Take a break from my typical poetry because I want to share this story. Since December I’ve been working at senior living center for people with Dementia. I’ve learned and seen a lot in the past 4 months. I felt someone’s pulse stop unable to do anything because of a DNR. I helped two men who were at the absolute end of their lives and saw how badly they suffered and that my help wasn’t enough. Saw their family members stand by their decease’s bedside for hours. I have seen the “lights go off” on residents once it’s past 7 – they’re no longer anywhere near reality, they are gone: paranoid, scared, and angry. I saw people that you thought would surely die within hours suddenly stand up and walk around like nothing happened. I’ve had walkers jammed into me and hot tea, plus other liquids, thrown at me. Had residents punch me with soiled toilet paper. There’s been a lot of funny moments – a resident once told someone to “shove that hamper up your ass” and another resident respond “You can’t do that, that’ll hurt.” It’s not a job I dreamed of having and don’t want to ever return to but I’m glad I had this experience.
Two of the greatest things I discovered working there is 1) there are actually Asians in nursing homes. My dad told me all my life that you will never find Asians in a home unless they work there but there is in fact two Asian women in the facility. 2) I believe that in helping one of those women and bringing them into my life that my Halmoni is telling me she’s at peace with what her life became. The two women are Japanese – being the granddaughter of a “comfort woman” and from a family that still harbors hate – working with these two was huge for me inside. I’ve escaped from the clutches of hating others for what was done to my Halmoni but I wasn’t as far away from them as I thought. After the shock of finding Asians in a nursing home wore off I thought “if these women knew I was Korean they’d probably spit on me.” I still had that “us vs them” mentality
As days went on I bonded with one of the women. She was roughly born the same time as my Halmoni. The first couple times there I had in my head “my Halmoni could’ve been happy like this had they not taken her.” This woman is very humorous. People miss her humor because of the dementia but she is well aware of when she’s being funny. For example if I ask her “how do you say dog” she’ll answer with a grin “dog.” If I asked her “how do you say dog in Japanese” then she will tell me.
In Korea I learned to let go of that anger because there were a lot of brave Japanese who stood by and visited my grandmothers/ the “comfort women.” Having to work and take care of a Japanese woman though truly alleviated that “yuck” feeling in my heart. I became assigned to her everyday. I started to feel bad that I was helping this elderly woman because I felt doing so would anger my Halmoni. As weeks have gone by I’ve been feeling my Halmoni nearby and I feel it’s her way of telling me she’s okay that I enjoy this woman and help her like I do. As if it is a connection we share with this resident. It feels like healing hopped across generations because of this woman. My Halmoni told my dad she was complete in her life because she had a granddaughter (me) to live on in. I have this overwhelming feeling that this resident in my life was for both my Halmoni and myself.
I only have 3 work days left at this place before I move onto my next career move. Part of me wants to stay just because of this resident, who now remembers my name and who I am (like many there she forgets people all the time, so it’s very honoring she remembers me at all). She is truly someone that will always be in my heart because I believe she brought peace to my Halmoni and me.
Much love Kimiyo, thank you.