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Goodbye and Rest in Peace - A farewell note to my dearest husband Peter
baikkj

 
 

(이 글은 지난해 4월 15일 향년 80세로 별세한 고 백용빈 선생의 부인인 필자가 당시에 쓴 조사(弔辭)로 남편을 간절히 회고하는 내용의 글입니다. -편집자 주)     

 

 

 

고 백용빈 님

 

 


As with many epic Canadian journeys, this one starts and ends with bitterly cold weather, involving long battles with far greater adversaries than winter, and forging two souls over almost five decades not in search of victory, but finding new meaning, understanding and dedication each step of the way. It started in February 1968 while I was working at the Centenary Hospital in Scarborough, which was built to commemorate Canada’s centennial anniversary. The new facility consisted of gleaming white, twin buildings which stood tall in a frozen, barren remote field of suburbia. I started not long after I had flown in from Korea on a 26-hour flight, still feeling exhausted and jetlagged. My stress levels were exacerbated by my limited English communication abilities and experience interacting with foreigners – both of which were key aspects of my new job. For a newcomer with no prior experience living abroad, I felt overwhelmed and somewhat fearful starting a new life and career in a strange land which was so far and different from my hometown. However, the hope and prospect of a new beginning fueled my desire to work at this hospital despite the long commute from downtown where I was living at the time. I was also determined to obtain my nursing licence as soon as possible. 


The exhaustion and dealing with the dreary, cold winter days were only part of my Canadian initiation – being the shy, new foreigner (when foreign workers were quite rare) also meant that I would usually eat lunch at the cafeteria alone. One day, however, someone approached me and asked whether I could speak Korean. I was somewhat surprised and gave her a resounding “yes” – assuring her that I could speak very well. She was happy that I could assist in interpreting a Korean patient under her care who had suffered a major fracture in his right leg due to his labour job. The interpretation duties only took a brief amount of time and I was on my way out of the room when I saw five people approaching in the hallway who, coincidentally, appeared and sounded Korean. While I was pleasantly surprised to see the Korean visitors, I was also in a rush to go back to my dormitory to continue my nursing studies. One man in the group, however, seemed very interested and wanted to know more about me, insisting that I stick around for a while longer. He introduced himself as Peter and mentioned that he found it curious that a young Korean nurse would be working at such a remote location. This made me think about how isolated I was and perhaps he sensed the loneliness within. He mentioned that he had also recently arrived in Toronto but worked in Germany for a few years before moving to Canada. He was well-traveled and well-versed in western culture, able to speak Korean, English and German fluently. 


Peter seemed very determined to meet again, so I agreed and we continued to see each other when our schedules permitted. He had made up his mind for marriage early in our relationship, but he patiently waited for the right opportunity to propose. I had an inkling with regards to his intentions when he kept making up excuses to pick me up from home and drive me to work, sparing me the grueling commute at his expense. I discovered that his generosity was intrinsically part of his character. Peter was one of the few Koreans who owned a car in the late 60’s, and would freely assist his friends who needed to get around town but didn’t have a car of their own. He would take them to hospitals, weddings, work and even drove them around for running errands such as grocery shopping. His generosity with me wasn’t limited to daily commutes – he would also help my mother and I get around. He went the extra mile by keeping my mother company, which made her very happy and relieved her feelings of loneliness. 


After 9 months of dating, he proposed to me but I told him that I was not prepared for such a huge commitment so soon after arriving in a new country. However, his gifted humour, extensive knowledge and strong love toward me eventually changed my stubborn mind. The same year on a beautiful fall day in October, we made our vows to love, cherish and care for each other at a small but intimate wedding ceremony surrounded by family and our closest friends. Soon after our honeymoon, I noticed that my husband was starting to experience a lot of physical discomfort. I was too naïve to understand what was wrong with his condition at the time, and despite medical advances it was also difficult to ascertain the root cause of his pain. From there, I felt my dreams starting to shatter, but this did not stop us from moving on with life. 


