Archive for March, 2013

One Month Later: So Young’s Message to You
March 28, 2013

So Young died one month ago today. It was actually at roughly 1 a.m. on February 28, 2013. I have been meaning for some time to write a description of her visitation and funeral to complete the story, but I haven’t had (or taken?) the time. I think perhaps I am daunted by the task. For me, they exceeded words. I know many people who attended feel the same way. For me, there was a realization that the grief at her death was bigger than me — that many mourn her passing — and also that the difference she had made while on this earth and even in her sickness and death was so much broader than I had imagined.

To commemorate one month after her passing, I’m posting the sermon that Kenji Adachi preached on the day of her funeral. Kenji is a close friend of mine and understood the situation intimately. It was strange planning So Young’s funeral with him, because it was actually kind of fun hanging out for that time. Anyway, here it is, a fitting and moving tribute to So Young. Please read it for the message. As Kenji said, this is the message that So Young wants you to hear today. 

There are many parallels with the death of Lazarus and So Young.

Both were sick with a mysterious illness and both had entered into a deep sleep. Many had turned to Jesus for help. In So Young’s case, people from all over the world reading her blog and were praying for her healing.

The Bible is clear how Jesus felt about Lazarus and his sisters. V.5 of John chapter 11 states, “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.”

And I want to be clear that Jesus loves So Young and her family with the same affections.

But the next verse is a paradox. Let me read it together with v.5, “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days.”

Jesus stayed in Jerusalem another 48 hours while Lazarus lay dying in nearby Bethany. All of us could’ve make the two mile journey to Bethany. It’s not a marathon.

So why did Jesus stay? Didn’t he understand Mary and Martha’s urgency and agony? Didn’t he hear their cries? Didn’t Jesus know that So Young was dying? Didn’t he love her?

Like many of you, I’ve witnessed so many of you pour out your love on the Gages: bringing meals, being with So Young, taking her out on lunch dates, bringing gifts for the kids, giving financial gifts. Doris Gage, Jame’s mother, calls them the hands and feet of Jesus.

I was at their home on Friday morning when someone brought the family a grand fruit platter, a large veggie tray, a sandwich tray fit for Samson and his family. So in order to make room in the fridge, we cleaned out the fridge full of home made meals. I’ve never seen that many mismatched Tupperware in my life.

I’ve witnessed Mark and Doris Gage go above and beyond their call as parents and grandparents supporting this family in unbelievable ways; always there for them – in many ways as the primary hospice nurse.

When So Young went home to be with the LORD, the first person James called was his dad. Mark came over immediately at 1am. (You have to understand Mark goes to bed right after dinner at 5pm Or is it 4:45pm?) A member of the Hospice Care team called James letting him know that she’s never seen this kind of love and care before.

I’ve had the privilege of seeing up close how much James has sacrificially loved his wife and cared for her night and day – sleeping in the same bed, feeding her, taking her to the bathroom, taking her in her on wheelchair dates to the Thai restaurant, putting Chap Stick on her lips, giving her medication every two hours, and sweet talking her and kissing her on the cheek.

It’s not out of the ordinary for him, because I’ve seen him love her like this for a good decade before her sickness – lavishing her with gifts, taking her on weekend getaways, writing love letters. James would write her a love note and leave it on the kitchen table for her to read before he left for work. That’s love.

Three weeks ago, So Young could barely mumble a word, but her girls were able to make out her words and put together a Valentine’s card for James. It reads, “Dear Hubby, Happy Valentine’s Day! I love you and the girls very much. Thank you for always taking care of me and protecting me. Always pray to God and love your Majesty in Heaven forever. XOXO Love, So Young”

That’s love.

Martha and Mary said, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”

Everyone knew Jesus loved Lazarus. Why did he let him die?

Because in his love, Jesus had something better for Lazarus, something better than a healing; something better than life on this earth. Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.”

God is made to look great not only in miraculous healings, but in death.

So Young did not suffer and die in vain.

James kept reiterating during her sickness, during her chemo treatment, in her coma, and even in her death that God has a special purpose for So Young, whether in living or in death – God wants to glorify Himself.

