Rachel and I have lived in South Korea for closing in on 2 years now. While the adventures we’ve had here, both individually and together have made this time unforgettable…there are times when we would give anything to be back home. Recently, a woman who we consider family passed away suddenly. Here we were, teaching classes in a foreign country as our heart was breaking with my family on the other side of the globe. Luckily, my mother was able to attend her memorial, and carry these words from me to her.
“Most people in life are lucky enough to have one loving mother, but a blessed few are lucky enough to be able to feel the support, guidance, and unconditional love of another woman. Donna Hastings Lewis is my mother’s best friend, and someone I was fortunate to also call…mom. Like everyone, my life has been filled with moments of happiness and also hardships. It’s in both those poignant moments that we are most blessed to be able to reach out a hand and share them with someone we love. Donna was one of those people I was able to look to. This letter is for her.
I remember hearing stories about you and Mom when you were my age. Painting your nails in your apartment, preparing for another night of adventures with your best friend as you watched out the window to the shenanigans and parade of interesting characters down on the street below. Glorious drag queens and colorful people loving life just like you did. I remember you telling me stories of your escapades with pop rocks and the dangers of using them for anything more than candy. I have to stifle a laugh as I let my Korean students try them, thinking of your laughter as you recount your tale. I remember loving spending time with the YaYas, and getting to know Nancy, who was an old friend of yours that you brought into my life. It was always a comfort to see a group of women laughing together, supporting each other. I remember hearing about a show you all went to see, an interactive theatre performance about a wedding and how you still swore you smoked a doobie with the cast outside after the show. I remember cooking a Breakfast Club themed meal that I’m sure you don’t remember because you drank your dinner that night, making us all fall over giggling as we tried to have you eat onion soup to calm the drunken laughter that bubbled out of you. Your laugh, that’s something I will always remember.
Donna, I will always remember how you had my back. We were able to spend a lot of time together when you were staying at our house and I felt I could confide in you, as more than a mother figure, but as a friend. You stood by me as I was at my wits end over a certain house guest overstaying her welcome and even came to my rescue as you made sure that guest finally checked out of Hotel Riley.
You are the Queen of the YaYas, a band of sisterhood that was so much more than silly hats and goofy candle ceremonies. You told me I was your heir, next in line for the crown. But it is a big crown to fill. Life wasn’t the easiest for you, God tested you and the pain you had to have felt will always pull at my heart. I wish I could have done more for you, but what you did for me lets me know that your legacy will be one of love, joy, and determination. When I came home from Korea in January, I was lucky enough to see you. And you were still smiling, even after everything. Now I’m back halfway around the world and I wish with all my heart I could be there right now. We all miss you, more than we can probably comprehend right now. So these last words are for the people you left behind. I have a quote that Queen Elizabeth II said. So from one Queen to another, here are the words that I hope will help us all.
“Grief is the price we pay for love”
You gave us all so much love, and made our time here on earth so much better. It’s a stiff price to pay, but to have felt what we did for you….it will always be worth it. I love you Donna.
-Your Junior Ya Ya, Kelly”
If you teach in South Korea with the EPIK program, they do give you leave if there is a death in the family. Hagwon contracts may as well. Read them thoroughly because in EPIK you will only be able to get time off for the death of immediate family. If you’re like me…your family stretches far beyond whom you share a blood connection with. For my fellow expats, I know what it’s like to feel loss from the other side of the world. And these words were also for you.