Monday, February 25, 2008

Pain Outweighs Gratitude

The following is a lament by Nicholas Wolterstorff from his book Lament For A Son. His son died in a climbing accident when he was 24 years old.

"We took (them) too much for granted. Perhaps we all take each other too much for granted. The routines of life distract us; our own pursuits make us oblivious; our anxieties and sorrows, unmindful. The beauties of the familiar go unremarked. We do not treasure each other enough.

(They were gifts) to us. When the gift was finally snatched away, I realized how great it was. Then I could not tell (them). An outpouring of letters arrived, many expressing appreciation for (Midi and Nathan). They all made me weep again: each word of praise a stab of loss.

How can I be thankful, in (their) gone-ness, for what (they were)? I find I am. But the pain of the no more outweighs the gratitude of the once was. Will it always be so?

I didn't know how much I loved (them) until (they were) gone.

Is love like that?"

My pain has intensified the past couple of weeks. Maybe the fact that they are gone is starting to sink in deeper - into parts of my being that have never been touched. Maybe it's because my "to do" list has shrunk and I find myself with time to grieve and soak in my pain. I think it is possible that I've cried more in the past two months than my entire life combined. My mother did tell me that I was an easy baby and did not cry much. The initial burst of peace from the Holy Spirit that I felt so powerfully in the first couple of weeks has faded. Yet I still believe that God is with me. I believe in the Christian God because He is the only god who knows of my suffering. He is the only god who chose suffering and experienced humanity. He is the only God who defeated death. And He is the only god who made the audacious promise that if we put our faith in Him, following him in our lives, that His victory over death is our victory over death as well. Other faiths promise reincarnation, or a complete emptying of self, or some spiritual "oneness" with the life force, or something vague and meaningless like that. Those ideas are completely unappealing to me and they ring false. I believe in Jesus, the God who would be man; the only one to conquer death through resurrection. Besides, after I die, I want to be me, not some absorbed piece of oneness. I want to be who I am supposed to be, without the curse of sin. I want to see Midi and Nathan again in the New Earth where I don't have to fear death, mine or theirs. If there is just emptiness, reincarnation, or oneness then they are truly gone forever. I just don't believe that to be the case.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Barbarian Con & Lucas' Loneliness

After I graduated from college, I lived with four buddies from UCLA. Our common bond was a shared faith in Jesus, growth and maturity through our days in Bruin Christian Fellowship, and bachelorhood. We rented a house in Mar Vista on Barbara Avenue. It is for that reason (and not because of any unsavory behavior) that we dubbed ourselves "The Barbarians". These men (David, Chris, Jon W, and Jon Y) are more than just friends to me. They are my brothers. We have all been in each others' weddings. We have all been through dark days together. We have held each others' children and we have been through fire (figuratively and literally - just ask Chris) with each other. These are my lifelong pals. We can share our deepest struggles with each other. We have an implied understanding that we will always be there for one another no matter what life throws at us. Though three of us live in SoCal and two of us live in NoCal, we have also made it a point to get together at least once a year to hang out. These Barbarian Conferences or "Barb Cons" are great times to catch up with each other and just hang out.

This past weekend, the Barbarians came down to my house to spend the weekend with me and Lucas. Overall, it was a great weekend. There were two highlights. The first was Saturday dinner at my aunt's house. My mom cooked her amazing chicken katsu and sukiyaki for us. After the awesome dinner, we played some Guitar Hero with my family. It was a lot of fun. I love when different parts of my life come together. The second highlight was the purchase of a new car. The previous weekend, the SoCal Barbarians (Dave, Chris, and I) test drove five cars. I narrowed my choices to two. Now, I know absolutely nothing about cars. It just isn't a passion for me. Reliably getting from Point A to Point B is really my main concern. So I called on my brothers to help me and they did not fail. Dave did the homework, coming prepared with Consumer Reports printouts and other key information. Anyway, to make a long story short, I purchased a car Sunday afternoon. Chris was the champion negotiator while I barely spoke. I was just there to write the check and get the keys. Jon W stayed home to keep Lucas company. It was a great team effort that typifies the spirit of the Barbarians. Everyone should be so blessed as I am with these men of strength and character.