So Young said she cannot remember a day of not believing in Jesus Christ as the Lord of her life and Savior. She grew up a pastor’s daughter in a Christian home where she heard the Gospel. Because of this, she said she had a boring testimony – no gut wrenching story of redemption where Jesus rescues her from a life of rebellion and sin.

It bothered her, so she began to pray privately that God would give her a better testimony for Him. She writes, “I told God that I wanted my life to have a higher purpose and that I wanted to live out this life for Him. I didn’t want to come to God and say I did nothing with the life I was given. My highest hopes are to hear God say, ‘Well done good and faithful servant.’ I desire to be salt and light in this world that is darkness.”

God has used her suffering as a powerful example of true hope and true strength to all of us. She was on fire for the LORD, preaching the Gospel to anyone and everyone like she was the Korean-American Billy Graham – always talking about Jesus. She had a close friend visit her from another state and she shared the Gospel to her and led her to Christ. This friend flew back last week telling James that she is now on fire for Jesus, plugged into a church because of So Young.

So Young was an avid runner. She ran in 4 marathons and 4 half marathons. (For non-runners, a marathon is 26.2 miles; it’s like running from here to Krispy Kreme in Washington DC).

I was in their bedroom Friday morning looking at her marathon medals (James thinks I was snooping around…)

I looked on the back of the medals and there was an inscription that said “Finisher.” Because there are some who run the race and there are those who finish. So Young was a Finisher for the Kingdom of God.

This past Christmas, James gave her a special display rack to hang all her marathon medals. It’s two feet wide and says, “Always Earned Never Given.”

So Young was a wonderful and godly woman, but she knew was a sinner, who could never earn her salvation. It had to be given, out of grace.

Every religion and every worldview operates under a merit system that says if you do good, you earn a medal – except Christianity.

God’s standard of righteousness is too much. It’s like trying to run a marathon of 26.2 billion miles. Any misstep of sin would disqualify us, and it would also merit death. No one can finish the race of righteousness that God requires; not one.

So God in His great mercy and kindness sent someone who could perfectly run this race for us; He sent His Son Jesus and he finished the race for us. But his race did not end on a traditional victory stand, to be crowned the victor; it ended on the cross to pay our penalty for our sins for we failed to finish our race. So God took His only begotten Son and exchanged His perfect record and His perfect life and exchanged it for ours. God took Christ’s medals that said “Righteous Finisher” and exchanged them for ours that said “Condemned Sinner,” so that we, who once sinners could be counted righteous victors because of Christ.

And this means that death would not be final for us; there would be a resurrection and a new life where there is no more running and striving; no more empty races to run to earn earthly medals to prove that you are someone important; no more trying to be more righteous than the other person. Heaven and a new life and the resurrection from the dead awaits for any sinner who places their faith in Christ’s work and not our own.

In 2010, So Young ran her last marathon and did not finish because her eyesight was too blurry. She stopped at the 18 mile mark. She did not earn a medal. But on her medal display hangs a Marine Corps Marathon from 2012. So Young didn’t run the race, someone else earned it and gave it to her as a gift of grace.

Three days ago on Wednesday, February 28, 2013 So Young Gage crossed the God’s finish line once and for all; it wasn’t earned; it was given freely. Christ finished it for her, because he loves her.

She has crossed the finish line – absent from the body and is present with the Lord – resting and rejoicing with Jesus on the Victory Stand in heaven; where there is no more tears and sorrows; no more blurred vision or brain tumors; and no more sin and death. Because So Young believed Jesus is the resurrection and the life.

If So Young was here, she would want you to believe in this wonderful news.

Do you believe Jesus is the resurrection and the life – that He has lived the perfect life that God requires from us?

Do you believe Jesus died for your sins to pay for the penalty of sin?

Do you believe Jesus rose again to prove that He was God and has the power over sin and death?

Have you placed your faith in Jesus’ work to finish the race you could not run?

Shannon, Lindsey, and Audrey – I want you to remember how much your mom loved you and the godly race your mother trained and ran like her marathons. I want you to know that finished well with Jesus. God used her life, her suffering, and her death to glorify His Son Jesus. May you continue this legacy.