Although we were blessed with two wonderful children several years later, the search for a cure or a way to relieve Peter’s increasing back pain continued with little or no progress despite the large number of surgeries, medications and treatments. His career aspirations and general quality of life declined with his deteriorating condition, which undoubtedly affected his overall outlook and ambitions. Despite this situation, we still had the opportunity to travel to idyllic locations around the world on company business due to his stellar job performance. He continued to support the family well through his retirement due to his contributions and for ensuring that his company could support both himself and his family through good times and bad.


 Throughout his working and retirement years, Peter demonstrated an unmatched spirit for community service. Leveraging his variety of talents as a charismatic speaker, comedian and musician, he served as a master of ceremony at many weddings, business and church events. His quick wit and sense of humour brought crowds together, entertaining them with a comic agility that was hard to find even among professionals. 


His community leadership didn’t end there - his passion for music led him to support the Yemel Korean Philharmonic Society, acting as a long-serving chairman and winning the respect of both its musicians and patrons through his dedication, extensive volunteer work and philanthropic contributions.  All this while coping with his worsening medical conditions  and countless hospital visits.


 He was known by friends as a man of wisdom, sometimes by only speaking a few words with an astuteness and timing that only a true visionary would possess. His primary communication style was not to talk, but to listen and ensure that others could be heard, understood, and most importantly, avoid boredom. He was simply born to serve and made his family and others experience a timeless existence through laughter and enjoyment.


 In stark contrast, I was a very shy, meek and worrisome person who would fuss over the smallest details. The beginning of our marriage was not exactly smooth sailing and our very different personalities would inevitably lead to clashes, conflicts but eventual compromise. It took over several years to overcome these differences, and we had learned to simply accept and understand one another. 


Peter knew my weaknesses and merits well. He supported me whether we agreed on things or not. The support was mutual, and it was an easy decision for me due to all the great community work he was doing. In many ways, his support and influence has made me what I am today. With all the differences and disagreements between us, I’ve learned for the better, and have had the benefit of being guided by a wise man beyond his years. Even his lifelong struggles with his health has helped me to empathise with others, letting me walk a mile in their shoes even if I could never fully understand the full extent of suffering one has to endure. I am forever grateful to Peter as my partner for 50 years.


 Last year, when I found out he was diagnosed with cancer, he decided to accept his circumstances and forego chemotherapy. Peter was a man of few words and this situation was no different – very strong-willed, refusing to pull others into his plight and keeping everything inside of his heart. One day, while he was in palliative care, he drew me closer so I could hear his gentle voice, which had always been so strong and deep but was reduced to a whimper in his final days. With his frail body, he hugged me tight and said something he had never said before - “I love you and I am so sorry.” Somewhat taken aback, I asked him, “What are you sorry about?” – to which I received no reply. Eventually he said, “I will leave you alone, and I am ready to leave now.” For a brief moment, the lifetime of his suffering could be seen in his eyes and felt through the pain of our departure. Shortly after, he took his last breath.


 I will never forget the day when Peter passed away. It was shortly after a massive ice storm in April, and shortly before the first warm spring day, marred by a terrible, senseless van attack that coincidentally happened just outside my home and took many innocent lives. While Peter’s suffering had reached an end, the suffering of many others had begun. Despite not knowing the victims or survivors, my sorrow ran even deeper and for much longer than I had expected. 


I hope that others will remember Peter as I had thought about him during a cold winter day in February. In his final stages of life, he frequently entered a catatonic state and seemed to resemble a statue at times. Yet he somehow carried a giant presence in spirit and still captivated his visitors, lifting their spirits with his. In the fleeting and rare moments when his mind was lucid, he managed to make a comment or gesture that would make us laugh, or simply acknowledge our presence and show gratitude, despite our not having any words to comfort him in return. 


Peter wanted us to remember his life as he served his community and family. He knew life is only a temporary journey on this planet that each of us must discover, sometimes alone, or if we are fortunate, with others whom we mutually care and respect. We had a wonderful life together, shared good times and bad, with joy and suffering. His legacy and spirit will carry on through the lives of those where he made a difference. This is exactly how Peter would have wanted us to remember him – the same way we make others feel when we bring a little bit of the magic he brought into our lives. My dearest husband Peter, please rest in peace until we meet again in Heaven! 


Your Loving Wife, 
Gemma 
September 27, 2018
 

 

 

 

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