Many of my readers have been asking me how I’m doing lately. My answer depends on the day and sometimes even on the hour of that day. Sometimes I feel fine, other times completely miserable, and then other times I feel indifferent. However, there’s no doubt that being in Korea has been helpful in my healing process.
This week alone I’ve met with so many wonderful people. I may have lost my soulmate and best friend, but while I would never willingly have made the trade I do feel I’ve gained something in return. Here in Korea, I’ve been able to meet mutual friends that I’d never met before. Three of them I have met separately several times and they have now become close friends of mine as well. It turns out that when you have a great friend in common it’s quite easy to bond.
Through meeting these wonderful people I’ve found an outlet for my grief and confidantes with whom I could share all my precious memories. I also feel that each of them in their own way has provided me with the pieces that were missing from my jigsaw puzzle. By hearing their stories I felt I was able to complete the full picture of who my friend was in other situations and not just when he was alone together with me.
Of all these meetings, the most meaningful have without comparison been with my friend’s family. While I knew his brother from before all this happened, I’ve grown a lot closer to him through all of this. Last time I saw him I gave him a photo album I had made with pictures of my friend. He was so touched by the gesture and later sent me a text saying that he felt his brother come alive in these pictures in a way he’d never felt before. I nearly cried my eyes out when I read this but they were happy tears. I was just so happy and thankful that I could bring just the smallest comfort to my friend’s grieving family.
Yesterday I had lunch with my friend’s mother. I had asked his brother if their mother might have time for a cup of coffee sometime, and within hours I received a lunch invitation. I was so thrilled and slightly nervous but she’s just the sweetest lady I ever met in Korea. We had agreed to meet at Pungsan station in Ilsan at 12 and I made sure to take the train so I would arrive a little early. Exactly at 12 o’clock, a car rolled into the parking lot and his mother came out and gave me a hug. His father was sitting behind the wheel and also greeted me warmly. His mother then explained that his father would drive us to a nearby restaurant where she and I would have a ladies’ lunch together.
In this cozy family restaurant, we shared a lovely meal of Korean samgyetang – chicken soup with ginseng. Since tomorrow is the Korean holiday Seollal – Lunar New Year, I gave her a small present I had bought the day before in Insadong. She was very happy and touched. She kept telling me how much she had heard about me and how pretty she thought I was. Bless her heart.
After having eaten lunch together and shared anecdotes about my friend, we went upstairs where they served coffee and tea. There were many families spending a relaxed Sunday afternoon together and the atmosphere was very welcoming. We continued our conversation and also showed each other pictures.
At 2 o’clock his father came back and they both declared that they would drive me all the way home. I refused several times insisting that I could very easily take the train back but to no avail. They would hear nothing of my refusals, and so we headed toward central Seoul which was almost a 40-minute drive from Ilsan. I was so touched by this generous gesture and so happy that I would have more time to speak with his mother and even exchange a few words with his father as well.
They drove me right to my door and they both got out of the car to say properly goodbye. They are such genuinely kind people and his mother kept reassuring me that I must now think of them as my family in Korea. I will definitely do so and I felt so warm inside when I called them Eomoni and Abeoji – mother and father.
This heartwarming experience was a perfect ending to a very emotional week. After having had lunch with my friend’s brother on Monday, I met his military buddy for dinner and drinks on Wednesday evening. This friend, whom I met for the second time, was still very visibly upset by what happened and I think that we both found comfort in sharing our grief and memories with each other. While we were sitting in a bar, we suddenly stopped talking as a song was being played in the background. It was 걱정하지말아요 그대 – Don’t worry my dear. We looked at each other and said almost in unison: “He loved this song”, and I suggested that maybe he wasn’t far away and he wanted to draw attention to his presence. We listened to the song and agreed that the lyrics seemed to have a deeper meaning now.
The next day I rather spontaneously decided to go to my friend’s resting place. I just suddenly had this urge to go and headed to the memorial park in Paju near the border. It’s quite far north and it took over an hour and a half to go there. I had chosen the coldest and most depressing of days to go there, but I also thought that no weather conditions could truly make me feel any better or any worse about it all anyway. The memorial park is far into the countryside with poor public transport so I had to get there by a combination of train and cab.
Upon arrival, I first headed to an on-site flower shop and bought a small bouquet I could leave with him. I tore out a piece of paper from my notebook and scribbled a short personal note. Then I made my way to the section where he’s resting and was relieved to see that no one else was near. I placed the bouquet and then stood there for over 30 minutes, quietly whispering and crying. It may sound like self-torture but I actually felt at peace with my grief. This is not to say that it felt good but I’ve long ago accepted my sadness and sorrow and am no longer afraid of my tears. They are merely an expression of love.
So how am I really doing? I honestly believe I’m on my way to healing. I may even have begun slowly mending my broken heart – at least by a few stitches – but I’m far from healed yet. It will take a long time for me to heal completely, and that’s fine too. As Buddhist zen monk Haemin Sunim so eloquently puts it:
To get food unstuck from a frying pan, just pour water in the pan and wait. After a while the food loosens on its own. Don’t struggle to heal your wounds. Just pour time into your heart and wait. When your wounds are ready, they will heal on their own.From “The things you can see only when you slow down”