James, may you never forgot the emotions behind your wife’s Valentine’s card.

“Hubby I love you and the girls very much. Thank you for always taking care of me and protecting me. Always pray to God and love your Majesty in Heaven forever. XOXO Love, So Young”

God exceeded your So Young’s prayers; he gave her not just a better testimony, but an incredible one. She has crossed the finish line in victory and God praised her saying, “Well done good and faithful servant.”


So Young Moments: Caught on Video!
March 27, 2013

Here is a longer compilation of home videos of So Young that Shannon put together. I’m playing it at home every once in a while so I can hear her voice.

Dear Om-Mah
March 24, 2013

So Young’s mom died in her 50’s, back in November 1999. There are similarities between So Young’s death and that of her mother. Both were too young. Both died of brain-related issues — So Young of a brain tumor and her mother of a series of strokes. Both were cared for by their husbands during their last days and gradually lost mental capacity and the ability to care for themselves.

A few nights ago, I found this in an undated diary entry that So Young wrote after her mom died.  I cried the entire time I was reading it, because I realized that how So Young dealt with the death of her mom was teaching me about how to cope with her own death. I also see reflections of my own regret, sadness, and hope in  So Young’s words. I can imagine my own girls saying some of these things about their mother when they are older. I hope that this is a blessing to you, as it was to me.

Mom I can’t believe that you’re gone. That I will have to wait before I can ever see you again. Will your hugs and kisses be the same as I remember? Will your embrace be as warm and soft and nurturing? I miss so many things about you. I miss calling you Om-mah. My soul aches that I didn’t visit you the day before you passed over to your eternal home. I should have come that day, that Wednesday, to wish you well, to tell you once more of my love for you. But somehow I know you knew all about it. You know how much I love you and that you love me and will miss me too. I shouldn’t have let my sore throat keep me away. I shouldn’t have let my denial of your deteriorating condition stop me.

This past year was incredibly heartbreaking. I felt that you weren’t the mom that I knew, that I remember. Dad did too. I wanted to preserve my memory of you by shielding myself from the truth of your illness. It was so mysterious and frustrating. I didn’t know what was wrong. I always suspected it was stroke. I sincerely apologize for my selfishness. I should have been there for you more regardless of how much it hurt to see you that way.

I thank God that I saw you on Saturday the 16th to celebrate Shannon’s tol (first birthday). It wasn’t the same without you. Although we never got to eat the meal that Dad cooked for us, I’m thankful that I got to see you and spend some time looking through Shannon’s tol pictures. I’m thankful that I sat and talked to you, held your hand. I’m glad that I got to kiss you and hug you and say goodbye that day. I never knew it would be the last.

Om-mah pray for me in paradise where you are, pray for Dad and your family. Help us release our guilt for all the things we should have done, but never took the time to do. Deep in my heart I feel that you did appreciate what we did do. Deep down I know that you simply appreciated who I was, your first-born daughter.

Did you feel the same sense of awe and wonderment holding me as a baby, as I do holding Shannon? I must have brought you such joy and peace. Mom, Shannon reassures me that everything is going to be OK. She smiles at me and has unceasingly hugged me the past few days. I almost feel you smiling at me in her smile. How comforting it is. Thank you.

I will raise your granddaughter in the ways of the Lord. I will always let her know that she means the world to me. I’m far from perfect. James is a little more than I can ever be. We will raise her in love, in discipline, according to God’s command. We will raise her up hearing stories about you, her grandmother. She will know that Grandma was an incredible woman, with a heart unlike any in all the earth.

I want to thank you for loving me all these years. It seemed so short. I can’t help but wish that we had more time. We will have all eternity to make up for the time we missed.

