Comfort Food 2: My year(s) in kdrama

Five years ago, I had a piece published on Dramabeans for their Theme of the Month about food. The piece, titled Comfort Food, was a somewhat raw post for me about my mother’s stroke and the way in which I used Korean rice porridge to try to get my father to eat something while she was so sick. It was an intensely personal piece.

My mother died three weeks ago now and, when her passing was finally near, I was inspired to write a follow up piece about how her long illness and death affected my relationship with dramas. Art was a haven for me this last decade and especially since 2018. But it’s not a haven that always worked for me. Writing about television may seem a frivolous act, but to me it’s been a place I can go when reality is too stressful to deal with.

Because my original piece was on Dramabeans, I had hoped that this piece would be as well. However, it appears not to have made the grade for the December Theme of the Month and so I post it here.

My Mum is finally at peace now. And I use that term not as a platitude but genuinely. Dying is terrible and painful and messy. Death is peace. I haven’t had the time and distance yet to feel the full weight of my mother’s absence. But even when that grief hits, I will always have the memory of how peaceful she was there at the end.

I wrote this on 10 December 2024, three days before my mother’s death. But I put a publish date on it of 30 December – the 10th anniversary of my mother’s stroke.

R.I.P Mum. You were a wonderfully warmhearted person that everybody loved and you will be missed.

Comfort Food 2: My year(s) in kdrama

My mother died nine years ago.
And five years ago.
And last month.
And today.
And probably tomorrow.
And this fun piece is about my relationship with Kdrama.
Or rather this fun piece is about how what I’m feeling affects my drama choices or if I want to watch dramas at all.
This is about the year my mother finally died.

It’s 6am on a Sunday morning as I’m writing this and heading into Christmas. My mother has been put finally into palliative care and is sleeping comfortably. Since I flew home to support my Dad in September I’ve made pots and pots and even more pots of juk. Dakjuk to be precise. Because it was dakjuk that I made for him when Mum was in hospital all those years ago. The decision that sparked one of my earliest Dramabeans pieces about the role of food in family and community and comfort.

It’s Dakjuk he still wants me to make all these years later. And my brothers still complain there’s never enough kimchi.
(I’m out of kimchi. They are displeased).

Mum has a day left. Maybe hours. It’s been a long long road.

Mum is now 80 of course. An 80 year old who has been very sick for a very long time. And while the reality of her absence hasn’t hit me yet, there is a difference between 80 and a long illness and 71 and a sudden short, sharp shock. The latter is unique and terrible and created an isolating sense of experiencing something others couldn’t understand. The former is just life. And life is endlessly sad. But not necessarily tragic. More importantly it’s universal. Everyone has or will experience this. So much so that we barely speak of it. And we should.

My relationship with dramas has changed so much since my mother’s stroke in 2014.

At times I needed to be outdoors. At times with family. At times I needed to immerse myself in serious and intellectual dramas, the kind that entrance me with their multi-layered cleverness. In 2017, I devoured Forest of Secrets in one day and Circle in another. In 2018, I watched every drama made, racked up 38 beans and burned out completely. In 2019, I aimed for balance in all things and only watched a few, choice dramas that I loved. I rewatched I’m Not a Robot every year like clockwork and loved it still. And tried to write and write and write.

I found myself immersed in shows about grief like A Piece Of Your Mind, Someday or One Day or Dark (two of these are not Kdrama, I hope the Drama Gods are kind). I felt like my grief was private and unique and specific. The grief of someone whose relative is gone but nonetheless still alive. Dancing on a terrible chasm I was forced to pretend wasn’t there. My mother died in 2014. My mother was still very much alive.

I needed Banbogi, I think we all do.

And then the pandemic hit and I felt as though dramas let me down. I couldn’t find the solace anywhere. Not in the good or the bad or the so-bad-it’s-good. Reality was too real. Dramas felt like a bizarre dimension where the pandemic didn’t exist and climate change was mentioned only in passing.

