I hadn’t anticipated writing again so soon, but over the past day or so we’ve made some big decisions regarding my mother and her care: we’ve decided that she will be more comfortable in Korea for whatever time remains. I know…it feels big and shocking. At least it does to me. I guess I hadn’t anticipated this happening. But nothing is easy or predictable about watching a loved one die or, for that matter, being the one who’s dying. It’s hard to foresee what the needs—be they physical, emotional, spiritual, etc.—will be.
I’ve sensed for some time now that my mother is homesick. For the past decade, my parents have spent time building a life in Korea. Their faith community, their friends, and their possessions—all of this is in Korea. Beyond that, however, I think Korea has simply become home again for my mother in some more meaningful way. For a long time, that wasn’t the case. After marrying my dad and leaving Korea, she rarely had cause to go back. Her mother and brother followed her to the US shortly after I was born, so she spent nearly 28 years away from Korea before returning ten years ago. But all that has changed over the past decade. She is, we joke, a “real” Korean now.
When we made the decision to move her here, I think we were all in a state of panic, uncertain about what kind of time we had and how quickly the cancer would progress. And we all needed some time with her to find closure, to make her feel loved and to feel tangibly loved by her. We feel good about the fact that she has spent her most well and able-bodied time with us. She’s held her grandchildren, watched them play, and loved them.
As she gets less well each day, I began to imagine what it must feel like to be away from everything that feels comfortable and familiar. We are limited here. My skills and resources limit my ability to provide her daily with the kind of food, the only food, that she seems to stomach well. But we are limited in other ways. I’ve given all I have to offer—my time, my home, my love, my compassion, concern and companionship. It has been, I feel, enough for her in many ways. In other ways, though, there are parts of her that I cannot feed. The places from which she derives, and has always derived, the most comfort and peace—God, church, faith community—can’t be found here with us, and I can think of no more important time than now for her to surround herself with those things.
Making the decision to let her go was one of the most difficult decisions I’ve had to be a part of making thus far in my life. It’s incredibly agonizing, unbearable even, to watch one’s mother die slowly. But I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t some sense of relief that I no longer have to do that. The alternative, though, is not watching one’s mother die, and it’s an equally agonizing prospect. The fact that I won’t be there to care for her, to anticipate her needs—it feels wrong. Yet, as wrong as that feels, the decision to let her return to the place where I know she will be the most comfortable and peaceful, feels right.
There are no easy decisions here. Either carries with it some unmanageable weight. In the end, though, it seemed clear. We did our best to release her from the guilt of leaving us. She feels torn, I know, but the time for worrying about us...well that has passed. It’s our turn now to take on some of that worry.
The week ahead feels daunting. How do you cram it all in? How does one make space for all of the past, the aching present and the tenuous future? How does one make someone feel loved enough to go? How does one say goodbye, knowing that it very well might be the last time? I want to get it right. But I don’t even know what that means. I don’t know if I’ve done any of this right. I’ve done my best, and I hope that when I look back on this moment five years from now or ten years from now, that I’ll still feel like we made the right choice. But just in case I don’t, I’m reminding that future self that at this moment in time, we made the best decision possible in an impossible situation.
If you think of us this week, we’d be grateful.