I especially thank you for being the answer to my prayers. I prayed for a long time that God would change my parents’ heart to receive James. Did you know that He used you to open up the door, to break down the barrier? Yes. This one prayer of mine was answered through you. Thank you for loving James from the very start. When Dad saw your love and acceptance for him, it was easy for Dad to be at peace with my decision to be with James. Without your help, I wouldn’t have sweet James by my side. He is the answer to your prayers and Dad’s. I know you prayed since the day I was born that I’d marry someone as wonderful as him. I know with all certainty that God brought us together through his will. We will do great things together. You challenge me to be a better wife. I want to be the kind of wife you were to Dad: loving, patient, kind, never boastful or self-seeking, always trusting and persevering.

Mom, can you tell God that I’m thankful for his love and for answering my prayer? God said that whatever I ask for in prayer, believe that I’ve already received it.

It was frustrating praying for you those months, because you only seemed to get worse. I never realized how God’s power was working to answer my prayers. People may say, “How did He answer your prayers when she never got better?” But I realized today that He has, and in a mighty way.

I prayed that God would restore you and give you perfect health. Now you have health more perfect than ever, and you are restored beyond what you once were. God said, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways” (Isaiah 55:8).

Celebrating Mommy
March 17, 2013

The kids stayed home from school for over a week after their mom died (February 28 – March 11). We did things that would help us remember Mommy in a positive light and celebrate her. We had a great time. I know that might sound strange, especially since it was the week after her passing, but it makes sense for us on a couple of levels. First, the kids needed time away to mourn, but sitting around the house looking at each other (or better still, fighting with each other) wasn’t much use. Second, So Young was sick for so long that we have been dealing with her ever-increasing absence for a while. So during the week following her death, we weren’t in the middle of some kind of shock phase. We weren’t surprised she’s gone. Instead, we were deeply sad that what we thought was coming finally happened.

There is something about physically being at a significant place that helps you connect with a person who is gone. Visiting places that had significance for Mommy brought up memories, stories, and family history. The joy of talking about her life and our memories of her was interspersed with moments of sadness in realizing she is gone.

On Tuesday we went to GMU, which is where So Young and I were college sweethearts.


Wednesday was a snow day. I’m not sure what happened to Thursday. The good thing was that Prince William County schools were closed both days, so the kids technically didn’t miss school on those days.

On Friday, we visited the National Gallery of Art. We had great memories of that place from a “stay-cation” we took a couple years back. When we got there, Lindsay immediately asked if we could see the Pre-Raphaelite painting Ophelia by Millais, because she had recently studied it in school. It is a darkly beautiful painting that depicts the death of Hamlet’s potential wife, Ophelia. Well, the truth is that the National Gallery doesn’t have that painting, but on that day it did, because a Pre-Raphaelite exhibit was in town with that very painting and many such beautiful paintings by the Pre-Raphaelites. We essentially spent all of our time at the museum in that exhibit. I remember that So Young and I visited a Pre-Raphaelite exhibit in Delaware during college as part of an assignment for one of my classes.

Here are the girls under the statue of Mercury at the museum.

Art Gallery -- Mercury

There is this another area with a fountain in the museum, this one less heavily trafficked and therefore more peaceful. We fantasized that we lived there and it was part of our house.

Peaceful Fountain at Art Museum

We love the walkway to the West Building. We always have gelato and coffee at the cafe there, and then we start going back and forth on the walkway and goofing around until the security folks yell at us. Here are the girls on the walkway on Friday.

Passageway Now

And here I am on the same walkway with So Young in September 2011. (Important: That is not my purse. It is a pink bag. Dads carry strange things.)

West Building Passageway

On Saturday, we drove to Reston and stayed at the Hyatt for one night. We left late Sunday afternoon. So Young grew up in Reston, we met at the Reston Regional Library there (where we worked), and our courtship took place at the town center. So Young had even worked at the Hyatt for a while. It was where we stayed on our wedding night.

I had never noticed that the figure on the Reston Town Center fountain is also Mercury.

Reston Mercury

The girls proved to be adept at shopping.

Shopping in Reston

Here is a picture of So Young with Shannon at a similar outing (just the two of them) last year.

Shopping at Town Center

On Saturday night, the girls and I watched a late night movie at the movie theater where So Young and I went on our first date. We didn’t watch the same movie, because they aren’t playing The Crying Game there at the moment for some reason. (Don’t ask me why that was the first movie we watched together…) We watched the new Oz movie instead, which traumatized Audrey a little.

