By Justin Koh, 16, Cleveland HS (Reseda)
Print This Post
Justin says his grandpa was a great man, and he hopes he can become great, too.

I feel so lucky and grateful that I was able to visit my grandpa one last time before he passed away.

My grandpa was always my favorite relative. He lived in Korea, but I had the chance to see him every two years or so. I remember walking with him up the mountains as a kid. I always went in the summer when it was hot and humid. Knowing I wasn’t used to the weather, he’d wipe the sweat off my neck and buy me Gatorade.

My grandpa loved to celebrate. One time, he surprised me with a table full of my favorite dishes, including sushi, Korean style ribs and Korean noodles. Whenever my family was together he would open a couple bottles of soju, a traditional Korean rice wine, and pass it around to everybody, even me. My parents would laugh at my bad facial expression as I sipped the bitter wine. But still I felt good that my grandpa was treating me like an adult.

Last April, when my mom told me he was sick, I did not think of it as a big deal. Last time I had visited him, he seemed very healthy for being in his late 70s. We would walk around the park together until sunset. My grandma, who always exaggerates, later told me on the phone that he could not move or talk. It wasn’t until I went to Korea that I found out that my grandma was not exaggerating.

Last summer, I went on a two-week trip to Korea with a group called Project HAN to learn more about Korean culture. At the end of the trip, I got to visit my relatives for two days.

My aunt dropped me off at my grandparents’ house. As I was walking up to the house, I felt nervous. I didn’t want to see how sick my grandpa was.

His health was worse than I expected

Justin in this photo taken when he was a kid, was always close to his grandpa (left).

I looked down and saw him lying on a blanket on the floor, staring at me blankly. He had lost a lot of weight and was very pale; I could barely even recognize him. I sat down next to him and we were surprised that when my grandma asked if he knew who I was, he nodded.

My grandpa couldn’t talk, he would mumble  and at other times moan. I didn’t know what to do. I started having a one-way conversation with him, even though he would remain silent and look away from me as if I wasn’t there. I told him about high school, how well my sister was doing, how my parents didn’t fight anymore, and how much I had missed him and Grandma.

That evening my grandma and I carried him onto a wheelchair and pushed him to the shower. I started to sweat. I wondered how hard it was for my grandma to take care of my grandpa every day. As I was washing my grandpa’s feet, he called me “Ee Pu Ne,” which translates to beautiful one. I could not believe he remembered me. I knew for sure that all the memories we shared were not lost.

At night, before we were going to go to sleep, I asked my grandma how Grandpa got sick. The doctors told him to rest. Instead, Grandpa would walk places to meet his friends. Also, he was a heavy drinker. As a result, Grandpa suffered two strokes.

Since my grandpa was always stuck in bed, I realized that he never got to see the outside. I wanted to show him the park trail that he and I used to walk, so I asked him if he wanted to take a look out on the balcony and get some fresh air. I got him in his wheelchair and took him outside. We held hands and enjoyed the view. After a while, it got cold and I took him inside. Though he did not say anything to me, I felt good. He was always there for me, and helping him was the least I could do to say thanks.

When I left, my grandma would have to do everything so while I was there I washed the dishes, took out the trash and hung the clothes. But the most memorable job I did for her was feeding Grandpa on the final night of my visit. Grandma admitted that sometimes she would grow impatient and feed Grandpa big spoonfuls. I tried my best to be patient and give him smaller portions to eat. After I gave him his last spoonful of rice, he said, “Thank you for the dinner, Justin.”

When I had to go, I felt like I was doing something wrong. Did I spend enough time with my grandfather? Is this the last time I will see him? I told him I was leaving, but he had no expression. He shook my hand weakly and nodded firmly, and I left.

After I got home from the trip, I could not stop thinking about Grandpa. How must it feel to have death so close by? How must it feel to not be able to do all the things you wanted before you die because your body restricts you? How must it feel to not see all of the people you love before you die? But at the same time, I also hoped that my grandpa would get better.

His death didn’t feel real

My mother and my sister had the chance to see my grandpa last fall. My grandpa died three days after they came back, on Nov. 5, 2008. My mom got the news from my grandma, and when she told me, it didn’t sink in. It was not until my mom started crying that I realized my grandpa actually died. I should have been crying, but I wasn’t. I felt detached being half a world away. I held my grandpa’s beanie, which my grandma gave to my mother to give to me, and I just sniffed that familiar scent. It reminded me of the last time I gave him a hug the night before I left.

My grandpa’s death made me realize that it is my job to make the most out of my life and try the best in everything I do. It also made me realize that the time I spend with my family is precious. Every time I get mad at my family, I take time away from loving them. I used to always fight with my mom, but now I realize that I will only regret fighting in the future.

I am so happy that I saw my grandpa before he passed away. Seeing him made me remember how much he loved me. I wish I had told him how much I appreciated him and loved him. I thought I could always do this next time, but now it’s too late. I regret that I didn’t.