My halmoni passed away last Thursday night. She was a remarkable woman who lived a very good and very hard life. Her whole world revolved around her children and grandchildren. She worried, prayed, and did everything she could for others. If you met her, chances are, she prayed for you. Her memory was amazingly sharp. Not only did she remember specific dates of when things happened, she remembered the exact day of the week and time. She remembered all of our birthdays, of course, but she also remembered birthdays of friends and my cousins from my father’s side who barely knew her. When I thought she got a birth date wrong, I realized that she calculated the Lunar date in her head.
If you grew up with me, you may have called my house and my halmoni answered the phone. If I wasn’t there, then you heard, “Sung-Mi jeeb-eh uhp-so.” My friends could only understand, “Sung-Mi” in the whole sentence and hear a click afterward.
She made delicious food for us and grew the most beautiful vegetable garden. Before coming to the US, she usually wore traditional hanboks everyday. They are now carefully wrapped up in cloth and with me… all that I have left of her. She and my grandfather fought all the time. She married him when she was 18 years old and they had been married for 70 years. One time, my husband was upstairs and my halmoni was yelling at my grandpa to keep it down. It went on for so long that my husband ran down and in his best Korean (with a pretty good Korean accent for a white boy), exclaimed, “Halmoni, Gaen-cha na-yo!” Meaning, “Grandma, it’s okay!” She laughed and went in her room. And that’s another thing… I did not marry a Korean man, so there was much controversy over that in my family. But my halmoni was the only one who loved my husband from the beginning.
She was our second mother who raised me since I was 8, and my sister when she was 1. She got to meet her great grandchild and we will miss her tremendously. She never judged, she never hated. She truly is an angel.