How do you Mourn when you’re 8000 Kilometres from Home?

How do you mourn when you are so far away from the grief? This is something I’ve been asking myself over and over again since last Saturday when I got an email from my mother telling me that a friend back in Ireland had died. He had been suffering from cancer which set in and aggressively took over his body. In the end he died in his sleep.

It’s not the first time that someone I’ve known has died since I’ve been in Korea, but the way I have dealt with it each time has been different. I never knew what to do, and I still don’t know what to do.

Everyone has their own way of dealing with problems, and there is no right way or wrong way to deal with most. We can only hope that we can respond the best way that suits us. I think that of the three times I’ve had to mourn seriously in Korea, I can’t say that I’ve done it properly at all. I blame distance as much as I blame my own nature.

Richie was everyone’s friend. He was as Dunboyne as Brady’s Pub and parish church, and more. I’ve always been a closer friend with his younger brother Alan, but don’t let that take away from this, please. I really only got to know Richie when I was in my early twenties, and there were plenty of people of who knew him a lot better and a lot longer than I ever could. Back in the day, I can clearly remember wandering up to his small flat above the supermarket where I used to work, and sitting up drinking cans, and listening to him or his friends play the guitar late into the night.

Richie and his brother Alan playing in the Sugar Club last summer.

It was always a bit surreal as I could clearly remember that apartment being the storeroom when I worked in the supermarket downstairs, but fortunately enough good nights soon removed those awkward connections. Those days we’d be leaving the pub anxiously waiting for a text message from someone that simply said, “no. 5 is alive”. It almost became a motto for the weekend. Often we were not disappointed, and many a great night was had with Richie as our host extraordinaire.

The thing about Richie was he was just pure sound. And I mean proper sound. He was a decent, loving, caring, and engaging young man who loved everything about everyone and always gave you the time of day and listened to your story. If there were more people like him in the world then it would be a better place, and I say that from the perspective that there can never be enough people like Richie in the world.

I’m not sharing my own obscured and mournful perspective on Richie’s personality. If you ask anyone who knew Richie, even for a few minutes, they could not disagree with this assertion. That being said, I’m sure Richie had his enemies. We all do. But some of us choose to dwell on these things more than others. I don’t think Richie was the kind of person who did that.

When I first came to Korea, a good friend of mine’s father died. I didn’t deal with the situation very well. I dwelt on it for days but never picked up the phone and spoke with my friend. I was young and had never dealt with funerals and death well before. Usually I prefer to be on my own with my thoughts, but this wasn’t about me. Dealing with something like this can never be overly personal. I didn’t cope well, and more importantly I let my friend down when he needed me the most.

A couple of years later while in the middle of a writers’ group meeting the Grand Ole Opry in Itaewon, I got a phone call from my Da. The news wasn’t good. My grandmother who had been ill for a long time passed away. It was a long struggle, but it was something that, even if I knew how to deal with it in Korea, Ireland was the place I should be.

I got that phonecall on a Sunday night, and on Monday I went to work and told them that my grandmother had passed away and that I wanted to return to Ireland for the funeral. My hagwon at the time offered me four days off to travel, which when you consider that most Irish companies will only offer you three when a relative dies, I thought this was generous. However, if they had offered me an extra day I could have made it home.

Unfortunately, because of this lack of an extra day I couldn’t afford the flight. If I had an day extra I could have afforded it. My Da said he would pay for the flight, but I didn’t have enough of a limit on my credit card to pay for the ticket. I took the bus back home and the next day I went to work. I figured I was better off in work keeping busy than sitting at home kicking myself over that flight, and more other more distressing things.

Both times I have crawled into my own hole and kept to myself. I don’t think I’ve been overly upset and I don’t think I’ve mulled over the loss. I have just kept to myself and got on with it.

