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August 17, 2012 / glencoyote


The e-mail from my sister was sent on the 8th. I have been very busy, pre-occupied with school and Valerie’s health, so I only read it today on the 12th – it seems that the speed of digital time still requires human agency – so today I found out that my Mom is dying of pancreatic cancer. The doctor says she has 2-3 months to live. And I am unraveling in that way that is both totally predictable, essentially human, and painfully mine to experience.

My mom, Florence, is the third link in the human bridge that saved my life. I was born a mixed blood orphan in post war Korea. I was collected in the fall of 1956 by an Irish missionary who gathered me up, along with five others and brought me to Seoul where she had learned that the Holt orphanage was placing Amerasian children with American families. The point person in Holt’s Korean operation at that time was David Kim, and he is the person who signed my birth certificate. My mom, unable to have children, found out about the Holt effort and decided that adopting a Korean orphan was a good way to start a family.

I was able to exchange letters and speak on the phone with the missionary. I reconnected with David Kim when I visited Korea in 2000. I grew up with my mom. What I remember most are the conversations in the kitchen while she prepared meals. She would listen to the things that were on my mind, help me parse the truth or falsehood of the street wisdom I was collecting hanging out with my friends, and ask me questions about my life. Although that sweet time ended when I became a teenager, when I revisit those memories the feeling is of warmth and patience and the deep awareness that my mother loved me and always wished the best for my life. Where she got the patience, and why I didn’t learn that from her, I still find perplexing.

Her dignity mattered greatly. She was willing to be a humble working class person right up to the instant that someone betrayed the slightest sense of superiority. Then she could transform into a fury of pride and indignation. I internalized that stubborn pride to the extent that I went through most of high school in northern New Jersey without a winter coat – preferring to insist that I was unaffected by the cold rather than wear a coat whose cheapness would betray me before my more affluent friends.

I remember taking her out in a rowboat on a little lake in New Jersey so that we could talk privately. I was in college and my mom was fed up with her marriage, tired of working endlessly for a husband too ignorant to understand all that she meant to him and all that she wanted to be. She was thinking out loud about her options and I remember how useless I felt, having no money or means to help free her from the life that was wearing her out. Her courage was short-lived, her pragmatism led her to an accommodation with the life she had created and she stayed with my father to the end. And I think that she came to accept that, and the disappointment of what might have been was partially offset by the comfort of an entire life shared with one person.

And, of course, it seems that I remember every time I disappointed her.  The time we toiled in the basement working together on a school project – building a scale model of Abraham Lincoln’s cabin.  She loved doll houses and the craft work of creating miniatures, so my log cabin got a bear rug and a neatly stacked cord of wood, curtains for the window and a roughhewn table and chairs. I received a good grade on that project but when it was time to bring it home I remember being teased by some kids over the care with which I was trying to carry it and I think I was simply embarrassed by the way that log cabin publicly exposed the deep bond I had with my mom. So I showed how tough and independent I was by trashing the project as I dragged it home. I can still see my mom’s crestfallen look when I arrived home with the broken remnants. Ashamed at the way I had betrayed the wonder and intimacy of our work together I mumbled something about how heavy it was to carry home, and she said with simple sadness, “If you would have called I would have picked you up.” Even as I write these words I wish I could make it right.

The tears of these recent days carry the sadness of our seperation during these last decades and they feel like a fracturing of who I am. I want to reach across all the divides.

My mom worked very hard. She managed a household with too little money and took the last portion of food, always claiming not to be hungry. As I cope with how hard it feels to have her leave I hope that I have let her know, deeply, how much I have loved her and how much I needed her, and how amazing it is that she could cultivate so much confidence in a wounded little boy. If I have a spirit, it damn well better be there when she crosses.


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  1. Chris Campe / Aug 21 2012 5:22 pm

    Glen, I am greatly saddened to read of your Mom’s illness. I know too well there is little that can comfort at this time. To learn of her strengths and struggles in a loving testamony is deeply affecting. Know that she has wisdom that is not given to us yet and that she is gathering all those wonderful memories that have given joy and purpose to her dignified existence. I hope the time left to her, here, may be as long and rich as is possible.
    Our thoughts go out to you and your family in this most difficult time

    Chris, Julie, Miranda and Ellie

  2. glencoyote / Aug 28 2012 3:25 am

    Thanks for your kind words.

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