Our mum (우리 엄마)

Nov 16, 2011 | A Day In The Life, Family

An Homage

There are certain expression in Korean that is purely beautiful that can’t be translated any other way. For example, in English we say “my mom” when talking to others about the person who gave birth to us. But in Korean we say “our mom (우리 엄마)”. Because not only is she my mom, but mom to others as well–it’s a shared entity rather than only for one individual like how we share appetizers.

Our mom is the one person who will forgive all our mistakes, nagged at us for our own good, made the “most awesomest” kick-ass food and one person who can really see through all the bullshits.

About Featured Photo

Mum at her carry-out restaurant in 2007. It was small and located in Baltimore county, but she was so proud of it. This was taken at the last day of operation before selling it to start her chemo therapy.

Here are some of my key memories of mum.

At the age of…

5 was very first memory of her and dad. Eating hot dog at a park in Seoul during sunset.
6 she introduced me to the Beatles, American Pie, Paris, and John Livingston Segal while hanging around in her painting studio.
12 she made me eat her experimental egg drop soup–she’s a great cook, but sucked at making egg drop soup.
16 she told me to stop constantly switching the radio channel in her car, while driving me to a date.
17 she gave up her lucrative career as a fashion designer/artist and moved to Hawai’i with me and my sister for a better life for us, and because I was causing too much trouble in Korea.

18 she was furious at me for getting suspended (almost expelled) few month before graduating from high school–for drinking at a school event. She almost killed me.
21 she tried to cut off my dread locks every time I went to bed.
22 she found out I secretly changed majors from Photography to Ceramics few years back. She almost killed me.
25 she pondered why I still acted like a 15 year old.
30 she told me “You really need to act your age now”.
31 she resurrected me after a horrible food poisoning–bad sushi
33 she taught me how to make kimchi.
34 she was surprised I held on to a job for 8 years.
35 she pondered why I still acted like a 25 year old and honestly told me “Your jokes are really bad. Do you really laugh at your own bad jokes?”
35 After 4 years of fighting cancer I heard her last long breathe.

On 2011-11-15 23:11

Mum passed away peacefully while at a hospice care in Towson, Maryland. She had been fighting cancer for 4 years. She had to give up her beloved take-out restaurant and went into chemo. She was so upset not at the cancer but the fact of losing her hair. She fought long and hard, for herself, our family, and for my nephew Vincent. On 2011-11-11 Friday morning she went to the emergency room–her health was fading away critically. Saturday morning she mustarded all her strength to say good-bye to all of us. Since then, days has been all jumbled into one blob. It’s been painful last few months (all the needles and hose in and out of her body, witnessing deterioration of muscle mass, consciousness, and appetite), the last few days has been toughest days–my knee injury/surgery seemed like a joke in comparison. Seeing once a vigorous lively person now with barely some grunts, instinctive movements, not able to stand up, and eyes that had a hard time focusing.

She is the primer in my life

I learned to cook, clean, and respect my car because of her. She instilled in me iron-strong work ethic, proper manner to elders, taught me the importance of cleanliness–which is visible in my codes, paintings, and photographies. You taught me how to be respectful to ladies and that chivalry isn’t dead. You would smack me in the head when I was disrespectful to my dates–thank you. You were a strong feminist in an patriarchal society.  I am who I am because of you–it would be my honor to pass down what you have bestowed upon me. In my next life, if I were to have a best friend it would you.


The day I took her in to get her blood transfusion because of her chemo. She was so happy I came with her. She didn’t want me to take photos of her so I took a picture of her hand. The cancer ate away slowly, she once had beautiful hands now it’s so brittle like a winter branch.


I was suppose to go to her house on Saturday with sushi for lunch. I had so much work I couldn’t go earlier. I wish I went to her on Thursday instead. My sister and mom in the ER.


After her last breathe at 23:11. Once so warm, loving, and creative hand is now so cold. Mom why couldn’t you stay with us for a few more years. I wish I could have done more. Rest in beautiful peace (1949-09-22 – 2011-11-15)

I grief…

not only for missing her, but mostly for what I could have done more as a son. I will miss seeing “Call from Mom” on my phone and the fact there is no one else to–purely and innocently–call “mum” any more. In the last few days I started remembering every moment in my life with her in it. The cloth and make-up she wore to my middle school graduation, the cute asian smile when I helped her buy her car, to the smirk she had when I enjoyed her cooking.

Dear Mum,

I am so very very sorry I have been so busy lately. I tried to work so hard and fast (even staying up late every night) trying to get everything done, so I can spend more time with you…but it is too late now. I wish I went to you on Thursday rather than delaying till Saturday because I was busy. I rarely have regrets but that is one I can not make up for. I know we had our differences, not because we were different but because we were so alike. I am you. I have your nose, your passion for art and cooking, but most of all I have so much warm blanket memories of you caring for me despite all my flaws and bad jokes. I remember so clearly back in the 80s you recording in VHS all those Tom and Jerry–along with Transformer–cartoon for me because I loved them. I did not know how to say it then, but I felt your love when I watched the tapes over and over again.

Thank you for all your sacrifice you made financially and giving up your artistic life because I got into so many fights and troubles in Korea. That is why I when I gave you allowance every month I never asked anything in return–that is something I learned from you, to give without asking anything in return. But sometimes I do blame myself for you getting cancer due to financial and other stress while living in the U.S. Every time when I see an immigrant worker working hard I see you and Dad. I always try to be extra polite and tip them well, hoping such positive karma will go back you.

At the same time I am happy you are now resting without any pain along side with your father (our grandfather) and all our ancestors before. I look forward to you haunting me from time to time and telling me to grow up. You are right, when you told me I will be the saddest one when you pass away.

I love you like a endless field of sunflower on a French province, for it is you who introduced me to Paris with love.

Our mom 우리 엄마 (1949-09-22 to 2011-11-15)

Related Posts

BodyByDonavon: Wrap Up Party
11-11-11 11:11:11