Monday, December 08, 2008

A Death in the Family

Daegu, South Korea
View from Apsan Park
(Image from Wikipedia)

Around 6:00 in the morning yesterday, my wife's father died in the South Korean city of Daegu, his adopted hometown.

We had been expecting this, so it came as no shock. In fact, Sun-Ae and I both happened to wake up at about 3:30 yesterday morning and took that opportunity to talk about the possibility that her father might die this week, for the doctors had told her youngest brother, who had been seeing to his hospital treatment, that we should all be prepared.

The recent weekend that I spent alone in our Seoul apartment (scaring myself with a short horror film on You Tube) was the last weekend that my wife together with our children saw him alive. Sun-Ae went again early last week to see him one final time on her own.

This afternoon, I will take the children to Daegu, and tomorrow, we will attend the burial.

Such is the sadness that we accept when we submit to love and marry into a family.

Over 16 years ago on a train traveling through Germany, I met Sun-Ae in a moment that seemed fated to bring us both together. We fell in love. A year and one half later, on a Christmas Eve in Rome, I proposed . . . and she accepted.

But Sun-Ae being Korean, we still had to ask her father's permission, and I wondered how he would respond. At that time, Korean fathers often said "No."

Sun-Ae therefore, not without some misgivings, called him from Germany to ask his approval. Perhaps because he himself was a sojourner, a North Korean man who had come south to make his way, without connections, here in South Korea, he understood that one sometimes has to break with the predictable, the comfortable, the expected . . . and he said "Yes."

I met him in August 1995, along with the rest of Sun-Ae's family, and they have always been completely accepting of me . . . despite my eccentricities. I still cannot speak Korean, much to my chagrin, but they put up with me anyway.

When I first got to know Sun-Ae's father, I had come to Korea to teach English while waiting on approval concerning a postdoctoral grant for study in Australia, and he would meet us, periodically, in downtown Daegu, and treat us to lunch in our poverty. I learned to love kimchi at those lunches. Well, I suppose that I loved it the first time that I ate it.

During the Korean festival of Chuseok that fall of 1995, we went to the countryside gravesite where lay buried Sun-Ae's mother, who had died tragically in an automobile accident a couple of years before I met Sun-Ae. On the way back to Daegu, the streets were so thick with traffic that Sun-Ae's father got out of the car and walked downhill toward Daegu. I joined him, and I recall that he smiled. We couldn't communicate with words, but that smile meant a lot, for it seemed to me to say that he accepted me. Along the walk down, he stopped and bought for himself and me a couple of packets of juice, and we drank them as we descended. Then, the traffic thinned out, Sun-Ae's brother honked, and we climbed back into the car, which had finally caught up with us.

Some months later, in May 1996, Sun-Ae and I -- along with a 'conception' of Sa-Rah -- left for Australia, where I did my postdoc on Manichaeism. Sa-Rah was born there, in Armidale. Two and a half years later, we left for Jerusalem -- accompanied by an 'idea' of En-Uk, who was born in a Palestinian hospital in East Jerusalem . . . because it was less expensive, and we were still poor.

In late 1999, with En-Uk only seven months old, we returned to Korea as economic refugees, my career having failed to take off. When we arrived at the Daegu Airport, Sun-Ae's family was waiting, accepting us once again. And there stood her father, smiling and bending down to pick up Sa-Rah.

Except that she didn't know this 'stranger' and was about to detour around his outstretched arms and walk on by when I called out, "Sa-Rah! He's your grandfather!"

Sa-Rah stopped on a dime, looked up, saw the family resemblance -- her mother takes after her grandfather -- and allowed herself to be picked up by a grandfather who already loved her without even ever having seen her before.

En-Uk, of course -- being only seven months old -- had no hesitations at all.

The irony -- though life grows filled with such ironies if one lives long enough -- is that Sun-Ae's father died yesterday on December 7th, Sa-Rah's birthday. We woke Sa-Rah and En-Uk around 7:00 but didn't immediately tell them the sad news, for we wanted Sa-Rah to first enjoy her birthday cake, which Sun-Ae had started making at around 5:00 in the morning, about an hour before her brother's phone call.

After the candles, the cake, and the birthday wishes, we said that we had something serious to tell them. Sa-Rah caught on fairly quickly . . . but not En-Uk.

Sun-Ae said to them, "You won't be able to see your grandfather again."

En-Uk, only 9 years old, asked, "Why?"

"Because," explained Sun-Ae, "he died."

En-Uk accepted that. He's still a bit young to mourn, but he understood. Sa-Rah seemed saddened by the news, and she accepted that we'd have to put off any real birthday celebration.

At 8:30, we left the apartment, with Sun-Ae heading for Daegu but the kids and I heading for church. We stayed only for the early services -- Sunday school for the children, Bible study for me -- then left after explaining to the minister our reason for leaving early.

