It’s now been nine months since my best friend was in an accident that would eventually cost him his life. One part of me still feels like I saw him only yesterday while another part of me feels like this hell has been going on for significantly longer than only nine months.
Saying that the past nine months have been tough would be an understatement. I’ve been grieving both quietly and loudly, I’ve been raging, I’ve been unable to eat and sleep, and I’ve hated the universe for causing me such unbearable pain. In the first months I tried and failed to search for some kind of meaning in his death. What was it all for? At the same time, if someone had told me what it was for, I would have resented that there was a reason worth sacrificing his young life for. I wanted to find meaning and at the same time, I couldn’t bear it if there truly was any meaning to be found.
One day, while reading one of the countless books on grief I devoured during the first tough months, I had a realization as one author wrote: “You cannot find any meaning in the death of a loved one. But you may be able to create meaning out of it.” The death itself is meaningless, but your life after it doesn’t have to be. This was such an eye-opener. I didn’t have to worry about the presence or absence of meaning. I merely had to worry about how I could create meaning. And that’s what I’ve tried (not always succeeded in but tried) to do ever since.
This is considerably easier now that I’m back in Korea where I can be with his family. I’ve grown very close to my friend’s mother, who’s heart is as broken as mine. We spent a wonderful time together yesterday, first eating an early dinner and then going for a long walk around the Ilsan lake park. Though crushed as she is, she’s happy to share memories of her son and I love to hear them. She broke down in tears once during our walk, and me being able to hug her and comfort her and sit down on a bench and listen to her and sharing my own memories and pain and struggles was just so healing for both of us. I am so thankful that I’m fluent in Korean, so that there is absolutely no language barrier between us. Yesterday, we were simply two women reminiscing and mourning the loss of our most favorite person. Comforting her, and thereby comforting myself is extremely meaningful. Being able to spend four hours with her, sharing our innermost feelings and thoughts and truly confiding in each other was a perfect way to create meaning out of an utterly meaningless situation. Just like I’ve said to myself over and over again, my friend’s mother kept repeating the words “말도 안 돼” – it doesn’t make any sense. It truly doesn’t, so there’s no point in looking for it.
I am very well aware that there is a limit to what others can do when we’re grieving, but if I can help lessen the pain of my friend’s family by even the smallest measure, then I’ve done something that is truly meaningful. And I’m only able to comfort them in Korean because he taught me so well. He was the toughest Korean teacher I ever had, and he taught me more about Korean than anyone else. His goal was to help me adjust to life in Korea. Now my goal is to help his family and myself adjust to a world without him where we all will be forever changed.
When comforting his mother and telling her, how much I had loved her son and still do, I was reminded of my favorite quote from Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist:
“When we love, we always strive to become better than we are. When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too.”