Yesterday marked the 49th day following the passing of my best friend. In Korea, this day is usually marked by a memorial service, which has its roots in Buddhist tradition and is widely practiced across religions all over the country.
I attended this memorial for my friend at his resting place yesterday together with his family and other people close to him. This was something that I absolutely wanted to be present for and at the same time dreaded for fear that I would break down completely in front of everyone. I saw my physician a few days ago and she must have shared my fear of a breakdown in this situation because she offered me a sedative pill to take before the service to help me stay calm. I’m glad to say that it worked.
I had arranged with two of his other friends to meet at a train station and then go together in a taxi. It was the first time that I met them but they were so welcoming and kind to me and I was so thankful that I did not have to go there alone. We arrived at the memorial park ten minutes before the family and had time to buy a small flower bouquet. Then more friends arrived and then the family – his brother and parents. We gathered in front of my friend’s resting place, which I had seen pictures of before, but actually standing there and seeing his name just choked me up and I started crying quietly.
Then my friend’s brother took the lead in saying a few prayers and the rest of us chimed in. I already knew his brother but it was the first time for me to meet the parents. They were so incredibly sweet and obviously in the worst imaginable pain. His mother embraced me and kept clutching my hand tightly while we cried and talked together. I’m so deeply grateful that I got to tell her how much her son had meant to me and I was so happy just to meet her and be able to talk to her.
My friend’s brother had asked me to bring a few small items that symbolized Denmark, which I should lay down at the resting place. I was deeply honored to do so and feel so thankful that there will now be something there that symbolizes our special friendship. After having laid down the small items I brought, I also fastened the small bouquet next to them.
After the memorial service, which altogether lasted about 30 minutes, my friend’s brother and some of the closest friends had dinner together. We went to a restaurant serving 감자탕 – a traditional Korean beef stew with spicy broth. After dinner, we proceeded to a nearby coffee shop to continue talking before going home.
It was a difficult day but I was so comforted by seeing all the other people who knew and loved my friend and I was especially comforted by speaking to his sweet mother. For the first time since his passing, I no longer felt alone with my grief. We all loved him, we all miss him and we all mourn the loss of him. Even though it was difficult, I am so incredibly glad that I went. It was truly a very meaningful day.
I’ll end this post by sharing a poem that one of my dear readers, Melanie, sent to me on one of the days where I most needed it. It’s “When I must leave you” by Helen Steiner Rice:
When I must leave you for a little while,
Please do not grieve and shed wild tears
And hug your sorrow to you through the years,
But start out bravely with a gallant smile;
And for my sake and in my name
Live on and do all things the same,
Feed not your loneliness on empty days,
But fill each waking hour in useful ways,
Reach out your hand in comfort and cheer
And I in turn will comfort you and hold you near;
And never never be afraid to die,
For I am waiting for you in the sky!