I wrote this for my father’s memorial service shortly after he passed away a few years ago. I was so sad at the time, but writing about his life made it a little better. The last conversation I had with him was one-sided, because he was so weak. I told him that I loved him, that he had nothing to worry about and that we would take care of our mother. He smiled at me and said he loved me, too. Though he was very ill, I assumed I would see him again soon.
He passed away a few hours later in his sleep.
My brother gave the eulogy at the funeral. I wish I had a tape recording of it. He did such a beautiful job and painted a really vivid picture of my father. I’m the writer in the family, but my siblings actually are the better storytellers.
We are here today to honor the life of our father, who passed away in his sleep. While his death greatly saddens us, we remind ourselves that his goal in life was for his family to be happy. So today, we will try to be happy, remembering all the joys in his life.
Family was the most important thing for our father. As the eldest son, he took it upon himself to support not only his parents, but also all of his siblings. He was just 17 when he became the family’s primary breadwinner. Smart, industrious and a diligent worker, he was a good provider. During the Korean War, our father’s outgoing personality and command of the English language earned him a position as an interpreter for the U.S. Army. He also started his own revue to entertain the troops and enlisted some of the biggest stars of that era to perform.
Our father’s goal in bringing his family from South Korea to the United States was to ensure that his children would receive a good education. He and our mother instilled in us the idea that studying hard would be our ticket to having a better life than they had. And they were right. But while the three of us are well educated, we lack our father’s endless thirst for knowledge. An avid reader who loved literature and philosophy, he introduced his children to the works of Shakespeare, Descartes, Dostoevsky, Kant, Tolstoy and Bertrand Russell. Already fluent in several languages, he wanted to learn Russian so he could read Nabokov in the author’s native tongue. Our father used to joke that had he learned to speak Russian instead of English, we may have immigrated to Russia rather than the United States.
Though he never had any formal training, he was a gifted artist who painted beautiful pictures. He also taught himself to play the violin. When we came to America, he made sure that each of us had a brand new harmonica, because he believed that no household was complete without the beauty of music.
Our father was a talented man with many ideas. After he retired from IBM, where he was a computer programmer, he received patents for several of his inventions (including an exercise bike). He could build anything out of wood or easily rewire a house. But his meticulous garden was his passion, and he received multiple awards for having the best front lawn in his community. He would beam with pride when people stopped by his house to admire his garden.
May he rest in peace.
For a few weeks after the service, I had a difficult time dealing with my father’s death.
One evening, I had a dream that was so vivid. My father was alive and we were laughing and talking for hours. As it grew dark outside, my father said, “I have to go.” I laughed and said that it was still early–he could stay a little longer. He said, “I’m tired. It’s time for me to go.” I told him that I would carry him so that he wouldn’t be tired, and I carried him piggyback style–just as he used to when I was a child. We laughed together and then he gently repeated that it was time for him to go.
By this point in the dream, I knew what he meant and began to cry. But he calmly said, “I am not scared. I am not sad. And I don’t want you to be sad, either. It’s time for me to go.”
My father didn’t have an easy life. But I do believe that he was at peace when he passed away. He knew that my husband and I were having a difficult time starting a family and was concerned that we wouldn’t be able to have children.
I wish he could’ve met my son.
© 2011 JAE-HA KIM
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