I turned eighteen shortly after starting my first year in college. I was shocked when I found a birthday card from my father in my mailbox. My parents have never been ones to mark occasions that most people celebrate. Had I woken up in an alternate universe? Could I be hallucinating? I was reassured that all was as it should be when I pulled out the card. It contained no message and was signed “Rev. David H. Kim.” My dad’s secretary was keeping track of birthdays and sending out cards from a pre-signed stack to everyone in his congregation.
I can’t remember a single time my dad ever bought my mom chocolate for Valentine’s Day or flowers for their wedding anniversary. The words “I love you” have never, not once, either on purpose or by accident, ever fallen from my father’s lips. It’s not that he doesn’t feel genuine love. He worships my mother. His children and grandchildren know that he loves them deeply. It’s outward, obvious expressions of love that make him distinctly uncomfortable.
Almost five years ago, my mother was diagnosed with primary amyloidosis. The prognosis was dire. The doctors told her she had eighteen months to live. My sister managed to get her into a clinical trial at Memorial Sloan-Kettering. My parents were living in Korea at the time, but returned to the States so that my mother could get treated. My father left her in my sister’s care and returned to Korea to finish out his work obligations, intending to return as soon as the semester was over.
The aggressive, experimental chemotherapy regimen knocked my mother’s disease into remission, but not before it nearly killed her. One day, she was exhausted and suffering and ready to give up the fight. She called my father to say goodbye. She didn’t think she would ever see him again.
My dad told her that she had to hold on. He told her that he wanted to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary together. I know the chemotherapy drugs did their part, but I also know without a doubt that what pulled my mom back from the brink were my father’s words. My sister reported that the phone call was a turning point. When my mother hung up the phone, she had resolved to live. She began to force herself to eat and to force herself to get up out of bed and walk around. My dad’s love saved her.
Yesterday when I mentioned that it would be their 50th wedding anniversary on Sunday, both my mother and father seemed to have forgotten all about it. My mother said, “Oh, really? No, I think it’s already passed.” I had to pull out a calendar to show her that Sunday really would be their 50th wedding anniversary. My siblings and I have long been planning a huge party that will take place this summer, but today I want to mark their golden anniversary with these words. I have never once seen my parents kiss or hug each other. I have never once heard them exchange the words “I love you.” But they have always shown me what a true partnership looks like and what true love is. My parents don’t read this blog and they’ll probably never see these words, but just as they have never had to actually say “I love you,” I think they know the words in my heart.