It’s Been A Year Since You Died.
This date marks exactly a year since you died. What echoes in my mind today is what you wrote at the end of a letter you sent me in 1996. You were flying to Dallas to work a trip to Narita. I was living in San Francisco.
You knew I was having a difficult time adjusting to my new job, my new city. We’d mail each other notes, listing five things that made us happy. You started this practice. I so looked forward to your letters.
I found this one letter last night, when I was going through old keepsakes:
On my way to work again. One ore hour then I take a long rest break. Things that make me happy:
- My girls (all three) will be with me on my 60th — which is a very big thing in Korea, known as “Han gāp”.
- Went surfing Wed. & Th. I bought a new wet suit at Rusty’s!
- I helped a Columbian lady sitted next to me on flight from SAN-DFW to get transfer from gate 21 via tram with 20 min connecting time.
- Enjoying counting my retirement money like a screwge & planning invenstment is lots of fun. (Since I saved throughout my life, especially when I was young immigrant, I got more than the most!)
- Get to go to work flying to Far East. Lots of respect from fellow ASIANS.
Looking forward to having U home next month. Bye pumpkin-talk to you soon.
P.S. Be happy. It’s a wonderful world, if U let it be!
It’s the one year anniversary of the day you died. After planning your funeral then having to cancel it when the pandemic broke out, the emotions I kept inside the tight container of my body and spirit could no longer be stifled.
I stayed strong the days following your death. I went through your closet and found the Chicago Blackhawks sweatshirt I gave you once when you were cold sitting around your memory care “home”.
I didn’t hold that sweatshirt to my face and smell it. I wanted to, but why? I had a lifetime of your clothes to go through; that was just one piece.
If I’d have smelled it, I may have become too sad to keep sorting your clothes.
So I threw it in the “To Donate” box.
I often think about that sweatshirt. I remember you’d wear it while I fed you the pureed peas, potatoes, and brown mush they called meat. You’d give me a toothless grin, tears in your eyes, while I faked a cheery voice and said, “it’s not so bad, is it, Dad?”
I know you hated that pureed mess. It looked less appetizing than baby food. I’d try to get it past your lips but the spoonful of puke green sustenance wouldn’t make it down your throat. I know you’d let me put it in your mouth because you saw me trying so hard, but it must have tasted like pig slop.
I’m sorry I tried to make you eat that. The facility told me you were no longer able to eat even the softest solid food. The only way you could be nourished was through that pureed crap.
Most of it ended up on your grey Blackhawks sweatshirt, though.
I’d try to change your clothes after you were stained with gruel, but you always wanted to keep wearing that sweatshirt.
You’d resist me by summoning a cry from somewhere deep in your throat. I think it meant “don’t change my sweatshirt. It’s my favorite. I know I was once a proud man, but what’s the point anymore.”
Whatever it meant, you seemed content staying in that stained sweatshirt.
It was clean after you died; they must have done your laundry while you lay in that hospice bed for 2 1/2 days until you passed away on February 16, 2020.
I cannot stop thinking about you writing, “It’s a wonderful world, if U let it be.”
I know it is, Dad.
But if your spirit is somewhere watching me, you know that I have gone through hell the past year.
And I know you would not have wanted me to suffer so much. I know you’d want me to let it be a wonderful world.
But I couldn’t, Dad. Not this past year. My depression plummeted to new depths. I no longer had to take care of you. I didn’t have to force a smile when I greeted you at that bleak facility. I didn’t have to organize the caregivers, pay the bills, call the long-term care insurance company.
I complained about having to do all of that for the many years you were incapacitated. But it forced me to bury all of my sadness somewhere deep within my soul. I thought that was a blessing.
I figured I did such a good job of obscuring my sorrow that it’d go away.
But this past year, it was excavated without my permission.
A month after you died, we cancelled the funeral plans because of the pandemic. I buried you alone at the cemetary. As they lowered your casket into the earth, I didn’t cry.
I concentrated on the military planes flying over and thought about how you loved flying the fastest planes in the Air Force. Some White folks didn’t understand how a Korean immigrant could fly planes in the U.S. Military.
I never felt like explaining it to them. If they were that ignorant, they didn’t deserve to know.
We found your watch when cleaning out your room. On the band was a circular emblem with letters that read: “NAA Mach Buster”.
We googled what that meant and found that “The NAA Mach Buster pin is a North American Aviation pin, given to pilots who flew the F-100 Super Sabre faster than Mach 1.”
You broke the speed of sound.
I think I broke myself after you died. I’m sorry. It was out of my control.
I didn’t cry as they shoveled dirt onto your casket and made a compact little mound to cover a man who came here as a refugee from the Korean War, finished college in the U.S., flew planes in the military, and was a commercial airline pilot. A self-made man.
It took a few days after I buried you for me to cry for the first time in years.
I found a stuffed animal that the workers at the facility had written, “Larry” on. It was a small brown horse.
Someone there must have given it to you to soothe you. You suffered so much, Dad.
So I kept that little horse. I’d just ridden my stationary bike in my bedroom. As I walked to the shower, the stuffed horse fell off my bookshelf. I picked it up and looked at your name written on it in a Sharpie.
That little horse looked so passive, so kind. And I thought of how you were once a charismatic, ambitious, sometimes angry man. And dementia reduced you to a gentle, quiet shadow of a person.
Like that little horse.
I held the stuffed animal to my chest. A moan rose from deep within my soul. Then tears, that unfamiliar salty liquid, spilled out of my eyes. I tried to stop them. I had held them back for so long they frightened me.
But they kept coming with a force not even a stubborn, stoic person like me could suppress.
I howled and weeped for hours that day.
I didn’t recognize myself.
After that day, I tried again squelch my emotions. I’d often get out of bed with pain in my chest and anguish in my head. I didn’t want to live anymore, Dad.
With the pandemic, Trump, George Floyd’s murder and everything it encompassed, I considered suicide so many times over the past year. I even had a plan. I’d either take all the meds in my nightstand and wash them down with bourbon or walk into the ocean at midnight and let the waves terminate my pain.
But, Dad, I didn’t do it.
Now I’m medicated and in therapy twice a week. It took 11 months for me to finally accept the help I needed.
And last night, as I anticipated this day, I journaled:
Dad said, “It’s a wonderful world, if U let it be” in a letter.
I have been so sad the past year. But Dad would want me to live life. I know both he and mom would, and they’d be disturbed by how depressed I’ve been the past year. It’s been such a painful, hard year and it’s almost killed me many times.
I’ve suffered so much I couldn’t bear living anymore.
But I’m glad I’m alive. I still have a lot of life ahead of me, even if I am 51 years old. I have had joy in the past and I will in the future. Like right now. The cats are purring and cuddling on my chest. Steve is upstairs whistling happily. And he has stuck with me through all of this hell.
I’m doing better on this new medication.
I have been SO broken and SO miserable FOR A YEAR. I’ve gotten shot up at the ketamine clinic multiple times, I thought I wanted to leave Steve, I wanted us to move to another country.
But all of that was a product of my wanting to escape.
I am lucky. I still have so much to live for.
I went for a walk on the beach this morning. I thought of you and how you are free of pain. Free of a mind and body that held you hostage.
Now I see the beautiful world in front of me, Dad. It’s right here. All of it.
It IS a wonderful world, if U let it be.