We enjoyed the breakfast buffet at the Hyatt on Sunday. Breakfast was Mommy’s favorite meal, and she especially loved the buffet at the Hyatt. Things have changed, however, because they closed the Market Street Grill (where So Young and I had dinner the night we got engaged), so we ate in a different area they have set up.


We goofed around in the pool on Saturday and at the gym on Sunday. Here is Shannon at the gym during the trip.


And here is So Young goofing around at the same gym last year.

SY Also Goofing Around

We also went ice skating. It was the last day of skating for the season. This was a really hard shot to take given our ice skating skills.

Ice Skating

For lunch, we ate at the restaurant at which So Young and I had our first date (Uno’s) and ate some of the same food.  (Again, please no questions about why you would take a girl there on a first date…) We had coffee, shopped, and walked around looking at the cute dogs that people were walking everywhere, which made us miss our dog, kind of like how So Young and I missed the kids after being away from home for a day or so.

We picked up Reyna from Nanna’s house and drove back home.

Driving Home with Reyna

So Young on a Snow Day
March 7, 2013

Since it’s a snow day in Northern Virginia, I thought I would post a snowy video to remember So Young. She relished opportunities to run under almost any conditions, especially in the snow wearing her Yaktrax. This video was taken in the winter of 2009. She had just completed a 2-mile run in about 12″ of snow. It’s great to hear her voice and see her whole.

So Young’s Last Days
March 7, 2013

Warning: This is a very long post. Don’t read it if  you think that the details of So Young’s death will disturb you. Her passing was peaceful, but each person will respond differently to this kind of information.

I decided to write about So Young’s last days, partly for therapeutic reasons and partly just to get the facts out there in case others on the Internet can benefit from them some day. As a first-time caregiver for a person with a terminal illness, you are often physically isolated (although I was much less so than most people) and are definitely inexperienced, so you don’t know what to expect each day, signs to look for, etc. The hospice people help with this, but you encounter a lot of things you have never seen, and you don’t know quite what to make of them. I found some resources for this on the Internet that were useful and thought I would add another resource to the mix.

This was a particularly dark time, and I’m going to be realistic in my presentation. This blog post isn’t for everyone. I plan to post about brighter things later, such as her memorial service.

By the night of Friday, February 22, So Young was in what is described as a “coma-like sleep.” She didn’t wake up at all until her death five days later. On Friday, even in that state, I fed her a small amount of apple sauce containing her usual medication (steroids, etc.) and a little bit of thickened juice by spoon, because even though she was deeply asleep and we couldn’t wake her up, she was still doing eating motions with her mouth and eventually swallowing. At that point, it was all I knew to do, because her entire regimen had consisted of almost constant sleeping punctuated by eating three times a day. The hospice nurse felt that she had “turned a corner,” so that night I also began giving her the liquid versions of morphine (for pain and to help with breathing) and lorazepam (for anxiety), along with atropine to keep her throat dry, because she had been dealing with a very congested-sounding throat for the last couple of days. The amount of morphine she was on at that point was extremely low, roughly equivalent to taking a single dose of Tylenol.

So Young was on oxygen constantly starting Friday night. It wasn’t a mask but a tube that went up her nose that is called a nasal cannula.

The kids were out of the house by Friday night at various sleep overs, which enabled me to focus on So Young fulltime. I had planned on continuing work part-time on Monday, but when So Young fell asleep, I knew that was no longer a possibility.

On Saturday morning, I tried to feed So Young apple sauce with medicine and thickened juice by spoon again, but she didn’t move her mouth at all or swallow. The solid food just stayed in the front of her mouth. The liquid rolled down her throat, and she coughed and moaned faintly, because it was causing her to choke. I stopped once I saw this happening. I took her axillary temperature (under her arm pit), and she was running a fever, which I knew to be a sign of impending death in terminal patients.

Hospice wasn’t coming on the weekends, but they had a nurse come that weekend because of the seriousness of So Young’s condition. I was really anxious to have the nurse there for a visit. I was distressed. I didn’t know what to do. All I had been doing until then was feeding So Young and changing her, but now it seemed I could not feed her at all.