Monday night, Barb Con ended. Chris had to leave Sunday night due to a work trip. Dave drove Jon W to Long Beach Airport and I drove Jon Y to LAX. On the way home, Lucas and I were talking and he completely caught me off guard. He asked me, "Dad, am I going to get a new Oh-ma?" (Oh-ma is the Korean name for "mommy"). I was totally unprepared for this question. I tearfully explained to him that he will never have Oh-ma back but that someday when he is older, he may have a different mom. I asked him if he wanted another mom. He said yes. I cried as I reassured him that if he ever did have another mom, that I would make sure that she loves him. We then talked about Nathan. I explained to him that he will never have Nathan back but that someday when he is older, he may have a baby brother or sister. I asked him if he wanted to have a brother or sister. He said yes.

For me, this is the hardest conversation that I have had with Lucas. It gives me tears just thinking about it. It shows me two things. One is that Lucas is fully aware that Oh-ma and Nathan are gone. Two is that Lucas is very lonely. He is processing his loss. He daily feels the void in his life - no brother to go to school with, no mommy to hug and kiss him, no brother to wrestle with, no mommy to sleep next to, no brother and mommy to laugh with. Oh, my poor son! I wish I could make it better for him. All I can do is grieve with him, reassure him with my presence and love, and help him establish a new normal. And I must do this while God grieves with me, reassures me with His presence and love, and helps me establish a new normal.

For those of you reading this who believe in the Holy Spirit, please pray for me and my boy. Pray that God would grant me wisdom and strength to care for Lucas. Pray for Lucas to feel safe and hopeful. Pray for me to abide in Him.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


One week after Midi and I started dating in January 2000, I was almost killed in a car accident on the 405 freeway with my friend Clayton. What if it all ended then? It almost ended for me as my greatest human relationship was just beginning.

When Midi was pregnant with the boys in 2003, she was in a car accident on the way to work. It gave her a jolt but was not life threatening for her. But it could have been a miscarriage causing accident. What if it ended there for my boys?

In the summer of 2006, Midi, the boys, my mother, and I were in a pretty bad car accident on the 10 freeway in Palm Springs while returning home from a trip. The car didn't flip, but it could have been bad. What if death got us then?

On the night of January 1, 2008 I can think of lots of things that perhaps could have changed that night. What if we hadn't left our cousin's house that night at just that time? What if someone lingered a little longer to talk or to go the bathroom? What if we took the most direct route home instead of taking an alternate route home to show Midi of another way for her to come home from work on a daily basis?

The questions I've posed (the 'What if's) are completely pointless and futile to ask. One could go insane thinking of these kinds of questions. I am not a "What if" kind of guy, thank God. The truth is that people that constantly ask "What if" types of questions are people who think that they can control everything. Seeking to change the past, even if it is just in your mind, is a search for control. We seek control because we are prideful. And we seek control because we want to make ourselves feel safe. The truth is that ultimately we are not in control. Sure, there are some things you can control. You can control what you are going to wear. You can control if you are going to try to do your homework. You can control how much TV you watch. In short, you can control the choices you make on a daily basis. But you cannot control anything outside of you. You cannot control if it will rain...or if there will be an earthquake...or if a drunk driver hits your car killing half of your family. You cannot control how someone feels about you. You can try, but that's called manipulation. You cannot control the aging process leading to death. You can try, through exercise, diet, or plastic surgery, but you are still going to age...and die someday.

My point in highlighting the fact that other than our immediate choices we do not have control is not a call for us all to despair. I am not advocating that because we cannot control the fact that we will die someday that we should live recklessly or apathetically, not caring about our life or others'. Instead I am advocating two things. One, make good choices. You still have a lot of power in what you can control. You can still choose to extend yourself in love rather than to withdraw because you are afraid to open yourself up to pain. You can still choose hope instead of despair. You can still choose forgiveness instead of bitterness. Choices like these have eternal worth. (What you are going to wear, thankfully, does not).

Two, be humble. Get over yourself! You cannot control everything. If you are one who thinks about What Ifs all the time, you need to stop doing that. It is crippling to your growth and it is arrogant. We should not think of the past through the 'What If' lens. We should think of the past rightly. We should remember things in the past through the lens of gratitude. For me, that means not wasting time thinking about how I would have changed things to avoid what happened. It means thinking about Midi and Nathan, missing them, and being grateful that they were ever in my life in the first place. The greatest gifts in my life are ones that I had no control over. I couldn't make Midi love me. It took a while, but she eventually chose to love me. And I certainly had no control over what my child would be like. That he was the most amazing gift God has ever given me, so unique and gifted, so precious and loving, so trusting and innocent...I had no control over.

