Hello, and Goodbye

October 20, 2016

안녕(pronounced Ahnyeong in English) means ‘hello’ in Korean. However, it also means goodbye. I never imagined that a goodbye at the end of Summer, 2010 would be the final goodbye that I would hear from my grandfather. My grandfather had lived through many horrifying, tough situations including the Second World War and Korean War. After having survived such terrifying times, he used his diligence and hard work to become a nationally recognized law professor.
My grandfather had always been the type of person to never give up, no matter how excruciatingly hard or painful the situation was. He fought to live each day for us, even when the doctors told us that he would not live to see another two months, or when his body began to slowly shut down because of pancreatic cancer. He stubbornly battled against the words of his doctor for his loving family. Yet, after one and a half years of miraculously fighting, the soldier that I had known as a grandfather lost his battle to cancer.
When one family member gets cancer, it’s as if the whole family is infected by it. I would see my mother crying in a room, and trying her best to stifle her sobs in the pillows. My father would sit by her, unsure of how to help, or what to say. My mom’s eyes would remain swollen for days and crying became part of her daily routine, although she tried to smile as if everything were fine. At the time, I did not understand the circumstances, and never knew that I would lose my grandfather.
There are many things I remember about my grandfather. I remember his house on the 16th floor of an old apartment building. Sometimes, the elevator would break down, and we would be forced to laugh and groan through many flights of stairs. Even worse, we’d often be carrying bags of groceries! I remember how he tried to teach me how to use chopsticks properly, though he eventually gave up. I remember how he sat me down sometimes to talk about serious world problems, such as poverty, because I wanted to follow in his paths to becoming a lawyer. Yet, the fondest memories that I have of my grandfather were in a single garden.
There was a garden a mile away from the house. Every week or so, my grandfather and I would walk that mile in blistering summer heat to walk around the expansive garden. We would always stop near the subway station for crackers to feed ourselves and the koi. I feel as if the garden was reflective of the times I had with my grandfather. There were many colorful flowers, the sun was bright, and my grandfather and I would always walk hand in hand down the long trails. All my memories were equally bright and beautiful, and full of the peaceful laziness that overtook me and my grandfather as we spent hours strolling the garden. Those walks slowly came to a halt, and by the end of the Summer, vanished.
I started to notice something was wrong when my grandfather was too tired to go to that garden. It was our special place, and he had never skipped the opportunity of a sunny day. Of course, he always apologized, and spent the day indoors with me. It was then that I noticed that he was constantly going to the hospital. He was getting sicker by each day, though he kept his smile on when I was around. He was exhausted, and had barely any strength left in him to fight back. I felt the depression that settled within our family as the days grew colder, and bleaker.
My mother remained in Korea for the next few months, in order to spend my grandfather’s last months with him. I came back to the United States with my brother and father, and spent the passing Fall and Winter in worry of my family in Korea. I would receive emails from my mom to not worry and to take good care of my brother and dad in her absence. Because my dad had to go to work, my brother and I stayed in after school care until my dad came to pick us up. It was a day in December that my dad came rushing in to our school. With no words, he brought us to stores to pick out black clothing, as we owned none. When we got home, we were told to pack quickly, and to bring only essentials. I didn’t understand until we boarded the morning plane the next day to Korea. My grandfather had passed away the night before.
My mom met us at the service. The minute she saw my dad, she broke into tears again. Her face had already been streaked with the ghosts of many tears, and the new tears were faint, as there were no more tears she could cry. I remember her saying, “I couldn’t be with him at the moment he passed. No one was there with him. Not even the nurses.” How could he have passed with such loneliness? My grandfather had lived through many hardships. Why did yet another one have to lead to his ending? What had he done wrong? He had always been health conscious, and had done everything to elongate his life by one more second, if possible. And yet, no matter how many questions I asked, there were no answers, and my grandfather was gone.
I do not believe that my grandfather should be remembered as a victim of pancreatic cancer. Cancer does not define a person. A person should be defined by his entire life, and how he impacted others. I define my grandfather as a hero, a well renowned professor, a guardian of a father, a sweet grandfather, and my role model. Although he did suffer from the pains of cancer, his identity was of a much stronger man who fought it for a miraculous amount of time. Even to the last second of his life, he never lost his dignity. Cancer took away a lot, but it did not take away everything.
Ahnyeong does not just mean hello, or goodbye. It’s true meaning is ‘take care.’ I wish that my grandfather takes care and rests in peace. Ahnyeong, grandpa.
Min Su Kim