My mother died in 1987. As that time came back, I slowly remembered it was July. I remembered it was hot; that I had to get there in a hurry. Late July, I think. It's July again, but 2012. I do the math and, slowly, realize it's been 25 years.
They waited for me to get there - Korea - from Boston. That I should see her and say my goodbye. But I couldn't. When I got there, to their living room and saw the small, simple casket, I couldn't see her. I couldn't stand the notion of someone lifting the lid. My aunt encouraged me to see her; that it was important to fully understand that she was gone. The man from the funeral home was there, ready to lift that lid. But I still couldn't. I collapsed on my dad's shoulder and begged him not to open it. For me, I had no trouble fully understanding that she was gone. That she was in that box, for 3 warm monsoon days, waiting. Forever.
My good friend just lost her dad. She is 42. An adult. A grown-up. Maybe it hurts more the more memories you've chalked up; the deeper understanding you have of what it is to lose a parent. I was 27. I don't know if it hurts less or more. Not that it really matters.
I flew back, went through my days competently. I had to find a job, and I did. I interviewed well, showed up on time, did a good job. But emotionally, I was needy and behaved inappropriately, blind to others' needs, blind to my own deficiencies. I'd fall asleep in my new apartment, in my new bed, having put in a full day at my new job. But every night, as if a clapping thunder had awoken me, I'd sit up in bed, my heart pounding, a dreaded sense hovering over my stupor. Every night, for years.
At some point, I no longer woke with a pounding heart or a sense of dread; I simply awoke. At 11, 12, 2, 3. For over 20 years. I don't know if it had simply become habit or what. I still have trouble sleeping. Someone suggested that if I worked hard all day, I wouldn't have trouble sleeping at night. Circumstances are such that I no longer have to see that person. It's a good thing, too.
I was 27. Just out of graduate school, embarking on a career. I'd guess my mom would have been proud of me. I don't know. I do know that I never had the chance to get to know her as a grown-up. Maybe 27 seems plenty old to some of you readers, but I know how young I was, how much I needed to grow, indeed, how much I would grow. In painful ways I never wanted to.
A year or two before she died, she had a choice to go on vacation, or fly me to Korea to see her.
She chose the vacation.
I think the hardest part was growing up and realizing that I was not the most important thing in her life. That by my mom and dad moving to Korea, not only did I lose my physical home, but I also lost my psychic dwelling. I slowly came to realize the existential loneliness that philosophers over the ages have contemplated. I. I alone. Separate and independent from my mother. Where do I dwell?
I sought a home at my brothers'. At an aunt's. At friends'. All of them were fraught with awkwardnesses not of their doing, but as circumstances of our days. Who could I turn to that was completely and totally on My Side? Where could I "let my hair down" and rest?
In the letter to the Ephesians, the Apostle Paul writes, "I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith."
And there I dwell and hope to, the rest of my days.