Thank you, God, for Midi. Thank you for 8 years of her unconditional love. And thank you, God, for Nathan. Thank you that I had the privilege of being his daddy for 4 years. Thank you for all the joy that they brought into my life and into the lives of so many. I am eternally grateful.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Zoo

Today, Lucas and I went to the San Diego Zoo with my sister, brother-in-law, niece, nephew, cousin, and aunt. It was a beautiful day. Lucas got to wear shorts and a short sleeve t-shirt for the first time in months. We saw the baby panda, lions, bears, elephants, gorillas, orangutans, hippos, and many other animals. Lucas had a blast. For me, although I enjoyed the beautiful day and the company of my family, it was another tough day. It was just so sad for me when I saw Lucas and his cousins climb up on a bronze hippo for a picture and give a sillyface pose. Seeing that made me so painfully aware of the absence of Nathan. And it was sad when I saw a double stroller with twins inside. I felt overwhelmed today by the absence of Nathan and Midi. They should have been there with us. I think that any time I'm in a context which previously was a time for the four of us to bond as a family, I feel this acute pain. I think that this is especially true for special outings like the zoo or any vacation.

But I feel this pain every day. I feel this pain when I pick up Lucas from preschool because I remember how I would pick Nathan and Lucas up and talk to them about their day while driving home. And I remember waiting with them for Midi to come home from work and celebrating her arrival with hugs and kisses. I feel this pain nightly when I get Lucas ready for bed because I remember how I would bathe the boys and how Nathan would have his puppyhead towel and Lucas would have his lionhead towel and they would go downstairs naked to get Midi to come upstairs. And I remember how they would jump on their beds and how Midi and I would lay down next to them to read books and pray. And I remember how on most nights one or both of us would fall asleep next to our twin angels. I feel this pain every Saturday when Lucas and I go to Baachan's house because I remember how we would all go as a family. And I remember how the boys would play together and watch the same Clifford VHS tape every week. And I remember how Midi would love to sit in the massage chair and how she would love to talk with my extended family. I miss them so much that I actually feel physical pain my throat or chest.

I spend every waking moment thinking about them and missing them in some form or another. I have no idea what healing will look like for me. Will it mean that I will stop thinking about them as much? Will it mean that when I do think about them, it won't hurt as badly? Will it mean that I can enjoy family times without thinking about how Midi and Nathan are missing? Will it mean I can laugh freely again without feeling like I shouldn't? What will it mean?

Thursday, February 7, 2008


I've been told by a few people that they tried to post a comment, but were unable to. The default setting for this blog is that only people with a google account could post a comment. I've changed that so that anyone can comment. Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to read my blog. I know that your heart is with Lucas and me. And thank you to everyone who has posted a comment already. I am encouraged by you all and feel your support and love.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Lucas' First Day and A Hard Day For Me

Yesterday was Lucas' first day at his new preschool, Bethany Preschool in Long Beach. The whole week leading up to the big day, I tried to prepare Lucas and get him excited for this new chapter in his life. His responses to me were apprehensive at best. The morning went smoothly. He woke up at his usual 7AM and came into my room to wake me up. He got dressed, brushed his teeth, and had breakfast. I quickly got myself ready and made his lunch. When we got to the school it was reception/free play time. I stayed with him from 8 to 8:30AM. He was very shy about playing with the other kids and stayed close to me. I could sense that he was nervous, but he was also interested in playing on the playground. At 8:30 I introduced him to one of his teachers, Ms. Maggie, and told him that I had to leave. He clung on to me nervously and didn't want me to leave. But after reassuring him that I would pick him up later and that he would have a fun day, he gave me a hug and said, "OK. Bye, Daddy." No tears. No meltdown. I am so proud of him!!! Tears started to well up for me as I left the school. I was feeling so much love for Lucas that I couldn't control my emotions. And I was feeling sad that he had to start this new journey without his brother.

Lucas had a great first day. The director watched him for a while and was impressed with how well he adjusted and with how much he knew. He got along with the other kids and followed directions. I arrived to pick him up at about 2PM. When I went in to his room, he was laying down on his cot, waking up from his nap. He ran over, gave me a big hug and said, "I need to go shi (pee)." After talking briefly with his teacher, Ms. Sue, Lucas said goodbye and we walked out. On the way home, I peppered him with questions. Though he wasn't oozing with enthusiasm, I could tell that he felt comfortable at Bethany. Thank God.

