Stealing Grandma

My grandma was born in Korea, raised in Japan so her name: Kumiko. Though, only I knew that. I gave her English lessons, and she made me paper fans or microwaved eel over rice. I slept over her house all the way to the 11th grade. She was my only family in the states, or so worth calling.

Something that stayed with me, unfortunately, was an incident at her funeral. One “family” member, with the backing of many others, accused me of not mourning enough for Grandma. It was a public accusation. I was nineteen. And from it, utter humiliation and ridicule haunted me for years, though the guiltless accuser likely forgot the incident in a minute’s time.

 

 

Yesterday, I visited my grandma’s gravesite at Gate of Heaven in Los Gatos. I kneeled in the grass and thought she had the nicest picture on the block. I now have an answer to that accuser (and fellows). I mourned in private because I was afraid. If anyone—even those who knew Grandma—got a glimpse of my pain, they would see into my relationship with Kimiko. They would see our jargon, our stories, and the way we were. I wasn’t ready to share that. At nineteen, bereft and in pieces, I wanted to keep her mine and only mine for a little longer. Even then, you took from me whatever composure I could barely muster.

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18 comments

  1. Michael J. Coene

    The concept of judging one’s “technique” in mourning is absurd. I can understand trying to pull someone out of it if their sorrow has begun to harm their life, but anything else is utterly irrational.

    The people you have posted about lately make me feel cynical, Angela. For your next post, I want to read something that makes me think, “Okay, maybe we’ll be fine. Maybe…”

    • angelaejkoh

      Your comment actually makes me think “okay, maybe we’ll be fine,” or even better than fine. Thanks again for reading and for all your support. Always great to hear from you.

      For the next post, I’ll definitely try for something more uplifting but I haven’t been able to pull that off since January–so no promises!

      Thanks again,

      Angela

  2. artonawingpc

    I feel for Angela. I am the eldest child in my family and lived with my mother. She told me that when she passes away, she wanted a closed casket at her funeral. When I arrived at the church I noticed her casket was open. My sisters insisted it be done that way. When it came time to go up to the casket and say goodbye, my legs could not move. I felt like to do so would be against her wishes. I stayed back and all hell broke lose. I have been ostricized by my family ever since. That was 15 years ago. I am not sorry about my choice~

    • angelaejkoh

      Fifteen years, incredible. I’m sure it must not feel so long ago.
      Thanks for sharing your experience. From a distance, I suppose
      if you’re not sorry about your choice, then it was the right one.

      Best, and do keep in touch,

      Angela

  3. Anonymous

    I do feel right about my choice. I knew that my mom felt strongly about her decision and I wanted to at least honor a choice that she made. She had passed, there was not going to be anything more I could do for her but honor her last wish. I also knew her more the my sibling did. I knew her history. I knew about the oppression she suffered through out her life. Her feeling and desires were never considered. She “had no say” in matters. I wanted her to have a say~

  4. bethany

    It always seems that at the times when families should be at their most gracious and loving (weddings and funerals in particular) that is when they show the worst sides of themselves and ostracize one another. Grief is messy and personal. I think most families, at least definitely mine, struggle against two ways of grieving: the overt and extremely dependent kind that needs to be affirmed and validated by others, and the introverted and quiet kind that needs to be free of interference of the grief of others. I, like you, prefer the later and some of my family hates it, too. They’re insecure. I try not to absorb their anxiety and “perform” my grief for them.

  5. Thomas

    Hi Angela.

    This very personal memento is the kind of thing I think you do best and is good for all of us, your fans, to read and think about. Thanks for posting it.

    The photo is superb and goes so well with the sorrowful feeling of the writing.

    Thanks much. TW

    • angelaejkoh

      hi thomas!

      thanks for coming by. i’ve been adding more photos to my blog to accompany the text. i guess these days you can’t have enough visuals. but i’ll continue to take and add more photos!

      thanks so much

  6. Tamara Epps (@Tamara_Epps)

    I think it’s ridiculous to comment on how someone else is mourning. Personally I feel that grief is something many people prefer to deal with in private – it is no one else’s business how you mourn. My dad thought I didn’t mourn for my grandad (his father) enough, though he never actually said this to me. The truth was that I had mourned, just not so much at his funeral as we had known he was going to die for a while. And I still mourn for him sometimes, but almost always when I am alone. Grief is personal and different for everybody.

  7. Justsomeone

    At my grandfather’s (God bless his soul) deathbed I witnessed all the so-called family members cornering my mother and telling her that she had no right to mourn (Oh Vietnamese family drama). Though to have some askew and imbecilic comment directed at me is not an experience I have as my own. But to see my mother and the empathy I had for her pained me enough. I carried that confusion and anger with me for years. I wish I had found an answer, as you had, to defend my mother with but instead I’m left with just forgiveness.

    I wonder what kind of childish affectation would push people into such cruelty.

    It’s nice to visit your musings and still have that same feeling of understanding and reflection resonate in my mind. I think the best way to describe your writings to me would be nostalgic. Like the literal translation of the word it opens up an old would and makes me remember. Not in a good or bad way but just in a powerfully moving and visceral way.

    The bookmarking of your blog has served me well. Thanks for the good read as always.

    • angelaejkoh

      Unveil yourself! I’m just kidding. I welcome anonymity but I just wish I had a name to put this story to. Thanks for sharing it here. I’m glad you did. I hope others can read and take away from it too. It’s always nice to get feedback. Nostalgic writing. That actually sounds pretty interesting. Also, thanks for bookmarking me. Glad to have you on board!

      Come by again soon,

      angela

  8. wurdmunk

    Although I understand that maybe you didn’t want to share “grandma” and your relationship with your family, I also understand your family. While not Korean myself, I have many Korean friends, and am quite into Korean culture, through watching hundreds of drama series, and movies. Also by reading Manhwa.

    I remember reading you were raised catholic? So it makes me wonder if that was newer, or if your family still did the traditional worshiping of ancestors as those who continued to look after their descendants. I see and hear from my friends, that there is an expected “level” of mourning when people die. A certain measure of respect.

    So I can relate to your relative, who was probably very Korean, flippantly making such a comment. Now with that said, I don’t think it was the most kind thing to say to a “nineteen” year old girl who was born and raised in the United States.

    Also, I’ve lost all my grandparents except my paternal grandmother. I just wish I was as close to mine as you seem to have been with yours.

    As I told you before, love your site and look forward to interacting with you.

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