This was the eulogy (edited for coherence) I delivered at my grandmother’s funeral two years ago. Death is a terrible thing to face and witness, but my heart convinces me more and more each day that this is not the way things are supposed to be. If you like this, try also reading my other post.
I want to thank you all for coming to witness my grandmother’s passing. She was truly a great and loving woman and she was a tremendous blessing to her children, grand-children and great-grandchildren. It is amazing but all of the grandchildren were by her side for this time, something that I would not have been able to have imagined in thousands of years. I have just have a few things to describe about my grandmother.
My grandmother made sure everyone ate a ridiculous amount of food. My Korean is horrible, but I know Korean food well because of all of the things my grandmother made, 무말랭이 (spicy dried radish), 열무국수 (yulmoo kimchi noodles), 식혜 (a sweet rice drink), 동치미국수 (a water-based kimchi), 부추김치 (a chive-like kimchi) , 천국장 (stinky soybean soup). We all knew she made 천국장 “Chungook Jang” because the home smelled like feet that haven’t been washed for weeks. When I would protest the smell because I wanted friends to come over, she would say “너가 냄새 싫으면, 다른 집에서 살어” (If you dislike the smell so much, go live in a different house.) If you don’t believe my grandmother fed us well, I suggest you look at the waistlines of some my male cousins and you will have your answer. I always thought growing up in this family that being chubby was normal.
My grandmother also provided a point of refuge for my brother and I when my father punished us. For instance, when my father took us downstairs for punishment be it because we lied to him, burned our report cards and flushed it down the toilet he made us stand in the garage with our hands held above our heads and hold that position while he brooded over the appropriate amount of spanking. There was nobody we could appeal to it seemed, and as we were bracing for the worst, when we suddenly heard slow steady footsteps creaking down the stairs. My halmoni came down and said, “에비야 고만” (No more). My father replied “Umma!”, as it was obvious he was trying to say “Mom, leave me alone, they need to be punished!” Again she said the same thing, and we knew my father had to obey. I still smile like a little punk over that incident knowing full well we didn’t get what we really deserved. Living with halmoni was awesome knowing my father was ultimately not king of the household when my brother and I did stupid things. Perhaps some can even call that grace.
The grandmother we knew was an extremely strong woman, so it was difficult for all of us to see her fade in such a way. This was a woman who picked acorns outside with Amy and Allen to make food, cooked with Anna, Kathleen and Shauna, poked needles into Brian’s fingers and toes as a cure for whatever stomach ailment he had and even cut up pieces of cheese into bite size pieces for Edlin to put in his cereal (Who knows why this was considered tasty? to each their own).
As we approached this time, we all became increasingly frustrated to see her body falling apart. She could no longer walk, she ate less and less and she was even refusing water. Our comfort that we provided was our best but still lacking, her knees still ached, she became more and more dizzy, she became more and more saddened. Our halmoni fed us when we were hungry, comforted us when we were sick and got angry with us when somebody wronged our family. This disparity pointed to a biting irony in our own lives.
Death is awful, there is no way around it. Regardless of whether you believe God is Jesus Christ or whether you think God is a figment of the imaginations of many poor and lost idiots, the pain and sting of death is a problem faced by a person regardless of his faith or worldview. I don’t know why; but my grandmother’s body failed. We are defined by this fact, our very existence, even my halmoni’s is a fallen one; we are all destined for death. Yet, if we dwell on this point and ask why too much, we fall into the trap of seeing life as an incomplete story, as Macbeth says “full of sound and a fury, signifying nothing” But I want to point us into a different direction; I know we might have our own views and faiths, but I want to direct us to the Christian view that speaks to me and I hope can help us all during this time.
One of the greatest things about my faith is that it does not merely say God has created us and loved us; but it says “Emmanuel” God is with us. When the scriptures say this we are not talking about a foggy spirit that lurks among us. But this is a God who is with us, beside us and IDENTIFIES with us. Jesus felt pity for the poor leper that he restored his health, He was alongside Mary and Martha when their brother Lazarus died. As the Rev. Tim Keller has said, God binds with the suffering to the extent that he feels any move against them is a move against him.
The story continues though because in this world of pain and suffering God does not just give us rules to follow and leave us be. He is a God who gets his hands dirty for us. He cried out for his children so much that he demonstrated his love for us by sending His son to die on the cross. It becomes easier for me to accept God when he is willing to become drawn in this suffering we fear. When Jesus was on the cross, he cried not for himself but for all of us. The Cross is the reason why I believe God is not somebody who doesn’t care for me. God doesn’t merely tell me He loves me, but He shows me. But I don’t think this is the final story either.
In Revelation it says:
See the home of God is among mortals, He will dwell with them; they will be his people ad God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.
See, I am making all things new.
This is the ultimate promise my grandmother and we all have. We know our limits, we saw how helpless we were to stop our grandmother’s eventual demise. Yet we have a new hope, that we will be completely restored and made new, that sickness and despair are gone, and we will not know pain. Our story is not incomplete knowing we will see each other perfected, ultimately with our Creator.
I know my grandmother took care of us in so many ways and for that we feel forever indebted. We all felt at home going into her arms, dwelling in her room and feeling her love. In the same way we need to rejoice, because she is being cared for infinitely better than she ever cared for us. The day before she died, she cried out to go back home. She was able to pass away in her bedroom among her entire family in a place we thought of as her home.