The nurse arrived around 3 p.m. on Saturday. She was an African lady named Josephine. We had had great nurses and other staff from Capital Caring until then. I worried that she would not be as good (I mean, how lucky could we get?), but she was. She checked So Young’s vitals and gave me a technique for lowering her temperature. She filled two latex gloves with ice, wrapped them in wash cloths, and put them under So Young’s armpits. She placed a cool, wet wash cloth on her forehead. Josephine said that we could use acetaminophen suppositories to lower So Young’s temperature but that this would work better. I felt like she was letting me in on some homegrown fever remedy. I have since been told that it is actually quite a common technique.

Lowering So Young’s temperature was just for her comfort. A high fever was normal in these circumstances. The worst we could expect was a seizure as a result of the fever, something that So Young had never had. I applied Josephine’s technique often in the upcoming days, although I soon found some reusable cold compresses in the refrigerator that were easier to use than the latex glove approach. I think that this technique enabled me to keep So Young’s temperature fairly stable until her death without using medication.

I played dumb and asked Josephine why So Young had a temperature. She said it meant that the end is near. She said that So Young could have as little as 24 to 48 hours or a few days. “It depends on the person,” she said.

Josephine recommended increasing So Young’s morphine dose by .25 ml (up to .5 ml every four hours), since she was still pulling at her sheets every once in a while, which indicated pain or discomfort. Tugging at the sheets and other signs of agitation are also common signs that a person is dying. After I increased the dose, So Young seemed a lot more comfortable and stopped tugging at her sheets.

Before she left, Josephine admonished me not to force feed So Young liquids. It was then that I realized So Young would probably not eat or drink again. This was difficult to take for a couple of days and is still painful to think about, because my natural inclination was to feed and take care of her. However, she was dying, and force feeding her would only cause her to choke. It could actually increase her suffering by, for example, causing aspiration pneumonia.

Josephine visited in the early afternoon on Saturday, and So Young hadn’t urinated since Friday night. Josephine said that they may have to  So Young if she didn’t pee by Sunday morning. She did urinate Sunday morning, but the decision was made later that we would not catheterize So Young at all, since it would be uncomfortable for her and the diapers were catching things fine. So Young would even sleep through the diaper changes, although she moaned faintly because it was an uncomfortable process for her. The last time she urinated was Monday afternoon. Her urine had been tea-colored fairly consistently, which is a sign of organ failure and normal for terminal patients.

I was alone with So Young all day Saturday. The next few days were a nightmare for me emotionally. I felt paralyzed, unable to do anything. I felt like I was starving So Young when every impulse in my being told me to feed her. She was dying naturally, which was her wish. Keeping her on fluids and machines when we knew she would die would keep her in a prolonged coma and was another level of suffering that she did not want to endure. I felt like I was waiting for So Young to die, which indeed I was.

On Sunday morning, I attended church live via a Google Meetup (a video streaming service) for the first time. They sang many songs that So Young enjoyed, including “Amazing Grace,” so I brought the laptop upstairs for So Young to “listen,” even though she was very much unconscious. I was very touched that the church did this. It has been clear throughout this ordeal that they have not only been paying attention to our situation but have been very much beside us.

The girls all started staying at Mom and Dad’s house Sunday night. We did this to avoid various nightmare scenarios that could have occurred should the girls have been in the house when So Young passed away and was taken out of the house. This turned out to be a good decision, because she did indeed pass late at night on a weekday.

Late Sunday night, I called hospice because So Young’s breathing sounded especially congested. They didn’t recommend changing anything medication-wise but said I should elevate her more in the bed.

On Monday, So Young’s breathing still sounded very congested. The hospice nurse John directed me to increase her morphine to .5 ml every two hours. It seemed to help with the congestion. Many non-medical people don’t realize that morphine actually helps with breathing. During the course of the next several days, So Young had several breathing episodes, including labored breathing and one case in which she had apnea and her breathing clearly stopped altogether for a few seconds. Hospice said that these episodes were normal. Our wonderful nurse’s aide Cindy said that I should time the apnea incidents. If So Young stopped breathing for a minute or two, it would mean that she had passed, and I should take her oxygen off, because that can cause the person to appear to be breathing even after they have expired.

