The earliest memory I have of my grandmother is of walking back from the local baths with her and my mother when I was three. My mother still marvels at the fact that I remember this, but there is a reason why this event is still indelibly stuck in my head. It is significant because I remember her walking
By the time we came back from London I had just turned eight. My family hastened down to Daegu, a city in the middle of the Korean peninsula, to visit the rest of the extended family. I had not seen my grandmother for four years.
She was bedridden. Shortly after we had left for London, my grandmother had contracted rheumatoid arthritis. From the tall, handsome and well groomed lady she had been (and she had been proud of her black, shiny hair) she had turned into an invalid unable to even sit up on her own. For the next twenty years, my grandmother suffered the most painful of all chronic pains from her bed. Her gnarled hands and feet scared me much when I was a child, as did her speech - she could not speak very well and she had an accent. I hated being left in the room alone with her. I could not understand why she was unable to sit upright or even lie straight. I even had quarrels with her - we had different views on everything, from my parents' fights to my cousins to my aunt's marriages. It's funny to think of it now - a little kid arguing with her sick grandma.
She wanted us to have the best of everything. Whenever my sisters and I were around, my aunts were busy cooking enough food to feed an army of giants. My mother tells me my grandmother was the best cook she has ever known. From her bed, my grandmother would tell what she wanted to have done to the food to my grandfather, who would then relay it to my aunts. Later on, when my aunts had married and left the household, my grandparents moved to a smaller flat far away from the big house in central Daegu. My grandfather was the one who cooked us so much food after that.
Despite her condition, she always managed to communicate with my grandfather. Whenever they wanted to talk to each other without having the rest of the family hear, they would speak in Japanese. My grandfather nursed her with the patience and care of a man possessed. He cooked for her, helped her with her toiletry and was always by her side to communicate to her what was going on with the rest of the world, to encourage her when the pain was unbearable, when she felt everything was too much. He would thrust the phone to her - "Hold on, your grandmother wants to talk to you" - and we would have to speak to her even if that meant my grandfather had to translate what she was saying. He is very distraught that she died still suffering from her illness.
The last time I saw her, she had looked better than she had ever done before. She looked like a baby with her pale round face and eyes - she reminded me so much of my young female cousins. She had been able to sit up and she was very happy about that. I am glad that is the way I remember her but I am sorry that is not the way she left us. My mother, my five aunts, my grandmother's seven granddaughters and four grandsons will remember her always, with much love.