I’m getting older, I think I’m aging well
A reflection I had about mortality.
Everybody dies, right?
I always feared getting older. Every day seemed one step closer to death.
I remember as a kid watching those medicine-based commercials, you know the ones where they are advertising Claritin or some sort of over-the-counter drug.
There’s usually picture-perfect b-roll of happy looking people frolicking in a field of flowers or embracing their dog. It was fairly soothing until the very end of the commercial when the voice actor starts to list out all the possible side effects that may take place after taking the medication.
I remember writing down each side effect being listed out on my notepad in crayon. I would take that notepad to my room and pray to God that my family would not get a headache, depression, sleepiness, feel tired, drowsiness, fatigue, nervousness, stomach pain, and so forth. It was a long prayer, but I knew it was worth every second if it meant my family would be okay.
There’s even an early memory I have coming home from school and sobbing to my dad one of my deepest worries, “I don’t want to die, I don’t want you to die, I don’t want us to die.”
His response back was stern but filled with underlying concern, “Leah, everybody dies. But you don’t have to worry about this right now, okay?”
Google, play Everybody Dies by Billie Eilish. We need to get in the right headspace to proceed.
I turned 25 in October, and it hit me that I am officially old. It was the first time in my life where I wanted to hide under the radar and do something low key for my birthday. I understood why “older people” never fussed over their birthdays or wanted to be in photos anymore. I guess it felt like turning 25.
I felt a deep sadness like I haven’t accomplished everything I wanted or done enough with my time. I also didn’t imagine myself having to say goodbye to so many people I loved and for the first time in a long time I blew out my candles without their faces smiling back at me.
25 didn’t feel like a party or something to celebrate. It felt like my “???” era.
No prayer could’ve prevented this from happening or maybe I should’ve been praying about this all along.
The car accident and emergency room visit
Shortly after turning 25, I got into a car accident on the highway. I didn’t realize how scary it was until several people told me how lucky I was including my chiropractor who did a very extensive examination.
I didn’t have much time to process the accident. I started a new team at work, began my first quarter of part-time grad school, and was doing my best to balance time with my friends and family.
One week after my car accident and the day after celebrating their 56th wedding anniversary, my grandma calls and informs me that my grandpa is unwell and to come over immediately.
From that moment onwards everything went in slow motion. Me shoving my laptop in my bag. Throwing away my coffee cup. Pushing the door open to exit the coffee shop. Running down the street to my busted car. Zooming over to their home.
After taking my grandpa to the emergency room, we later found out he had two mini strokes the night before and he was lucky to still be with us today. Every second mattered, the time it took for my grandma to call. To us coming over and deciding to take him to the hospital. And for him to be treated by the amazing medical staff.
Going to Mexico City and calling 911
I decided to book my tickets to Mexico City right after my car accident. I had a eat, pray, love moment where I felt like life really was short. I ended up joining a group of friends who were planning on going for a couple of weeks and thought it would be nice to meet-up with my internship flatmate who relocated there for work.
I debated if I should still go given my grandpa’s condition and the announcement of the new variant. With the encouragement of my family and therapist, I decided to go as planned right after my last day of fall quarter.
My trip can be best summarized as perfect in every way. The sun. The people. The food. The music. The history. The lessons. The time to be with myself. The time to be surrounded by new people.
When it was time to arrive back home and receiving a negative COVID test result, I felt ready to be with family for the holidays. My first night back I ended up unpacking my bags, handing out souvenirs, and knocking out pretty early.
Deep in sleep, I find myself waking up to the sound of my sister’s voice frantically speaking to someone on the phone. At that time, all I could make from the conversation was that someone broke in somewhere. This may be a hostage situation. And I needed to call 911 immediately.
Shaking myself awake, I start to understand that someone broke into my grandparents' home which is in a quiet suburban neighborhood near us. My grandpa was doing better but still not fully himself. My grandma speaks little English. Me and my sister speak little Korean. I’m trying to communicate all this to the 911 operator.
Regardless of what we fully understood, we understood one thing for certain. We understood each other's unwavering fear. The sheriff was on their way. Me and my sister on our way too.
A repaired door and a temporary new home
We called our cousin over to help us fix the door.
It was an attempted home break in and burglary. There is a high surge of home break ins due to the pandemic the sheriff shared with us.
I’ve been staying with my grandparents since the break in. It feels safer this way and gives me some sort of peace of mind that they are going to be okay. That we’re going to be okay.
Since staying with my grandparents, I see how much they’ve aged since the last time I slept over at their home as a young kid. They were taking care of me and now our roles are reversed, I’m doing my best to take care of them.
They often get texts or calls from their friends sharing news that so and so has passed away. They also get frequent texts or calls from their friends saying how much they miss their voice and to check-in about random things. They can’t hear each other that well and play the TV really loud. They shouldn’t be eating seconds and need reminders to do their daily exercises. They struggle to communicate like they’ve done in the past, but they show me through little actions that they haven’t forgotten to communicate how much they love me— like placing more food on my plate, asking if I need more blankets, refilling my water, giving me slippers, and closing my bedroom door so the heat doesn’t escape.
Celebrating turning 25
I do my best to make my grandparents smile or laugh every day. I try to ask questions and learn more about their youth and who they’ve become.
One night over dinner, I asked them what their favorite age was. My grandma responded quickly that 30 was hers because she was young. My grandpa responded quickly after that 37 was his because he immigrated to America at that age.
I couldn’t help but chuckle. Me and a lot of 20 something year olds have been talking about how depressed we are to turn a year older when in reality we have so much more life to look forward living.
The irony how we are so afraid of dying. Also: of living.
There’s so much I’m grateful for and many lessons I’ve taken away from 2021. I decided to write this article as a reminder for my future self to not be afraid of both. Future self, you got it?
I hope you’re not afraid too.
Google, play Getting Older by Billie Eilish. We need to end this right for the new year.