My dad, Yung Shik Kim, passed away peacefully on June 8, 2019. We held a memorial service on June 18, 2019 in Seattle, WA. His ashes were lovingly and respectfully delivered to the sea on June 19, 2019. My brother also gave a beautiful and poignant eulogy that talked about a different side of my dad that we, as his children, got to experience. I share these words to memorialize them for myself and my family, but also to honor the memory of my 아빠 (dad).
This past week, I finally got around to going through some of the old photos and my dad’s old letters and papers that I had brought back with me from cleaning out my parents’ house a few years ago.
As I looked through those things, I got a small glimpse into my dad as a child—growing up in a war torn country; a young person—graduating from college, looking for a job; and as a young father—establishing and providing for his family. Some of these glimpses answered the questions I had, but didn’t have the courage to ask when my dad was alive and well. Some of my discoveries have led me to more questions and a desire to craft together the profound story of the legacy my dad leaves behind.
When my dad was a little boy, he lost both his parents, was separated from his little sister and lived with an older couple he affectionately called grandparents. Against all odds and with God’s grace shown through the kindness of strangers—my brother’s and my namesakes, James and Phyllis Hunter—my dad survived and worked extremely hard. He graduated from the top university in Korea, got married, entered into graduate school in the United States and started a family. I marvel at the resiliency of my dad – and I am thankful that he has passed that on to both my brother and myself. It is so evident to me that this was a gift I didn’t know I had received and inherited until today.
My dad was also a man whose thinking was always ahead of the times. His brilliance was highlighted in the various achievements from work and his teaching. It was, I believe, his way of giving back. I’d like to think that I inherited some of his brilliance, but most of that went to my brother.
When I think about my dad, a myriad of memories flood my head and heart – like the time I went to a daddy daughter dance and the only dance move my dad knew was the twist. So we twisted all night long. When it came time for my wedding, he had taken dance lessons so we could dance together again – and not just the twist.
But the memory that I cannot bring up is the one that I want to remember the most – the moment where my dad still knew who I was when I said goodbye. It’s a moment I want to capture and hang on to forever. One day, he knew who I was and then he just didn’t. I was never able to get over the strangeness of looking at someone who was so familiar, yet still a stranger.
I’ve said many good byes to my dad throughout my life. Good byes when we went off to school, when I went to prom, when they dropped me off at college, when I moved to my first apartment and drove cross country, when I got married, when I had my daughter, when I flew out to help my dad officially retire…and every time after that I saw him. I didn’t cherish enough of the time that I had because of circumstances and then it was suddenly already too late. Which good bye is the one that he will remember? Which is the one I will hold on to in honor of him?
But this—this is the final goodbye. When his physical body finally failed and his spirit was finally released to Jesus. Where in heaven, his memory will be perfect, his body will be whole and his heart will be restored. This will be the goodbye that I know that I will remember because it was the last one.