Today was Lucas' second day of school. He had another great day. But my day was difficult. I had scheduled to go with a Deputy to see the van. I wanted to retrieve some personal items: Lucas & Nathan's backpacks with their names embroidered on them, their jackets, some toys, and the garage door opener. I expected to have a hard time and to break down. My friend/brother Clayton went with me. The van was being kept in a warehouse/lot that was full of wrecked cars in downtown L.A.. As we parked and started walking to the lot, I started to feel very uneasy. I was scared of seeing the van. After the deputy signed some papers, the man at the lot escorted us to the van. When I first saw the van, I couldn't believe how mangled it was. (Though I was conscious after the accident, I recall very little. At some point I think I went into shock. Visually, I only remember seeing Lucas sitting in his carseat behind me, conscious. I also remember crying to an officer, "Please tell me this is a nightmare." Beyond that, my next memory is being in the hospital.) ***Note: The following is a detailed account of what I saw. The images may be painful to read about. Please skip to the last paragraph if you do not want to know details of what I saw.*** The passenger side of the van was completely caved in. The passenger seat in the front had been pushed all the way into the driver seat. The top of the passenger seat was collapsed like an accordion. About a week ago, I discovered that when the emergency help arrived on scene, Midi was laying across my lap. When I saw how the passenger seat was crushed up against the driver's seat, I could visualize Midi laying across my lap. I wept. I am weeping even now as I am remembering. My wife, partner, and best friend died in my lap.

Then I looked in the back. The seat behind the passenger seat, where Nathan sat in his carseat, was also pushed through the middle and into the seat behind the driver's seat, where Lucas was sitting. Though the entire seat was pressed in at an angle, the carseat was remarkably intact. But I saw a large bloodstain on the seat. My sweet son Nathan must have been bleeding from the left side of his head. I sobbed. I am sobbing now. Nathan suffered a fatal injury. At around 7AM the morning after the crash, I held him as he died in my lap.

When I went to the van today, I knew what I was getting myself into. I knew that I would relive the pain of losing Midi and Nathan. And I knew that I would see things that would give my brain more images to recall the horror of that night and its lasting painful effect on my life. But I am not into avoidance. I do not want to avoid pain if it means superficial healing. And I believe in the hope of the resurrection, of new bodies on the new earth thanks to Jesus' victory over death. And so even though I was afraid of seeing the wrecked van, I was not afraid of it sending me into a downward spiral of despair. And besides, I was very determined to get the personal items, especially the name embroidered backpacks and the jackets. I wanted to have Nathan's backpack and his blue hooded jacket to keep for his memory box. On a final note, it was very difficult to get them, but after about 15 minutes I was able to retrieve everything that I hoped to get.

Sunday, February 3, 2008


People have asked me if there are triggers that cause me to really feel the pain of my loss. I wonder if knowing what they are would be helpful. If I knew, would I avoid the trigger? I don't think that would be healthy. And what would it do for someone else to know what the triggers are? Would they try to keep me from encountering them? I've been crying so much this past month that those triggers have been difficult to identify. But I have identified three.

The first trigger has to do with when people show kindness to Lucas. This has happened on many occasions. His cousin, Robert, from Elk Grove was playing Transformers with him on the day of the burial and funeral service. The next day, Lucas asked me if he could play with Robert again. So Robert and his family (my cousin Bryan's family) came over for a few hours. Upon leaving to go back home, Robert decided that he wanted to give Lucas one of his Transformers named "Blackout". It was such a beautiful gesture of kindness. I was moved to tears. On another occasion, Midi's cousins were over for dinner. As the evening drew to a close, they told me of their plans to watch over Lucas throughout his childhood and into his young adult life. I was moved to tears. Many others have showered Lucas with love in many forms.

I think that there are two reasons why others' kindness to Lucas triggers tears. First is that kindness is of God. It is a beautiful thing to give to one who does not have the automatic reaction of reciprocity. Even more beautiful to give to one who cannot pay you back. Secondly, kindness to Lucas, especially provision for his future, makes me sad because it triggers thoughts of Nathan. I think of how Nathan's life was cut short and how we were all robbed of his future. I know that I must learn how to celebrate Lucas and all of his accomplishments and milestones without it triggering thoughts of how Nathan did not have a chance to reach those same milestones. I don't want Lucas to feel that he is incomplete in any way or to feel guilty because he is here and Nathan is not. This is something that I must reflect on much more.

The second thing that triggers grief for me is when I see others around me grieving their own sense of loss. Midi and Nathan were loved by so many. Everyone around me is hurting. That is not to say that I don't want others to cry or express grief when they are around me. Like I said before, we walk through this together. It is healthy for us to grieve together. It feels especially painful when I see Lucas suffering. While I am glad that he is expressing his grief from time to time and not bottling it inside, it still hurts me so much to see my boy suffering.

