The “F” Word
I don’t know what it was, but there was something very special about her. Maybe it’s the way she smells (like fresh summer flowers), or it was the warmth of her hug that made me feel so safe, or the way she caressed my hair. Maybe it was the way she would put both of her warm hands on my cheek, maybe it was the way she leaned in and kissed my nose. Maybe it was the sound of her voice or the way the smile never left her face. Maybe it was the way she would bring me goodies, and we would walk hand in hand everywhere we went. Maybe it was just ALL of it. I loved my grandma so much. She was everything to me growing up.
When I got older and moved to the US, I got to spend several weeks with her when she visited us from Korea. Those feelings of warmth I felt as a child about my grandma all came back to me. My dad drove all of us around to show her the vastness of the desert beauty of where we lived. She sat in the back seat of our mustang with me, holding hands, of course, and hummed a beautiful tune of something I wasn’t familiar with… all I remember was that she was at peace, she was happy, and she loved me so much. What I didn’t know was that she was suffering pain from the cancer which had spread throughout her body, and that this would be the last time I would see her.
We lived in a small apartment with thin walls, and I would be awakened in the middle of the night by a soft sobbing sound from my mom and dad’s bedroom. It was my mom. I could hear her cry, and she would often call out “umma” in her shaky voice, which means “mama” in Korean. She longed for her. I would lay there with my eyes open, staring at the ceiling, not knowing how to comfort my mom but just wishing that her sadness would subside and she would go to sleep soon. I missed her too, but something tells me that the way my mom loved her was beyond the depth of my comprehension.
We all have a different definition of what the “f” word “family” means to us. Some of us were fortunate enough to equate the word “family” to words like unconditional love, support, guidance, warmth, security… but for some of us, it can be a trigger word that can bring memories of deep pain and wounds… maybe even the other “f” word.
One of the artists I follow, Jackie Liu, stated this about her own childhood: “I always felt a void where family was supposed to be. For years I had no shoulders to cry on, no arms to carry me. Holidays, birthdays, and milestones ached with the absence of celebration. There were no Thanksgiving gatherings, no birthday dinners, no movie marathons, or board game nights. I needed care, nurturing, and safety. I couldn’t find it in my household, so I had to find it elsewhere. I had to forge the genealogy of my own.”
So, this begs the question. What’s the definition of family for you? Some say family is unconditional love (is this even humanly possible?). Some say family is that 3 am phone call. Some say family is foundationally their strongest relationships, family is comfort, family is trust, family is security. It doesn’t have to be biological, and it doesn’t have to be perfect; family is simply the people that you love and those that love you back.
I love my grandma. It’s been 40 years since I last saw her, but I remember her like it was yesterday. She defined what family is for me. Family is holding hands, driving through the vastness of the desert, humming a beautiful tune, at peace, happy, and in love.
Wishing you the best of the holidays surrounded by family. At peace, happy, and in love.