I land in Incheon – they can’t find my bag, and I fill out forms for it’s recovery. I get some help from a fella behind a counter and am directed to a hotel not far away. I take a taxi. The bed is as hard as a stone slab, but the bathroom is dope as hell. In order to turn on lights, you have to put your hotel key in a slot. Figured that out after 20 minutes of sitting in the dark.
I’m doing all of this international travel on my own, and in retrospect I’m enjoying the autonomy. The ability to make my own way and my own mistakes and successes.
I am able to meet up with my younger cousin and we go to the hospital where my mom is. I meet up with my uncle and my two aunts and my mother’s long term boyfriend Mr. Choi. Mom is there in the hospital bed, she’s hooked up to a respirator. Her skin is as brown as coffee, and her eyes are jellied. She’s not conscious. Along with Mr. Choi, I let out a loud cry of pain and we cry together.
I tell my mother that it is okay, that she can go. I will take care of everything. I tell her to go with a god that I don’t really believe in, but knows that she does. Tears escape her ruined eyes.
I really want to leave, but I stay as long as I am supposed to.
Eventually it’s time to leave and get some food. My aunts take me to a restaurant that serves spicy pig’s feet. I saw a YouTube video where some Brits tried it and were crying from the heat. It amused me so I wanted to see if it was as bad as they made it out to be.
It is amazingly delicious. The heat just starts getting to me at the end, but it’s nothing that mouthfuls of rice can’t alleviate. The food and heat are a valuable distraction. I can’t cry all the time.
After our meal and resting for a bit, we go back to the hospital and wait. My mom dies. We are all in tears. A lot of other procedural stuff happens. I must pick out a shrine for my mother. I find out that I’m supposed to stay in a chamber for mourning for 3 days.
I endure it. The bathroom attached to the small sleeping area is not well drained and ventilated. I get headaches. Meals come, people come and I greet them the best I can. I bow a lot.
All my uncles who can, have arrived and we speak, my baby-level Korean and their heavily accented English collide but we make it work through a combination of technology and translation from my younger cousins who are English fluent.
We don’t stay the entire 3rd day, there’s no point – everyone that my mother knew has come to pay their respects. Instead I carry my mother’s casket with others to a bus and we go to a crematorium. We eat and wait our turn. Eventually we are ushered into a place where there are CCDs, little TVs and my mom’s picture underneath it. We are supposed to watch the flames burn the casket to ashes. And when the time comes, we do and the tears and wailing start again. It is horrifying. There are multiple families in this large room, each one’s stories ending the same: with ashes and grief.
Afterwards we are handed her remains. Initially I wanted her ashes to be spread in the Pacific Ocean, and the family thought that was fitting. But we were told that the government would not allow such a romantic gesture. So, instead my mother’s ashes were buried in our family funeral plot, where my grandmother’s remains are as well.
We do this thing. Then we go back to my Aunt’s house and I sleep.
My eldest uncle could not attend the funeral, he himself was in the hospital recovering from a serious surgery. We visit with him. He’s like an eagle, sharp and wise.
He needs to rest so we don’t stay too long.
That evening we dine as a family. A big Korean spread, traditional style. It’s nice. I only rarely have been able to have this sort of experience with my Korean family.
It may be the last time that we eat like this, who can say?
Afterwards I sleep soundly full of meats and soju, tomorrow I leave for the States. Oh, the airport found my bag – it was still at Sea-Tac.
I fly home. I am utterly tapped and emotionally exhausted.