Maybe if I realized sooner it could’ve been easier.
It started with concerned voices from the other room where Grandpa lay on a hospital bed complete with the whitest sheets I’d ever seen. It didn’t match the rest of the room, or house for that matter, which had flowery furniture and deep velvety-red walls. But Grandma’s house had a warm filter that made even the hospital bed seem comfy.
Mom said we were visiting because Grandpa had cancer. I stood over his bed and all I saw was pain: the tubes that streamed out his nostrils and laced prominent cheekbones, the needle buried under his forearm that tethered more tubes to his body, and the saddest blank eyes that couldn’t meet ours. We smiled and kissed him anyway.
I sat in the other room and thought of Grandpa: how we’ve never had a conversation because I never learned Korean; how the language barrier limited our communication to exchanges of smiles, a pat on the back, or a suffocating (but endearing) bear hug. I decided that, yes, this is love.
I only realized when the paramedics rushed through the front door. I wiped my hands on my jeans, trying not to look scared in front of my two little brothers who were being unusually obedient. Dad came out of the room and had a look on his face that proved the inevitable but unexpected had happened. It was supposed to be just a visit; instead we watched him take his last breath.
Regret, or yu-gam in Korean, is the treadmill of emotions. It’s a pointless, painful contraption that doesn’t let you move forward. But I’ve learned there’s no use in “I should have” — treadmills are only good for a short time and, eventually, I need to get off and walk again.