It’s been a while since my last post, and I promise I will get to all the comments that have piled up soon. I just wanted to put a short post about a KAD blogger Julia Ann Mendelson who recently passed away after a hard fought battle with Leukemia. My thoughts go out to her friends and family. Please visit her blog for more information and and to read the eulogy which I have also pasted below. -GS
Julia Ann Mendelson, 구지혜, passed on her light the morning of Saturday, May 31st, 2008, at the age of 25 years and 2 days, after a 2-year battle with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. She is survived by her family in Israel, especially: Yudit, Ranaan, and Gilad (Gigi); her second adoptive mother Ajumma and her husband Ajossi; Ajumma’s sons and daughter, who gave Julia her first bone marrow transplant; her closest friends Leila, Maya and the rest of her Israeli friends and loved ones; John Arbour, who found love within her enfolding embrace and wished he could give her an equal light to share; and the thousands and thousands of people she touched with her wondrous writing, conversation, laughter, and smile across the Korean adoptee universe, foodie world, and every continent. Her reach was far, her heart was good, and her love encompassing. May we remember her as Julia Ji Hye, lover, beloved, and light to our community and our hearts. May 29th 1983 – May 31st, 2008.
Julia Ji Hye Mendelson
May 29th, 1983 (Seoul, South Korea)
May 31st, 2008 (Jerusalem, Israel)
This has been an incredibly hard week, and I’ve circled about this eulogy, one second confused, angry, incredibly sad, and the next second circumspect and numb. I want this to mean something for myself, but more importantly for Julia– as she spent so much of her time and life here writing to thousands of unknowns sharing some of the most important pieces of herself with them. Even now, I hear her voice, whispers behind my ear, encouraging me to live, to love, to be happy, to share something with the world that she so dearly cared about. And she did care about it – even as it tore her apart cell by cell, as she endured unimaginable pain, experimental treatments, and heroic recoveries, she still loved the world.
There has been a deluge of support, voices coming alive to celebrate Julia’s “light”. Even as I walk in the shadow of the sun, feeling like all is black, Julia’s light has somehow urged me on to share what I know of her to a community that does care, that really must care. I can speak to you about a million stories of her life that I came to know; of her thoughts that shout in my mind, and swirl like an angry storm, wanting only her back to me, to us. I have thousands of words written about her, and after writing it all, I realized it means so very little; it doesn’t capture her for everything that she was and everything she meant. There is no light in those words.
As adoptees we are imprinted, seared by a neuro-chemical branding sense of loss. Yet again I burn, raw flesh and acrid smoke filling my soul, but still empty and without understanding. Julia salved those wounds of loss not only for myself but for many out there, even as she endured her own gaps and the failures of many people to return what she so willing gave. She spoke of herself, but never just for herself. She put words and expressions to things that we merely think about in that early morning quiet, that both calms and terrifies those of us who have been there. And more importantly she did it so amazingly, encapsulating truisms about human nature and simplicity itself, without complex metaphors or conceits, humbly, carefully, truly herself. That’s what we have left to hold onto.
So let me simplify as well, and speak to a couple of things that I did know, that I was blessed to feel; to her love and to her gentleness.
Can I tell you about her love? The kind that stirs shadows, that breaks your heart because you know you can never return the purity of its soul. Even when love stood so far away, she hugged it fiercely back, shared it, gave it, and never demanded it in return. I’m not sure where she learned to love in such an instantaneous way, with such confidence and without doubts. Ranaan told me; last year Julia took him to a somewhat forgotten cemetery near her house in Jerusalem. She was upset that no one had visited, and following Jewish custom to place a stone on each grave to show that it had been remembered and visited; she bought a large bag of rocks, and walked Ranaan around for more than an hour placing them on each. Will some beautiful person return the favor on her grave? Will people remember her love, and will people release themselves unhinged, unhindered, un-entangled by life’s nonsensical complexity to love like her? That’s what she would’ve wanted.
Words shy like faded colors describing Julia’s gentle heart. It fluttered on butterfly wings, gorgeous, present, but never demanding or invading. Her fault was her inability to fault others, to default herself for the comfort of the “other”, never for appreciation or applause. She saw the world in all its harsh reality; hateful, wrathful, diseased and imperfect, and embraced it ever so gently, not letting its spiky bards prick and change her.
Julia never raised her voice, even as she endured hateful things said to her as a misplaced daughter, as an Asian, as a Jew, as a contemplative but contented adoptee in a community that continuously questions and battles, as a sick person among healthy, as my friend, as my lover. Yet she never raged, never lashed out, but swallowed all the darkness and locked it away, protecting those whom she loved from it. She did the same with the pain of her illness – saying, “John, you are my pain relief,” – but no amount of me nor Dilaudid could equal her gentle grace. It was constant and enfolding, and we should all be a little more like it in our lives, a light touch, velvety, and soft.
The sorrow is deafening in my ears, but I hear her gently speaking to me, “please protect me.” And protect her we should – keeping alive her spirit of love, gentleness, and purity.
To my love, to our beloved Julia Ji Hye.