The increased dose of morphine meant that I was up every two hours all night long to keep So Young medicated. I didn’t mind doing it at all, but it was exhausting after a while.

On Tuesday, John (the nurse) started coming every day instead of once a week. By now, So Young had lived over three days without fluids. A person typically lives three to five days without fluids but could possibly live as many as ten. John reiterated that she could go anytime, although part of me believed she would live much longer than a typical person, since she was young and strong when she was diagnosed.

The number of visitors increased as So Young’s death approached, sometimes to six or seven a day, all day long. This was a source of some stress for me, because I wanted visitors to be quiet and reverent, since it was clear So Young was dying. Visits before were more about saying “hi” and keeping So Young happy and entertained. Now they were about saying goodbye. Despite my fears, the visitors were a great blessing and didn’t show themselves to be irreverent.

During So Young’s last week, Jin and Grace increased their visits to every day. They had made a pact with So Young to be by her side until the very end, and they were true to their promise. Laurie came by and made handprints in clay of So Young’s hands so that the girls would have them after she died. So Me came by as often as she could. It was very hard for her those last days. I think the fact that she was saying goodbye hit her pretty hard that week.

Jin and Grace

Jin and Grace on a routine visit with So Young a few months before she passed. You can tell So Young is a lot more aware than she was in February. Still, the image embodies how So Young was surrounded by friends until her death.

Several of us talked to So Young on separate occasions that week and told her that it was OK to let go. We told her that we would miss her dearly but that God, the family, and our community of faith would take care of the girls and me. These were hard conversations to have, but we felt like we needed to say it in case she was holding on for us. When she was healthier, So Young had often expressed worry about the girls and I should she pass, so there was good reason to do this.

I felt that I had been saying goodbye to So Young for a long time. My doctor admonished me to continue talking to So Young “every hour or two,” speaking into her ear and telling her that I am here and that I love her. I did this every time I gave her medicine or took her temperature.

Looking back, she may have been waiting to say goodbye to Ann, her friend from Seattle who had accepted Christ through So Young. Ann came on Tuesday and left on Wednesday. She was the last non-family visitor to see So Young alive. So Young had been aware before she entered the coma that Ann was going to visit. Ann spent a lot of time with So Young but also with Mom and me. It was a blessing to hear the peace she has found now that she knows Christ. Things aren’t easy or perfect for her, but she has deep purpose and meaning in her life now.

So Me also came by Wednesday night to spend time with her sister. She told So Young again that she could let go. So Me was So Young’s last visitor.

So Young’s visitors on her last day were Laurie, Jin, Grace, Kenji, Christine, Linda (who brought me Thai food), Sungjin, John, Ann, and So Me. There were many visitors that week, but this particular group has special significance in my mind because they ministered to her on her last day.

At 8 p.m. Wednesday night, So Young’s body temperature was even higher than normal, at 102.4 axillary. I applied ice packs, and when I checked her temperature at 10 p.m., it had gone down to 101.7 axillary. I gave So Young her last dose of medication at around 10 p.m. as well.

Before I went to sleep next to her that night, I noticed that her breathing was labored again. I also noticed that the skin on her face, feet, and knees was mottled. This was another sign of impending death that hospice had been watching for. Her hands and feet were still warm, with the exception of her right foot, which had generally been cooler than the rest of her body for a while anyway. I cracked the window next to my side of the bed, because the room felt muggy to me. I thought that maybe the warmth of the room (usually caused by the oxygen machine) was contributing to her temperature that night.

Part of me said that I should stay awake because of these changes just in case she died, but I second-guessed myself because I had thought the same thing many, many times in the past. I decided to go to sleep instead, since I was heavily sleep-deprived anyway and would see her in two hours.

