Derived from the Chinese Confucius Culture, many Koreans worship their ancestors. For my Christian family, we definitely try to remember our ancestors and their sacrifices, but we don’t partake in the rituals of offering them food and drinks at their burial sites.
New Years’ Day, my family visited the cemetery where my maternal grandmother is buried. As immigrants to America who have lived far from our extended family in Korea, she represents our ancestors.
My grandmother wed when only 15 years old and had two daughters by the age of 24. She was widowed before her 26th birthday when her husband’s pancreas burst. Her eldest daughter later died at the young age of 18 from tuberculosis. Her younger daughter, my mother, was sickly so my grandmother never let her do any hard labor.
My grandmother never remarried as is the custom of a woman of her position. She and her siblings worked on a farm just west of Seoul inherited from her late husband. Every day she got up at the crack of dawn and worked with her hands until dusk. She endured the Japanese occupation and then the Korean War. Nonetheless, she considered herself lucky as the land always provided food for the family.
When her daughter got married and had a son, my grandmother was overjoyed. She doted on the grandson and showed him unconditional love. She cried uncontrollably when her daughter and family immigrated to the distant land of America. Later, she joined them in this strange land where people spoke a language she would never learn. She continued to care for the grandchildren while tending to a garden every day.
She was perpetually lonely and longed to be back in her homeland but wouldn’t leave her grandchildren, who could barely communicate with her. When her oldest grandson was moving away to college she cried again uncontrollably.
She died at the age of 72 in 1985 from a stroke. She never had a lazy bone in her body. She lived for her only surviving daughter and her three grandchildren. She never sought personal gain or comfort but only dedicated herself to the care for the future generations.
By visiting her grave, I’m reminded of her sacrifices. I’m humbled and motivated to strive to live a life worthy of my grandmother’s love and sacrifices. That is what it means to be connected to our ancestors in our family.
Visiting my grandmother’s grave on New Years’ Day