When a Stranger at the Airport Noticed Me Crying for My Sick Mother
A few years ago, my father called me at my office and said, “Let’s go for lunch.” I had just graduated and was working my first “adult” job. It was exciting and grown-up to say, “I’m meeting someone for lunch.”
At that lunch, my father told me my mother had cancer. They caught it early. Everything would be fine. We cried while sitting on a sunny patio in front of our favorite coffee shop.
A year of surgeries and chemo later, everything was supposedly going well. Mom was on the mend. I moved to South Korea with my husband and became pregnant with our first child. When I was three months pregnant my father called. The cancer had come back — and spread. She now had seven brain tumors. They were treating it aggressively, but no one really knew what her odds were.
When my son was 9 months old, my father called. My mother had suffered a seizure while at home with my teenage brother. She was in a coma. They had taken her to a hospice. I frantically bought two plane tickets and threw clothing into a suitcase. My husband took us to the bus station to catch a 2 a.m. bus to the airport. I spent four hours on a bus hurtling down the highway with an infant. Four hours to sit and wonder what was happening at home. We arrived at the airport at 6 a.m. I spent three hours carrying an infant, a giant suitcase and a car seat. We boarded the plane to Japan for the first leg. I must have looked shell-shocked. I have heard the expression, “Like a dream,” before, but it wasn’t until then that I knew what it meant.
We landed in Tokyo’s Narita airport for a three-hour layover, and it all came crashing down. I collapsed to the floor in the seating area, baby in my arms and wept. Gasping, choking sobs came out, and my son began to wail with me. This was before smartphones and Skype. I had no way of knowing what I was going home to. Was my mother already gone? Did I miss my chance to say goodbye? Was she still in a coma holding on? Was my teenage brother OK? Had my father, married to my mother for almost 40 years, fallen apart?
I sat on the floor and cried for my mother like a child lost at a fair. People looked at me, concerned, but not willing to get involved. After a couple of minutes, an older Korean woman sat down next to me. She gently took my son from me and handed me a bottle of water. She dug through my carry-on and found a diaper and bottle. She changed my son and fed him. She patted my arm and smiled. I didn’t speak much Korean and she no English.
She helped me carry all of my belongings to the plane. She convinced the flight attendants to change her seat so she would be next to me. For the next 13 hours, she kept me together. When we finally landed in Atlanta, she walked with me to the baggage claim and helped me collect my belongings. She stayed by my side as I rushed into the arms of my father and then slipped away.
When my dad asked, “Who was that?” all I could say was, “A mother,” because I knew in my heart that was the truth. She was someone’s mother, and she saw another daughter and mother in distress and helped.
I have never seen her again. I don’t even know her name. But I hope that somewhere she is happy. I hope that life has been kind to her. Because she deserves it.
Sometimes people pass through our lives at the worst of times. They step in and help carry the burden. They are proof that, at its heart, humanity is good.
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