I specifically made note of the time when I went to sleep: 11:18 p.m. I slept through my midnight alarm and awoke at 1:20 a.m. for some reason. I was very groggy and almost unable to open my eyes. I looked over at So Young. Her mouth was closed, which was strange, because it had hung open since Friday night. I looked at her chest to see if she was breathing. Nothing. I immediately realized she was dead. Still, she was very warm, so I doubted. I could not feel a pulse on her nearest (left) arm, but that didn’t mean a whole lot because I’m not accustomed to taking pulses. I got up and turned on the lights in the room. She was much more mottled than before. Her left arm looked especially pale and mottled. I stared at her for signs of breathing or eye movement behind her eyelids (her eyes were still closed). Again, nothing. I kind of paced beside the bed staring at her.

I was afraid, because I am very unaccustomed to dead people and had mostly seen them depicted in movies. My fear surprised me. I thought I was more rational than that and besides, this was So Young. I was afraid to touch her body to check her heartbeat or pulse again, but eventually I got up my nerve and did it. I was now solidly convinced that she had passed. I removed the oxygen tube from her face.

I cried and prayed and talked to So Young for a little while. She looked so pitiful in the bed. Her expression was peaceful but almost like that of a sad child. I felt so bad for her, that she had suffered so much unto death. Her suffering really hit me at that moment. But I also knew that she was now in heaven. Her position hadn’t changed in days. She was still in a pose of restful sleep with her eyes gently closed.

I took off two of So Young’s bracelets, planning to give them to the girls later. I tried to take off her wedding and engagement rings, which she had kept on throughout her illness and often admired when she was sick, but I could not.

I felt that she must have just stopped breathing while asleep and that her soul had quietly left her body. My mom said later that maybe she had given me one last kiss on the way up to heaven that had woken me up. Perhaps she had passed through the open window and visited her best friend Jin for one last chat, to talk to her in her dreams, happily telling her how much she loved each of her girls, wanting Jin to relay that message to comfort us. (Jin dreamed about So Young talking to her about each girl the night So Young passed.)

I called hospice. I told them that I thought So Young had passed but wasn’t sure. The nurse on the line said that everybody who calls when somebody passes isn’t sure, but the person has always passed. She told me a nurse would be at the house within an hour.

For a moment I considered not calling anyone else. I don’t know why, but my impulse is generally to go it alone. Still, I have learned that going it alone generally doesn’t work out all that well. I thought about how So Young’s death isn’t a private thing. It affects many people. Also, there was no telling what would happen or how I would react. I needed any help I could get. So I called my parents, which was the plan. Dad answered. I couldn’t talk. He said, “I understand, son. I’ll be there right away.”

Dad arrived, and soon the hospice nurse arrived. I walked her upstairs. She said So Young looked beautiful. She checked her heartbeat very carefully for a long time and “pronounced” her. I believe this happened at 2:25 a.m., which is the time of death on her death certificate. The nurse took off So Young’s wedding ring and engagement ring and gave them to me. We went downstairs while she arranged So Young’s body in preparation for the mortuary coming. The hospice nurse called the mortuary.

The mortuary called me and said they would be at the house in two hours. The nurse left. Dad and I sat in the living room, talked, and worked on funeral preparations, which we had already started in recent days. Thankfully, we didn’t have to buy a plot, casket, etc., because my grandfather had already paid for them and Dad had taken care of all of the details months ago. Nevertheless, there was a huge amount of work to do. It was like planning a wedding in less than two days.

A man and woman eventually arrived from the mortuary and took So Young away. Watching them take So Young out of the house was brutal. I had to watch it for some reason.

I took a shower, anticipating that I had a long day ahead of me. Dad and I left for my parents’ house, arriving at maybe 4:30 a.m. The plan was for me to sleep there for an hour or two and tell the girls when they woke up that morning. Mom embraced me when I entered the house. I’m sure she had been concerned and praying for hours, unable to sleep. Somehow I fell asleep for an hour in the basement. I woke up and sat in the living room talking to Mom and Dad for a while, tearfully reflecting on the life that So Young had lived and the events of the night.

It had been the saddest night of my life, but somewhere in a realm we could not see, So Young was restored and happier than she had ever been.