September 19, 2011


Mom K came for a short visit this week. Sept 17 was the second anniversary of Jrex's father's death and she wanted us to spend time remembering him and praying together.

As we prepared for Saturday, I asked lots of questions to try to understand the background and culture for how she wanted to do things. Here's the summary:

Traditionally for the anniversary of a parent's death, the children gather, but so do any other family members who are able to come. In non-Christian Korean tradition, everyone bows to the dead relative's picture and a feast is prepared in their honor. The belief is that on that day the spirit of the ancestor visits the home. Mom didn't say this, but the implication seemed to be that you want the spirit to see that everyone and everything is fine so they won't need to hang around. It's also a way for the dead person to see the family's esteem for them. To my relief, Mom said she doesn't believe that the spirit shows up, she believes that Dad is in heaven, but that he's aware of what we're doing.

As a result, the whole meal was food that Dad would have liked: a wonderful seafood stew (squid, scallops, fish, mushrooms, tofu and other ingredients) and another stew filled with variations of rice cakes. Of course, there were also lots of side dishes. When setting the table, all the settings were white (placemats, napkins, etc). Most of the time, we use cloth napkins, but Dad always asked for a paper towel, so we set the table with paper towels. Mom wore an all white outfit. Neither of us had known about the white stipulation, so we just wore ordinary clothing.

For the ceremony, Mom bought flowers. Five big roses for her, Jrex, me, his sister and her husband and two small roses for Asian niece and our unborn son. I printed out a picture of Dad and put it into a frame I had. She bought a new candle that we lit and placed in front of the picture and the flowers.

Mom had prepared scriptures she wanted us to read about the resurrection and how we have hope. Then we sang Amazing Grace (Dad's favorite) and each of us prayed and thanked God for his life. Mom shared memories of their life together. She was honest and laughingly said, "Jrex knows, when Daddy was alive, I complained about him. When he died, I saw how much he did and how I didn't have to worry about things because he took care of them. When he was alive, I thought all problems were him, after he died, I realized it was me, too. If I had to do it all over again, I would choose him. No one else is like him." She spoke about how hard it was to move to a new country and learn a new language at the ages of 38 and 32. I'd been afraid that it would feel like a strange combination of animism/Buddhism and Christianity, but it was just a good time to remember together.

She asked what my family does to remember my Mom's death. I was embarrassed to admit that after the first year when we gathered together, we mostly just called each other on that day. And that now, 14 years later, we rarely do that. It sounds like she expects to keep doing something for Dad the rest of her life. She also made it sound like it was a really big deal that we need to show up at her house next year for this. She said that her community in NYC keep asking her questions. Her implication was that they are judging her for having disrespectful children who neglect their parents. We do need to go and help her sort and clear out her house, so we might as well go at that time and deal with all of it together.

Do any of you remember those who have died with any special ceremony? Have you experienced another culture's ceremonies?


Aimee said...

No special ceremony on the anniversary of the death. Usually, a phone call to my grandmother (aka Maw-maw), my mom... and next year, to my dad.

My Maw-maw's church has a special service on the Sunday before Memorial Day and the names of those who have passed are read, and the family stands for a moment, then sits. Then another name is read, and their family stands. But that's at a little tiny church in the Appalachian foothills in West Virginia, a far cry from a foreign culture. :-)

Inkling said...

We've never done anything as a whole family. My brother and his family remembered their daughter's one year anniversary by going to her grave and bringing flowers and then having a special family time together with their kids. I've never witnessed another culture's way of honoring or remembering, but a few people I know have planted trees, released balloons, or done a special service project to honor the memory of their loved one (like supplying a NICU with scrapbook material or giving a college scholarship money).

I like the idea of remembering, but also like the freedom to do it casually. All the big milestones in my life have me thinking of my paternal Grandma and imagining her watching me from Heaven and cheering me on. I wonder how it really is up there.

Anonymous said...

Mom K is right, of course. Consider, even the three of us here in the same city did nothing to remember the anniversary of your mother's death. Nor did we make phone calls this year. Shame on us.

We'll have to do better from now on.

OTR sister said...

Dad, Mom's anniversary isn't until the 27th. Course, we may still miss it...

Mizasiwa said...

I feel terrible saying this but for the last three years I have sub consciously 'forgotten' the actual date that my father passed. I think its made more difficult because its so close to his own birthday as well as all of our birthdays and between my daughters and sister in laws birthdays. Not to mention my parents anniversary. Every year we do a dinner on his birthday - little burger, little chips and a little coke - just the way he liked it. But I try do home dinners for all the family its just crazy with them all a week apart over two months. I would like to do something more special but considering his ashes are living in my stationary cupboard three years later I dont know when my family will be ready to do something...its weird but i cant explain it. Im just glad there was no burial, I really dont think my family would be able to handle that