But, we must know that, that was not her home. In the same way we joyfully came to her, she can be relieved and see the arms God open wide and His voice tell her, “Come to me all, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”
Halmoni, rest in peace, you have made it home.
July 30, 2008
I am studying Korean. Why?
My Korean is not very good. My grammar is horrific, my vocabulary is worse than the 5-year olds at my church and my comprehension is no better than my Chinese and Japanese classmates who just started learning a few months ago. However, the one area of Korean I know decently is food. This has much to do with when I grew up, my grandmother lived with our family.
My grandmother who I refer to as 할머니 (korean for grandma) always made me food. Most of the time, it would be something simple: a plate of fried rice with a fried egg on top 옴우라이스 (omurice), or maybe a cold bowl of spicy noodles 열무국수(yulmoo gooksoo). When she made American dishes she would do so with what she knew; I remember loudly complaining every time she cooked my pancakes in sesame oil 참기름(chamgirum).
I wasn’t particularly kind to my grandmother. If you cannot tell already, I have the tendency to be a bit petulant and childish. I remember the intense embarrassment I had when I saw her picking acorns off neighbor’s yards to make 도토리묵 (dotori mook) or when I had to explain to a friend’s mom why my grandmother was pulling out what seemed like strands of grass to make 부추김치 (boochoo kimchi). Other stuff though tasted fine, was just downright nasty. For instance 청국장 (chungookjang) required fermenting soybeans in blocks. The resulting product makes a fine base for a soup, but smells like a combination of unwashed feet, feces and a really good cheese.
By the time I went to college, I realized how much I missed her food when I had to eat cafeteria food. I soon found a few Korean restaurants and what they lacked in quality, I decided to make up in quantity, as a I became the proverbial college fat ass. During this time, my grandmother grew increasingly weak and by the time I graduated and started work, she was no longer able to live with us at home, needing the care provided at an assisted living facility.
I was only able to visit perhaps once a month, if at all, due to work. As she grew more and more weak, her comprehension of my Kon-glish lessened severely. Often, I would just sit by her side as she would ask questions and I would answer yes or no. I eventually was laid off from work, which made for a rather depressing time. Nonetheless in hindsight, I am glad that I was able to spend more time with her during her last moments on earth.
For me, everything revolved around food at that point. The few words I knew well enough in Korean were all foods that she had made me. I would say in Korean, “Halmoni, you remember when you made this for me?” She would nod her head and stare at me as at this point it was too difficult for her to speak. Also, she simply wasn’t eating food anymore; an occasional spoonful of papaya was all she took at this point. This was a maddening thought to anyone who saw her feed her extended family for so many years. Even when I became older and was more than capable of making food for myself, she always insisted on doing so for me.
I will do my best here to learn what I can and honor the language that my grandmother spoke. Nonetheless, in many ways, I failed her. Unable to communicate to her in any significant way, bothered me afterwards. We say “live to have no regrets”, this world is too imperfect for any of us to truly be able say such a thing. I know coming back in a few months my Korean is not going to suddenly become immaculate, but I certainly hope I can improve. Even if I become a Korean language scholar, it won’t change the fact I wasn’t able to communicate to her well before she passed away. In that respect, there is no way around it, I failed her.
Our thoughts are filled with collective doubts, fears, worries and regrets, and we have nothing to hope in if death is merely the final stamp. This can be demoralizing and with respect with my grandmother I perhaps failed her quite a bit. Yet broken bits of “Konglish” wasn’t the only way that I communicated with her. Through her food, she demonstrated a sacrificial love that I am sure many of you could relate to with family members of your own. This language of love was probably the best way she communicated to me.
I want to honor my grandmother in learning what Korean I can even if its not perfect. My goal is not a unique one; I am sure many of you have relatives or friends whose lives you want to honor in your actions. There’s that phrase, “Love begets love” and in this case all of us hope to carry out the same loving kindness we received and saw in our loved ones who passed. Even though death hurts and is painful, we hope our actions in love can last even longer than the lives that live; that we can leave a legacy that is more worthwhile than the simple things we see here on earth. We hope this power can transform us for better. Our whole bodies ache for redemption.
As a Christian, the starting point is very similar. We look at the death of our Savior and we respond to it. We honor the legacy of our God who demonstrated the ultimate sacrifice in love by dying for us. While failure seems to be an integral part of human existence, Christ seems to tell us our failures don’t make us who we are. But there’s hope in this death; one that says if we believe in the promise, if we honor this death, we can transform in love and turn impending death into life. We hope to honor this life, by living like Christ and learning what love really entails.
There is something miraculous in seeing people who once lived only thinking about themselves; practitioners of malice and deceit, who practice love and life. People seem to respond to love though, we’ve seen this transformation in people who we would have otherwise dismissed as a lost cause. You are right if you are thinking, that doesn’t prove anything. But maybe this a clue and key to our future. That the ultimate act of love was not just a promise of change on earth but points to redemption against even death itself.
I believe I will see my loved ones again. You see, as cynical as I am, I believe in the power of love. Not my own love, focused on my own worries and needs; but the love of Christ outward focused and wholly selfless.
I believe this power can redeem the most selfish of souls; even my own.