The third trigger is visual images of Midi and Nathan. I have so many pictures of them, especially of Nathan. My computer wallpaper is a photo of Lucas and Nathan wrestling and laughing. My cell phone's wallpaper is a photo of the boys playing. My house is filled with family photos, baby photos, vacation photos, wedding of happiness. And though I haven't returned to work yet, my walls at work are covered with pictures of my sons. Every year I had a T.A. make a photo collage of Lucas and Nathan for me. I have three beautiful collages of them in my classroom. One showing them from birth to 1, another showing them from 1 to 2, and the other showing them from 2 to 3. I cherish all of these photos.

Today at Fountain of Life, we celebrated our 1 year anniversary as a church. It was a wonderful time of celebration, but it was also a very difficult time for me. At the end of the service, we watched a video which highlighted the most important moments in our young church. We celebrated our family center. We celebrated our outreach. We celebrated those who have come to faith this year. We celebrated our different ministries and all the people that they have blessed. Then we mourned together as we remembered Midi and Nathan. It was the first time since the tragedy that I have seen video of them. Video is so much harder than just photos. Video captures movement and expressions. It is a much closer image of life. I saw my little boy Nathan playing baseball with me. I saw him moving. I saw the sun on his face. I saw him standing with his brother. And I saw my beautiful Midi teaching my children and other children about God. Oh how I miss them!

Midi and I bought a video recorder when the boys were born. I have many tapes, mostly of Lucas and Nathan growing up. I don't think I am ready to watch these. But I know that they are a treasure. Someday I will watch them. It's just too painful right now.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Lucas' Coping

Midi was pronounced dead on January 1st around 9PM. Nathan was pronounced dead at a little before 7AM on January 2nd. A few hours after Nathan died, I had a talk with Lucas. I asked him if he remembered that we were in a car accident. He said yes. Then I told him that because of the accident, we (Lucas and Papa) were a little hurt, but that we would be OK. And I told him that Ohmma (Mommy) and Nathan were hurt a lot and that they died. I told Lucas that we would not see them again. He then asked me if they were with Jesus. I told him yes. And I told him that in heaven they were not hurt anymore. I have no idea how he knew that they were with Jesus. We had not ever talked about death or heaven with him. Maybe someone did prior to my talk with him. But regardless, he seemed to accept that he wouldn't see them again.

For the first 27 days after the tragedy, Lucas did not weep over the loss of his mother and his twin brother. He observed everyone around him weeping. Whenever he saw me cry, I would explain to him that I was sad and that I missed Ohmma and Nathan very much. And I would ask him if he also missed them. When I would tell him that I am "very sad" he would say that he was only "a little sad". When I would tell him that I missed them "very much" he would say that he only missed them "a little bit". He would also sometimes try to avoid talking about it by acting silly. Sometimes he would even say cheerfully, "When I die, I'm going to see Ohmma and Nathan again." I was so amazed at how well he seemed to be coping. It seemed that he had moved on and that he fully accepted their absence. (In retrospect, it is obvious that he was using avoidance as a coping mechanism.)

But on January 29th grief broke through. Our friend Joe G. came over to play with him for a couple of hours while I went to see his therapist. Joe left about 5 minutes before I got home. When I got home, Lucas was crying inconsolably...the kind of crying where a child struggles to breathe. I immediately comforted him and he settled down some. A few minutes later, I took him to the bathroom where he continued to whimper and cry. I then asked him if he was sad because he missed Ohmma and Nathan. He nodded and immediately started sobbing like I've never seen him sob before. It broke all of our (Midi's parents were also there) hearts and we cried with him. He was finally able to express his grief and share it with us. While heartbroken, I also was relieved and grateful. For in the meeting with his therapist, she had expressed that one of her hopes was that Lucas would be able to express his grief with me.

Since that day, Lucas has shared with me two other times that he misses Ohmma and Nathan. It is so difficult to know what is going on for a child. I know that this loss will affect him in every stage of his life. While every parent should always concern themselves with the emotional health of their child, I feel an especially heavy burden for Lucas. This heavy burden, however, is my privilege. I will gladly suffer with my son. I'm so glad that his healing has begun. But Lucas has lost more than any of us, including me. He lost his mother and he lost his twin brother, his best friend. For Lucas' whole life prior to the tragedy, he was always with Nathan. I think they may have spent a total of a few hours in their four years of life (plus 35 weeks in the womb) apart from each other. So I think Lucas' healing is the most difficult. Yet I have hope that Lucas will heal completely.