For the past several years I’ve been using Korean in happy situations, boring situations, professional situations, mundane everyday situations, medical or academic situations. But never for anything as tragic as grief… Until now.
Except “I feel a bit down today”, my active Korean ‘sad emotional vocabulary’ was limited to what I knew from dramas and movies. Well…… that changed.
In the most painful of ways, my Korean vocabulary has been expanded to encompass all of the words related to the process of losing a loved one. These days I often find myself thinking about this loss and grief in Korean, which proves that you think in the language which you feel and experience events in.
My best friend passed away in an accident a week ago and I’m heartbroken beyond words. Any words. In any language. But in addition to dealing with the emotional pain of his passing, his death has forced me to acquire and internalize painful Korean words in order to share this unbearable loss with his family and other people who love and miss him. Words so powerful that they will forever be etched in my memory no matter how much I desperately wish to delete them.
The pain of losing my friend has been absolutely numbing and I can’t even recall the last time I wore makeup. It really does seem a rather futile effort since I would spend the whole day crying it off anyway. I force myself out on an hour-long walk every single day just to maintain a minimum of sanity, and the other day I even managed to walk straight past a former colleague who didn’t recognize me bare-faced with my hair in a sloppy ponytail. Well, who cares if I don’t look like myself. I certainly don’t feel like myself anyway so I guess that fits perfectly.
도전해 봐! See it as a challenge and an opportunity to grow! This is what my friend would tell me, whenever I was facing any form of difficulty. Well, having learned all this painful Korean vocabulary, I have indeed grown my knowledge of Korean and the entire culture surrounding death in Korea.
But while my Korean capacity may have grown, my heart, on the other hand, has been ripped to pieces. I hereby share these painful words with you, hoping that you will never have to use any of them first-hand as I have had to this past week.
사경을 헤매다 to be on the brink of death
천국으로 가다 to go to Heaven
유골 earthly remains
유족 family of the deceased
화장/매장 cremation, burial
조의금 condolence money
부고 notification of death, obituary
고인 deceased person
상주 chief mourner (usually a close relative – in my friend’s case his brother)
발인 carry the coffin out for burial
기일 date of death
49재 the seven weeks (49 days) after a person dies is what it takes according to ancient Buddhist tradition for this person to transition to their next life. Though my friend was not Buddhist, the significance of the 49 days remains well grounded in Korean society and I’m planning on visiting his resting place on that exact day.
레벨업하자 우리! “Let’s make each other better!” My friend constantly wanted to improve himself (and me for that matter) and told me so over and over again.
I’m certainly not a better person for this grief I’m going through. Nor am I any stronger. I have already forgotten to eat several meals and I spend a lot of time staring blankly out the window, which probably doesn’t improve me. In fact, this blog post only came to be because of an insisting playlist on my iPhone urging me to write it out and a large
bottle glass of red wine.
I’m hoping that in time the pain will fade and only the happy memories will remain. Because his life was cut so brutally short, I will strive to become a better person for the rest of mine. But first, I must focus on regaining my strength and work through my grief.
He always referred to our first meeting as 인연이 시작된 날 – the day a special relationship was forged. I vow not to see his passing as the end of this special relationship. He may be physically gone, but that does not make him any less my best friend, and as long as I remember all of our special moments, a part of him remains with me forever.
I want to end this post by sharing three songs with you that are all dedicated to him. They were all “ours”. The first one “Good together” is one that we happened to hear in a restaurant on the day of our first big argument. We then realized that despite our differences, we were in fact “good together” and that we should remember to let the small things go. We would refer to it several times after that day and sometimes say to each other: We are good together!
The second song “I’ll pick you up” by Standing Egg one is one he sent to me after having
walked carried me home on a cold December night after way too much soju. It truly warmed my heart and listening to this song always reminds me of his genuine kindness and caring personality.
The third one was one of his all-time favorites. It’s called “Pick me” by Wanna One. He loved this cheerful fast-paced song so much and sent it to me one day to cheer me up. If he knew I was feeling down, he would sometimes send cute messages saying “Cheer up up!!” and then include three Korean flags as well for good measure. We both liked this song so much that we would often spontaneously start singing the chorus together when we were out for drinks.
These are just the three most important songs. We had many others, like Big Bang’s “Fxxk it”, “Stay here” by Longguo and Shihyun, “Yanghwa Bridge” by Zion T., “Spring Day” by BTS, “Thunder” by Imagine Dragons, and “Cuz it’s you” by Standing Egg.
They are now all on my phone on a playlist that bears his name ❤️