Friendship. Family. Farewells.

“Blood doesn’t make family, love does.” – Unknown

Photo by Ylanite Koppens on

Have you ever been so wholeheartedly embraced, welcomed, and accepted into someone else’s family? Where within moments of meeting, you know you’re going to be in each other’s lives forever. That’s how I felt when I met my college best friend’s family during our first week of orientation almost 15 years ago. As soon as I was introduced to them, our fates were sealed. As much as I love her family, her grandmother definitely held a special place in my heart. I thought of her as my Korean grandmother. Her strength, determination, big heart, and warm hugs drew me to her instantly. She was fiercely independent and had stories for days. She had the most spectacular garden and delighted in giving people tours while telling you all about the different plants and flowers in there. Even when I moved away after college, we kept in touch, and she was thrilled when I moved back to Portland. I was invited for lunches, happy hours, dinners, holidays, you name it.

She was instrumental in helping me secure a job after my MPH. In her caring way, she would always ask how the job search was going and would always wish me all the best. One day during one of our numerous conversations, she remembered that the daughter of one of the women in her book club also worked in public health. Without any hesitation, she rang her up and set up a meeting over happy hour. After the meeting, the lady asked for my CV and promised to let me know when she saw any openings that would suit me. Shortly afterwards, I get an email with a link to a Research Analyst position at a nonprofit health IT organization. After I applied, she put in a good word for me, and I went through the screening process (phone interview). I remember her telling me that although she couldn’t vouch for my work (since she hadn’t actually worked with me before), she could vouch for my enthusiasm and was impressed with my resume. After a series of interviews, I got the job – 11 months after I had graduated with my MPH. Although I was only in this position for a short period of time, I can never forget the significant role my Korean grandma played in making it happen. She was so excited when I got the job offer.

Over the last few years (since moving to Ghana), my best friend has kept me updated on her. When she had her first stroke, I prayed fervently for her recovery. I was relieved when I heard she was getting better. Almost a week ago, I found out she had yet another stroke and she passed on. I was speechless. It felt like an out of body experience. It’s been a few days now and I am still processing the fact that I won’t see her again (at least not on this side of heaven). My heart is broken. I can’t believe that when I do make my way back to the US to visit, she won’t be there. She won’t be there to hug me, tell me what she’s been up to, show me the new plants in her garden, and overfeed me. I wish I could have seen her just one more time. To tell her that I am so grateful to her for caring about me, for loving me, for always thinking of me. To tell her how much I love her and appreciate who she is.

I love you Grandma Cha. I will miss you so very much. I hope I can be half the woman you were. Rest well.

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