- Death or dying
My grandmother was a sweet woman. She was the kind of person who would give you a hug as soon as she set her eyes upon you. She would welcome you in, feed you, offer you love. She didn’t have to know you and she didn’t have much, but she’d give you what she could.
At the same time, my grandmother struggled with so much. So much that I didn’t understand until I was older. When she died, it felt like I lost one of the elements that made the world real. Like suddenly, trees or water or clouds had been removed. My grandmother’s, my Mawmaw’s, love for me was so powerful that it felt like the world became a bit darker, a bit less complete in her absence.
It wasn’t until about nine months after her death that I mourned.
Strangely enough, it all happened over the course of a few days. I heard “First Love,” Suga’s solo from the WINGS album, for the first time. I was a new fan then and this was before I considered myself an “ARMY.”
I felt a connection to that song. I couldn’t quite put it into words. The lyrics were in Korean. I didn’t know Korean. I just felt it.
A few weeks after that first listen, I wrote an English adaptation of Suga’s lyrics. In my version, I talked about my grandmother and a pink quilt she made for me when I was just a little girl. That blanket had a heart stitched into the corner, a symbol she always used to mark her love for me.
Every time I listened to “First Love,” as Min Yoongi wove this story of the piano, I couldn’t quite escape the image that kept popping into my mind: Mawmaw’s pink blanket. That heart in the corner. Given how often I listened to that album when it came out (and even still, today, I suppose), I couldn’t help but to hear “heart stitched on an old blanket” in time with “한 켠에 자리잡은 갈색 piano.” It made what was already an emotional song even more personal.
Each time I listened to that song, it lingered there — in the corner of my mind. Just like the emotions I kept trying to avoid. The grief, sadness, anger, hurt, pain.
So, I did what I always do when the emotions are too strong: I started writing.
Though I am by no stretch of the imagination a rapper, I listened for the cadence of his words and the scheme of his rhymes. I don’t know Korean, but I know how to recognize patterns and rhythms. After years of faking like I could sight read in high school, I had the patterns of “First Love” memorized within hours. I tried to match my flow as best I could with Yoongi’s while rewriting the lyrics in English. Those English lyrics were about my grandmother, my Mawmaw, and that patchwork pink blanket.
It was cathartic for me, I think. I felt more whole after I’d written it. Even all these years later, I look back at that night and I am in wonder. Because it was a strange sort of disconnected mourning process wrapped up in notes, scribbles, and scratched-out lines. A kind of feverish rush of emotions. And a repeating song, because I had to get it right. I had to get it right.
I don’t know how many times I cried while I tried to get the cadence perfect, to get the words to match the beat. Going through so many different variations and memories, different verses, was healing. When I made it all the way through the first time, I bawled. I cried like I hadn’t allowed myself to cry. I gave myself permission to just let go.
I wrote the whole thing in less than eight hours, staying up until 4 a.m. to finish the piece. All of this while also writing my dissertation, while applying for jobs, while trying to pretend like I wasn’t struggling through the grieving process. I paid the price of exhaustion, but the payoff was more meaningful.
I remember when: I was just a little girl
I’d listen to her sing while she was playing with my curls
She’d tell me I was special, laugh, and sing again.
At the time, I didn’t think, I didn’t realize it then. Forgetting.
“What’s that thing called when you mend?”
I thought that she was joking and we’d just laugh about it.
I didn’t know it was the beginning of the end.
Never if, it was a matter of when.
And she says . . .
“Even if I go, you’ll be fine.”
Losing Mawmaw was a slow process really. She had Alzheimer’s, so she started changing years before her diagnosis. She’d forget what things were called. I spent so much time with her that I was the first to notice outside of my Pa. She and Pa tried to keep it hidden. I knew though.
She’d ask things like: What’s that thing with bristles that you pull through your hair? “A hairbrush, Mawmaw?” She’d laugh and bop the side of her head as if to say, “Duh! Of course, I knew that!” I didn’t realize at the time. I didn’t know. Part of me always wished that I had noticed earlier, paid more attention to it. Even if I was one of the first to know. But I was just a kid then. Her health started to decline after Pa passed away. I rarely got to speak to her because she forgot how to use the phone.
We colored the last time I saw her.
I was off at grad school. She was so proud of me.
Then, a call . . . and she was gone.
I remember when: this was not so long ago,
A call before the sun always makes my heart go cold
Four-thirty-seven, and I really should’ve known
I was already missing a big part of my soul.
When I rewrote the song — this strange, cathartic adaptation — it was in the middle of a turbulent time between sides of my family. Inheritance, what little there was of it, was an issue. To them. I was out-of-state at school when it all happened. They barely held the funeral in time for me to make it back. They didn’t give me time to mourn.
I remember being so angry with them, so hurt. They took jewelry from her house, the things that might’ve been worth money, I guess. Then, when I came in to go through the jewelry, I didn’t notice what was gone and gave half of what was left to them. That’s what Mawmaw would’ve wanted. I think I changed when I realized hours later. I look back at that trip home and I realize now that I changed. What trust I’d had before had shriveled and I became a bit more cynical, a little bit more disillusioned. A little different. I’m still working through trying to forgive them for it.
I got the recipe box.
The thing is: they can have all of that stuff, for whatever money they feel it is worth.
Sadly, those material things and that money won’t fill the holes in their hearts. If anything, the weight of it might make those holes bigger. Someday, I truly hope that they heal. I hope they become better.
The turbulence didn’t let me mourn properly, though. I sank into a pretty terrible depression, lower than I had been in years. It was always Yoongi’s intonation in the third verse that grabbed my heart. Desperation. Sheer desperation.
His, for his dream. Mine, for what I once had.
I remember when: I was stumbling in the dark.
I saw no escaping it, the hole in my heart.
Gasping for air and I can’t. make it.
It was months before my heart started beating again . . .
They thought that they could take the most valuable things
but I have the recipes and I have the memories.
I have that blanket and I have you here with me,
your voice in my head sayin’, “Baby, baby, baby, you can make it!”
Thank you for your endless faith in me,
even after I left, when Pa was buried next to Dad.
Even when things took a turn for the bad,
you’d tell me “It’s alright!” and you’d just laugh.
The whole process of writing this strange version of “First Love” was a turning point in my healing. It helped me work through my emotions: my grief, my anger and desperation, my hope. That whole experience, it was a break. Maybe not the cleanest break. A kind of fracturing in the facade I’d created that told the world “I’m fine.” Somehow, it felt like Yoongi was helping me through that, through the grief and the anger. Letting it go. I put no responsibility on him for my own healing, but I’m thankful that his song helped me nonetheless.
Murdock, C. (2020). The hurt before healing. The Rhizomatic Revolution Review , (1). https://ther3journal.com/.
Murdock, Chelsea. “The Hurt Before Healing.” The Rhizomatic Revolution Review , no.1, 2020. https://ther3journal.com/.
I Remember When by Chelsea Murdock is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Illustration credit: Zuza Resides @ResidesIn