Goodbye, Dear Friend


Hyeyun and I at an English school party

My heart is aching, but this is a post I absolutely have write. Yesterday I received word that my close friend Hyeyun passed away. Upon hearing of her death, saying my heart sank just isn’t enough to cover it…it was heart-shattering news.

I want pay tribute to my dear friend, an amazing person, who succumbed to cancer after a courageous, seven-month battle. I want to offer my sincerest condolences to her family, friends, and the people who cared about her most. I don’t know exactly what happens to a person’s spirit after death, but if it lives on…if you’re out there…I hope you can read this:

I had the pleasure of meeting Hyeyun about two years ago, and I was awestruck not only at how beautiful she was, but how engaging, how funny, and how full of life she was. I connected with her instantly, and we quickly became friends. We would continue to be close friends until the day she died. She was quite gifted with languages, being fluent in both Japanese and Korean, and being an advanced English-speaker. She was one of the students that all of the teachers and staff knew and loved. She had get-togethers at her home (and let me tell you…the food was simply amazing), came to staff birthday parties, gave us gifts, helped us with Japanese. She did so much; she meant so much.

Hyeyun had taken all of the teacher’s classes, but had stopped taking lessons for a while because of work. We got word that she would return to classes, and I was happy because I was going to be her primary teacher. Unfortunately that day never came.

Because she had been away from classes for so long, it had been quite a while since we had spoken, so I emailed her. She informed me of her grave situation. I found out that she had been diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer (she was not a smoker…at all). Truth be told, I cried when I got the email, because (from what I understand) stage 4 is the most serious diagnosis, meaning that the cancer has started metastasizing (spreading) to other parts of the body, terminal. I talked to her several times after her diagnosis, and tried to be as upbeat as possible. Once she began chemotherapy and had to have extended hospital stays, I heard and saw her less and less.

However, I remember her treatment center being right across from my gym. Though I never told any of the other teachers, on three occasions the doctors let her go outside and walk around, and I had a chance to talk to her, hold her hand, and try to be the support she needed. We would often just talk about small things, and about what she was going to do once she got better. She wanted to move back to Korea and be with her family, make a garden in her grandmother’s former house and just enjoy life.

One of the most sobering thoughts about her death is that her last email to me may have been one of the final communications she ever wrote in this world. Although we are just hearing of her death, we were informed that she passed away about four days ago…which would have been Saturday, November 27th, 2010.

I spoke with her for about five minutes last Friday, November 26th, 2010. I had gotten a call the night before from a number I didn’t recognize. Once I looked up the area code and discovered it was from Korea, I instantly knew who it was. I called her back, but only had a limited time to talk because I had to rush to work. Had I known it was going to be the last time I would ever talk to her, I would have said so much more. She was asking about me…even during her sickest moments (that’s the kind of person she was). I received one text message in the afternoon which read “Hi Dash (nickname). Thanks for calling me. I couldn’t speak alot but I was happy. I want to see you and talk with you more but I don’t have energy to do these things.” My last email before she passed was “You have to keep fighting…” to which she replied “I know that I can’t.”

I tried emailing the next day “I am really worried about you. Are you in pain? Are you going to make it?” She never responded.

In many respects Hyeyun’s deat is bittersweet: sweet because she’s not fighting to breath anymore, not exhausted from the chemo-therapy…not suffering anymore. But it’s oh so bitter, because we won’t get to see her beautiful smile again, won’t get to hear that classic, Hyeyun laugh, we won’t get to spend any more time with her.

I didn’t have the chance to say everything I wanted to, so I will write this post with the ardent hope that someday, somewhere out there, you can read it….

“Hyeyun, there is no way I will ever understand that if there is a God, how or why he lets things like this happen to such good people. I am so incredibly hurt, because you don’t deserve this…even in the least! You’ve been one of my closest friends here in Japan. When I didn’t have people to talk to, you listened, when I didn’t understand Japanese, you translated, when I needed a friend, you were there, when I was hungry you fed me. I will never ever forget you, and I hope you know just how much I cared about you. Have a peaceful journey my friend.”

With a hurting but happy heart,

Donald Ash

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  • Ryan McGuinness

    I’m so sorry for your loss Donald, she sounds like she was a great person! I really think she would appreciate what you have just done for her! It really does take some guts to be able to write things like this which are so upsetting and personal to you and allow people like me a chance to read it.

    You are really a great guy and I’m sure Hyeyun would agree! If you ever need anyone to talk to please don’t hesitate to email me.

    • Donald Ash

      Ryan…you have no idea how much that means to me. Thank you so much for your caring words. I hope she would be proud. She had such a good heart…and I will really miss her.

  • Alva

    She was my greatest friend too. Her friend just happened to be another friend of mine. I still mmiss her a lot… even now. I still have her FB wall set on my iPhone even though I can’t see any updates….

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