This year I dove back into dramas, ready to love again. But it felt as though everything was a soufflé. All the elements were there but it collapsed anyway. I’d say that I too am that soufflé but the metaphor feels a bit overwrought. I’m just too tired and here, at the end, I’ve dived finally into rank escapism. The stream-of-consciousness of weekenders like Live Your Own Life and The Real Has Come. The nonsense of Heavenly Idol and Strong Woman Nam-soon. The Hallmark Christmas movie and any of its Kdrama counterparts. In all of this, Twinkling Watermelon brought me joy with its sunrise-tipped nostalgia and its optimism.

My father is refusing to leave the hospital at all. He sleeps in a recliner while she lies near him, peaceful. In a hospital bed. Waiting.

Soon, my brothers and I will eat Korean rice porridge like we have so many times over the last five years and then I’ll bring a bowl to my father in that cold, sterile room. With the last of the damn kimchi. (I need more kimchi).

And I’ll reflect on that piece I wrote five years ago. About hospitals and strokes and family and food. And how so much has changed even though it may seem as though it’s the same. This act is ending. There will be a short intermission, as Thirty But Seventeen told me so many years ago.

And then the next performance can begin.

Hopefully I’ll have enough kimchi.


6 thoughts on “Comfort Food 2: My year(s) in kdrama

  1. Dramabeans was foolish not to publish this because it’s lovely. There’s something elemental about Korean foods. The rice porridge is just nice, calm, and comforting. On the other hand, kimchi is like a little kick, not a hard one, just enough to remind you to keep moving. Grief sucks and it’s going to be terrible for longer than you want. It’s hard and people say stupid and unwittingly cruel platitudes, but mostly they mean well. But it will ease, eventually. I’m so sorry.

    If you weren’t on the other side of the world, I’d drop off some damn kimchi.

  2. I cannot fully understand what you are going through, and yet I always feel like I became a bit wiser whenever I finish reading your writings. It is a shame DB does not appreciate your pieces as much as Beanies do. Too dark I guess? Yeah well, that is life and that is real.

  3. Popping in to send you hugs and wishes! Rice porridge or “Kanji” as we call it, is a comfort food like nothing else (when kimchi is not found, add some pickle and a pappadum!), and I can see why one would reach out to it in times of grief, tiredness, or just when in need of something  consoling… Drama and food as escape routes are something I can align with too. Grieving is very personal, so no words of solace from random people on the internet are likely to help, but you’ve captured the gist of it all anyway – this is the Circle of Life, and everyone must go through it. Even as grief is individual, there is also a story that is shared by all.  

  4. Thank you for writing this LT, it is a shame that it wasn’t posted on drama beans because I think everyone can relate to how you are feeling. I remember in the early days, all I could do was to remember we all needed to eat three times a day. The love that goes into preparing a comforting meal is something I’ve always appreciated about Korean dramas, even the annoying family weekend dramas.
    It doesn’t get easier but soon you can recall happier moments, the moments where you laughed hysterically for no reason.

  5. I’m so sorry about your mother. I hope you find the strength to process the grief and move on from it.

    This is such a wonderful piece and I think Dramabeans should have published it.

    My heart goes out to you and your family.

    Thank you for sharing this with us.

  6. First of all, my sincere condolences.

    My father went to the Lord on 8 Dec 2023, a few days before your mum. He was 88 but had been a dialysis patient for more than 20 years. We didn’t find out he was born with only one kidney till the day he was diagnosed with kidney failure. Still he beat the odds when the docs told us that dialysis patients don’t usually last past 7 years, 10 at most.

    He was actually doing well, till he had that darn fall. Spent his last months in hospital, where my mum visited everyday, sometimes even twice a day. During his past stays, he had always looked forward to meal times. Not that the food was good, but he always believed that food was important to keep the body going. Not this time however, he hardly ate, saying that the food was tasteless. And it broke my mother’s heart (and ours).

    This past Christmas was obviously a quiet affair. And the coming Chinese New year will be too. For the first time, we’re catering food for our reunion dinner, when previously my mum would cook up a storm. I think it pains her to cook the dishes my father so loved.

    Sorry for rambling. I just wanted to let you know you’re not alone and it somehow delved into a release of sorts for me.

    Sending a virtual hug.

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