Not being in Ireland means I don’t absorb much of the grief. It’s a sad situation where I have to compare it with the idea of ‘out of sight, out of mind’. It’s not the subject of conversation on everyone around me’s tongues, and I can’t attend the funeral, and I won’t see his family and I won’t see his brother Alan, my friend. I am here on my own, both physically and emotionally, and with deaths I’m used to dealing with it that way, but this time it’s different. I’m waiting for everyone else to return to normal so they’ll pop up on skype and I can talk about this. I want to mourn and I want to mourn with my friends who knew my friend as much, if not more than I did.

I can’t help that being in Korea at this time is the wrong place to be. Why am I here when my friends are going through ordeals like this but it seems to pass over me almost like a crow?

Before, I wrote about unpacking boxes and looking at it like it was a time machine, and how it can feel like the world had stopped as you moved on, but with death it’s different. This is the kind of time capsule which is always waiting to haunt you whenever you pass down the street and pass somewhere that you shared a memory.

All week an amazing tribute to Richie has been posted on Facebook: photos after photo of him with friends sharing good times as only he knew best. Every like I see I smile and cry at the same time. It’s strange how we deal with memory and mourning at the same time.

But there’s more to it than that. It’s so complicated now that I can hardly put a finger on everything that needs to be talked about. The more I think about it, the more the reality sinks home that this young man who was full of life, love, and decency is no longer with us, the more I struggle to regard anything that has no human relevance as necessary.

Regardless of everything we have, we are nothing without the people around us. They are the people who remember us and they are the people who make us great.

Thank you Richie for being who you were, and for being the best that you could always have been. You will be missed by everyone you every touched, and that number of people is large, and those who knew you best can never forget you. Never. And we will all love you always.

Now, despite my own attempts at mourning, all my thoughts and love go to Richie’s family, especially his wife Helena and daughter Tessa Rose, and his parents and brothers and sisters, and his closest friends, several of whom are good friends of mine. Be strong everyone.

Rest in Peace.

Richie Yeats 1976-2012

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6 thoughts on “How do you Mourn when you’re 8000 Kilometres from Home?

  1. It is very difficult, in my opinion. Last year when my mother passed away in May, I had just returned from the US from being with my family and had to turn around and go back immediately. It was leukemia and we really didn’t know how long she had, and I couldn’t really afford to not work for several months even though Samsung offered me an extended leave of absence to go home for this. Later in the year, a close friend died. Again, luckily, Samsung let me go home for the funeral. Losing someone close you is never easy, but I think being able to have some kind of closure, whether it be being able to be home for the funeral or just posting a blog or some kind of memorial about the person. Just saying goodbye in your own way. For me, trying to remember the good things about the people I’ve lost while here helps and trying to keep ties to mutual friends through the internet. Very sorry for your loss – it’s never easy.

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    • Thanks Elizabeth. I think you’re lucky that Samsung were able to offer you that chance, not many companies would be so generous. I’m lucky enough to have long holidays but I still would struggle to afford traveling home and surviving off my salary here whilst trying to pay the bills in Korea.

      But you’re right, we do have to make the best of an awful situation, and the internet can help by allowing us to express ourselves a little more than just sending a mass card (that’s an Irish thing), or whatever. All this week and last i’ve been watching these photographs been posted on facebook and they’re such a fantastic tribute.

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  2. Sorry to hear about your friend. I also lost a few friends to cancer in their 30’s and that alone is just a terrible ordeal, from far away or locally. It’s hard to believe that it was their time to go and hard to make sense of their kids having to go on without them. I also know how it is to feel disconnected due to many miles. Seems like writing this blog was a good way to get somewhere close to feeling better. As the years go by and you see his daughter, you will always see him too. A warm, if sometimes disconcerting feeling.

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    • Thanks Connie. It’s a strange situation but I’m not the first to deal with it. Writing this blog did help a little, both as a way of expressing how I felt but also as a way of connecting emotionally with my friends back home who are struggling a lot more than I am.

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