We are, as I mentioned above, heading for Daegu this afternoon, when school lets out, and I won't be blogging again until the day after tomorrow.

Remember Mr. Hwang's family in your thoughts or prayers.

Labels: ,


At 7:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jeffery, Sun Ae, Sa Rah, and En Uk:
You have our deepest sympathy at this sad time in your lives. But also, from your blog, there are many good memories.
It was about this time of year in 1941 that my father had his leg injury while dragging logs to a sawmill with a team of horses, resulting in his death from blood poisoning (gangrene), and possibly a blood clot that entered his heart.
My memories of him are faint, and almost like dreams, and sister Virginia, being only 4 months old, has none.
You will be in our prayers.

At 7:48 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Uncle Cran. I'm sure that Sun-Ae will be touched.

By the way, sometime you might send me an email on how Grandpa Hodges met with his accident. I'd always heard that he was felling a tree that fell on him. Your remark here doesn't fit that story.

Thanks again.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 8:10 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I am saddened by Sun Ae, Sa Rah, En Uk and your loss. Although I obviously did not know Sun Ae's father, he must have been an amzaing man.


At 8:56 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Tim.

Mr. Hwang certainly had a long life filled with a large variety of experiences, for he was born under the Japanese occupation of Korea, experienced WWII, saw the communization of the North, escaped to the South, fought in the Korean War, survived the South's dictatorships, and finally got to live in a democratic South Korea.

That is pretty amazing.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 10:08 AM, Blogger Bill said...

Jeff, we are sorry to read of the death of your father-in-law. Please extend our sympathy to Sun Ae and the children. Our thoughts and prayers are with you and family at this time.
Bill & Cheryl

At 10:13 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Bill. I'll tell Sun-Ae.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 11:08 AM, Blogger Malcolm Pollack said...

I'm very sorry for your family's loss, Jeffery. I am sure I speak for all of your community of readers when I say our thoughts are with you and Sun-Ae on this sad day.

At 11:12 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thank you, Malcolm. It's good to hear from you, and I'll tell Sun-Ae of your condolences.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 1:02 PM, Blogger Kate Marie said...


My deep sympathy, thoughts, and prayers are with you, Sun Ae, Sa Rah, and En Uk today.

At 2:09 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thank you, Kate Marie. I knew that I'd be hearing from you, too.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 2:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


At 5:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm sorry to hear of your loss. Please convey my condolences to your wife, from both myself and Hyunjin.

At 12:44 AM, Blogger writtenwyrdd said...

I'm very sorry for your family's loss. In-laws can feel like your flesh-and-blood parents, which is a blessing. Sounds like you had that advantage.

At 12:53 AM, Blogger Conservative in Virginia said...

So sorry about Mr. Hwang. My deepest condolences to you and the family.

At 6:54 AM, Blogger Al-Ozarka said...

Jeffery, please express to Sun-Ae that our family will be thinking of her and her family today and tomorrow. Your tribute to her father is wonderful.

Also, please tell Sa Rah, "Happy Birthday" from Izard County!

At one point in your post you wrote: "But Sun-Ae being Korean, we still had to ask her father's permission..."

I'm is Joy...and I STILL had to ask her father's permission. I had five future brothers-in-law at the time who warned me of this essential part of the courting process for two years prior. To tell you the truth, I treasure the memory of having gone through that long laborious (two-hours of lecture) process.

I am truly sorry for your loss.


At 9:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My condolences--and my thanks to you for sharing with us such a touching remembrance.

At 10:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sun-Ae, Sa-Rah, En-Uk, Jeff.

..... .

Herschel D.

At 3:27 PM, Blogger Unknown said...


Our condolences - and our prayers are with you and your family.

At 3:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My deepest sympathy to you, Sun Ae, Sa Rah, En Uk and all your dear family. And my prayers for your comfort and peace.

At 1:26 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

JK, thanks.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 1:27 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Charles, I'll show your message to Sun-Ae.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 1:29 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

WW, thanks for the words. Sun-Ae's father and I didn't share the same language, but we seemed to understand each other well enough.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 1:30 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

CIV, thanks for the words . . . and for being a long-time reader.

I'll tell Sun-Ae.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 1:32 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Daddio (Al-Ozarka), thanks for the kind words and the anecdote. When I was single, I thought that a marriage was between two people. Now that I'm married and have two kids, I realize the truth -- it's between two families.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 1:34 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Jeff, thank you for the thoughtful words . . . and for being touched.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 1:35 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Herschel, thank you for the eloquent silence. It says as much as words.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 1:36 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Nomad, good to hear from you . . . and thank you for the warm words. I'll tell Sun-Ae.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 1:38 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Anonymous (and unsigned), thank you for the warm words. I will show Sun-Ae.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *


Post a Comment

<< Home