one of my last vivid memories of my grandpa before his Alzheimer’s was a few years back when i was clinically depressed and physically ill. i was going through a plethora of really scary somatic symptoms that kept winding me up at the doctor’s. on this particularly day during that season of my life, i was at my grandpa’s.

i don’t remember why i was at my grandpa’s house on this particular day but i was. (the blessing of my prior frontal lobe dysfunction is that i don’t recall much of what i deem the “dark days”). i don’t remember much about even being at my grandpa’s except for a very vivid memory that at one point of our conversation i started crying my eyes out and my grandpa looked at me and said “yah. ee babo yah,” which essentially translates to “hey, stupid.” (koreans use this term a lot, it’s not as harsh as it translates to in english. perhaps more “you fool.”).

he then asked me why i’m crying and told me to stop. this made me cry more. my grandpa then abruptly got up, went into his room, and came out with an envelope of $20 and an apology of not being able to give me more, giving me calculations of his monthly benefits and how much goes to rent, food, etc.

he then told me something that i continually think about sometimes to this day. he gave me a motivational speech about how he knows i grew up with a lot of worries and had to grow up quickly and think with a different mindset. he then encouraged me and told me that i can use this to my advantage and as an asset as i go on in life. “having too much noonchi (perception) can be hard. but it can help you in your work and in your life and relationships too.”

i was such a mess that day, but he was able to encourage me not just with money he didn’t have, but with some words that i carry on to this day. and hey, i found an aspiring career where perception is really going to come to my advantage.

yesterday, i got a text message saying my grandpa is in the ER. he’s doing better in terms of what he went in for, but he’s aged rapidly and Alzheimer’s is truly a scary disease.

this morning he told us “i’m sorry you have to see me like this and i couldn’t show you a good side of me.”

my mind flashed back to when i was a crying mess and how he comforted me on that day. i wish i could have reminded him today about that day he did the same for me, but because of my limited Korean and his limited hearing + memory i just kept it to myself. i can add this to my extensive list of “words left unsaid.”

while i was watching my grandpa in the hospital bed today, probably nearing the end of his life (he’s turning 92), my mind started drifting towards what it will be like for me when i’m in his shoes- if i make it that long.

will i be healthy? sick? who will be beside my hospital bed? will my friends still be around? will i be alone? will people have forgotten me? what will people remember me by if they do remember me? what will i regret? will i be happy?

i didn’t have time to process through these thoughts quite yet- but the past two days have been a reminder for me to focus on what really matters in life.

don’t. sweat. the. small. stuff. catherine. lee.

Like what you read? Give Catherine Lee a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.