After my mother died I received a letter from a friend in Chicago, a former Maryknoll priest, who precisely intuited what I felt. The death of a parent, he wrote, "despite our preparation, indeed, despite our age, dislodges things deep in us, sets off reactions that surprise us and that may cut free memories and feelings that we had thought gone to ground long ago. We might, in that indeterminate period they call mourning, be in a submarine, silent on the ocean's bed, aware of the depth charges, now near and now far, buffeting us with recollections."
—Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking
When I was little, my Mom snuck me out of school to watch Disney’s Fantasia in the theatre. We were still living in Seoul, where I was born. I remember the magic of it, how enthralled I was by the synergy between animation and sound. I was especially moved by the last sequence, “Night on Bald Mountain / Ave Maria.” My mother said I sat still for over two hours, mouth open and entranced. The imagery and music would haunt me for a long time afterward.
I watched it again years later. I was surprised, and a little sad, to find myself bored—the experience desaturated, and overlong.
I’ll always be grateful to my mother for exposing me to the film when I was purest, able to take in its beauty without bias or the kind of dulling of the senses that perhaps comes with age. (Is this where “adulterated” comes from?)
It’s been a crazy few weeks, but things are starting to stabilize. Mom is physically stronger. She’s on medication. We’ve secured a PCP, a psychiatrist, and a neuro referral. Labs have been completed. We’ve untangled much of our parents’ finances. We’ve legal help, made headway with facilities and homes, the house is clean and 50% organized. We’ve sold the car. We have a plan.
We’re about halfway to our GoFundMe goal.
Mom is still not someone we recognize—the tender, soft-spoken woman who reared us, and with whom I so recently collaborated on my animated short film Chamoe—but we’re hopeful that she’ll return.
We miss her.
I miss my life in NYC, too. My friends, my studio, my work.
One afternoon just days before everything came crashing down, I noticed striking shadow play in my bedroom. I’d noted it as reference for future animation studies:
What a luxury, to have been able to engage with such a moment.
I’ll never take anything for granted, ever again.
So much has happened, a forgotten dam collapsing in the space of just 96 hours in early December. The intensity of that rupture has forged me into something I don’t yet fully recognize; I’ve become a stranger to myself. Ironically, I’ve also never been more certain of what I am.
I say to a friend: I hope some good art comes out of all this.
But likely: after a little rest. Thank you for your patience.
Here’s an animated short film I watched recently. It’s not the most uplifting, but it was timely, and I found the technique and storytelling inspiring:
As I come into the new year, I’m lifted up by friends who’ve shown up for me something fierce (you know who you are); TLB members and readers (that’s you); the ever-generous souls in the animation community like Animation Obsessive. I’ve also been blown away by the kindness of strangers and touched by the empathy of professionals who deal with death daily but manage to maintain a steady heart for the living.
Kindness matters. May it return to you a hundred-fold.
Until next time. And happy end to 2022.
My mom, also an artist, took me to Fantasia as a small girl as well and I recall being astounded by the dancing broomsticks! I am hesitant to re-watch it...preserving this memory of my mom and me seems best for now. Mom passed away from Alzheimer’s in 2021 but her spirit lives on each time I see her beautiful illustrations. Thank you for this emotional piece.
Seneca's consolations letters are very powerful. In this letter, he wrote to a woman called Marcia who had lost her son. I hope you find this old wisdom helpful: