Ode to my harabuhji
We had a beautiful funeral and burial service for my harabuhji yesterday.
My brother gave a eulogy, remembering my grandpa as a kind and positive man, who used his words to uplift others, who believed in us and exhibited great unconditional love.
My eldest uncle’s eulogy was filled with tearful emotion as he remembered his father.
My younger uncle’s best friend from high school heard the news the night before and immediately drove down from San Jose with his wife and kids for the funeral. Seeing my uncle and aunt embrace their family was extremely touching and still makes me cry thinking about it.
It was moving to see people there who I know have been in prayer for our family, particularly my parents’ community from Westlake church (who have been redefining the power of community and presence for me this past week) and my own pastor. Seeing family from my dad’s side of the family there too filled my heart with love. Something about being surrounded by those who love you as you grieve and remember someone you love bringing peace and comfort to the soul. Thankful to those who reached out and offered prayers or said anything—didn’t realize how much it means when others reach out when you’re going through a loss.
I have been finding myself randomly reflecting the past week on the many memories I have with my harabuhji.
Childhood memories of my harabuhji picking us up from school when my mom started working. Never late. Him taking English classes and asking me how to pronounce certain words. Practicing them together. Trying them out at fast food places and no one understanding but still persistently trying nonetheless. Him sitting on a chair in our backyard for hours and just being there.
Memories from the past two years mainly consist of stopping by their Little Tokyo apartment with dinner or pastries and sitting with my grandparents as they watched TV. My harabuhji loved action movies and shows, especially Walker Texas Ranger. My mom would tell me that my love for movies is inherited from my harabuhji. In the last year, picking up my harabuhji and visiting my halmoni at the hospital as he couldn’t drive some days because of his medication. Watching my harabuhji sweep the apartment balcony and water the plants and clean the dishes. Little things.
And then there are the lifetime of memories of family gatherings at restaurants and homes for birthday and New Years celebrations. Eating dukgook and playing ute with family. My favorite memories. (It’s truly shocking to believe this was still our reality just three months ago. How quickly things can change.)
Throughout my life, my harabuhji always asked me, How’s school? and then later, How’s work? followed by an encouragement to work hard. My mom would often mention that he was proud of her for working. A few months ago, I visited my grandparents and they reminisced about my mom as a kid and proudly told me that my mom was so smart growing up. Always the smartest. I found out a few days ago that my harabuhji graduated from Seoul University, the most prestigious university in South Korea. This is not surprising, yet nothing he cared to mention. He was not a man to ever talk about himself. Some things are so obviously evident they don’t need to be said aloud to be realized.
Most of these memories are of both my harabuhji and my halmoni. My halmoni and harabuhji were always together — in the same room, in the same corner. Eating or watching tv, not needing to say much (my harabuhji didn’t have good hearing). But they were clearly each other’s best friend and closest companion. Very different people, but so full of the same resilient love. Together they raised the most selfless, caring, patient people I know.
They say that as you get to know people more deeply, you see more clearly the cracks. The lack. The inconsistencies and flaws. This has been the opposite for me with my family. The more deeply and longer I know them individually, the more I see the richness and genuinity of the fruit that appears on the surface. People who drop everything for loved ones.
How do you grow family like this? People like this? On the same tree?
How do we thank the people who raised the people who love us?
How can I describe a person I love in a paragraph? In just words?
A man who was easy to laugh and smile, never had anything negative to say, who had the patience of a steadfast river, who lived a life that multiplied unconditional love in abundance. Here, I have witnessed the glory that can come from a quiet and humble life. The testimony that comes with the little things of life. The sand that makes up a mountain.
I wonder of the mountains beyond the mountain. How did he become this person? Who raised him? Loved him? Shaped him?
I know so little of this man who has been here for my whole life. I only know a few details of the time before me: he was a part of the war, he met my halmoni at 28, started a successful business, moved to America when the business went bankrupt. I know little of his history, yet I do know him — through our memories together and the family he raised. I’m thankful to have known my harabuhji as family.
I imagine him up in heaven, sitting on a grassy hill with God, barefoot and wearing his bucket hat. Discussing life, his life, God’s plan for the world, us. Both of them overseeing our funeral and burial service for him today. It was a warm day with lots of tears, emotion, love, and laughter too, of course. We grieve our loss, but celebrate heaven’s addition. No one could say that my grandpa was not a deeply loved man. Good and kind and humble.
Family has been my greatest inheritance. I have not grown up without deep love surrounding me and for this I am tremendously grateful. Reflecting how blessed I have been to have known my grandparents for how long I have. Truly, truly blessed.
Lastly, some questions for my harabuhji.
Has God been slowly revealing his plan for the world to you? Do you have any regrets now knowing this? Or do you see that there was great purpose in your life on earth? Do you have any wishes for us for living the rest of our lives here?
Are you able to be with halmoni, who is still here? Are you able to reach down and comfort her in her grief? Can you ask God to give her peace and hope for the remainder of her time here, without you? Can you help us to love her well through this time?
I hope you will not become too disappointed with us if you are able to see us live the rest of our lives. Can you watch over us and provide guidance too? Or just simply reminders of your presence?
Say hi to Jesus for us. Throw in some good words for me please. Thank you for raising my mom. Love you.
Until we meet again,