mom's ashes, despite my presence, then so be it. The last thing we need, in our family, is some stupid tug of war over a pile of dust.

Ten years is a long time. I've achieved things, since Mom's death, that would have made her proud had she been alive. I'm still not married, and at this point, I despair of marriage ever happening, but I'm doing much better financially, and I've got two trans-Korea walks under my belt. Surely that counts for something. But none of that obscures the fact that I still miss Mom. I know that life must go on because that's the nature of existence; time flows relentlessly forward. But every early January, my thoughts turn back to a small, frail, dying Korean woman who once brought me into this world, who cared for me and nurtured me in her own imperfect way, and whom I cared for in turn during her final nine months on this earth.

Mom died a mid-winter death, and that's changed the meaning of this season for me. But these days, it's less about the sadness and more about the contemplation. It's not quite right to say that life moves in cycles, as if nature were constantly repeating itself exactly as it had been before. It's more correct to think of life moving like waves lapping the shore—successive beats that bear certain similarities, yet are distinctly different from each other. Mom had her time on the shore, and now she's receded. I'm having my time now, but one day, I too will recede, and that's right and good.

Goodbye, Mom—ten years gone. I love you.







3 comments:

Daniel said...

That's beautiful. I'm sure she be very proud. We are, in the end, nothing but our memories and a web of relationships.

John Mac said...

We never get over the loss of a mother, but she lives on through your love of her. Another beautiful annual tribute!

I recall you said that seeing those flowers on your trans-Korea hike made you feel your mom's presence on the trail. Her spirit will always be with you and I know you take comfort in that.

I don't know if your mother ever expressed any desires regarding her remains. My dad bluntly said that once he was dead what we did with the body was of no concern to him. He was cremated and a few months later we dumped the ashes in the Mississippi River in his hometown of Memphis. I'm quite sure he didn't care, but it provided some comfort and closure for me and the brothers. So whatever makes you guys feel best is the right approach in my opinion.

Hang in there!

Kevin Kim said...

Thanks for the kind words, John.