Today, I want to talk about the end of life. Yes, it’s a morbid topic, but it’s what has been swirling in my head as my parents are aging and I am having difficulty talking about it with them because of the cultural divide. So in my family at least and many of the others I’ve observed in Korea, we don’t talk about death. Nothing about end of life can even be brought up because that means you wish your parents to die or something. I’ve been exposed to the importance of end-of-life wishes, care, etc. here in the U.S. so needless to say, I’m incredibly frustrated by this lack of communication.
Normally I’d research why this practice of death as a taboo topic has come about, but at the moment, my frustration blocks me from objectively looking at this. So what do I do? I remembered a fun little folk story that has taught many children in Korea about the importance of elders.
Let me see if I remember the story. The gist is like this.
In an ancient time, there was this thing called Goreyo-Jang. Basically, if a person got too old and frail and couldn’t contribute to the society, they were given a burial so to speak. Old people were rounded up, taken to a cave in the forest somewhere, given some amount of food and left there. They were too frail to come back to their home, so they were literally buried.
There was a high-level official who had an old and frail mother. He loved her so much that he couldn’t bear to do Goreyo-Jang even though he had to. So he hid his mother in the house and spoke to no one about it. Well, this was a time of weakened Korea so a strong neighboring kingdom (guess which one) gave an ultimatum to the king. If he can solve three difficult riddles, then the country would be left alone for its cleverness. If not, the king would have to pay a large sum of money or be prepared to go to a war.
I don’t remember all three riddles, but one of them was that they were given a marble with a hole through it, except the hole was not a straight path but twisted. No one could figure this riddle out except for this high official’s mother, who was old and wise. So when it comes out that he’s been hiding his mother from following the law, the king abolished Goreyo-Jang instead of punishing him.
Moral of the story I guess is respect your elders.
And what has this to do with end of life? I have no idea. I just needed distraction from frustration. 🙂