by Carmel on November 5, 2013 · 35 comments

Have you ever felt like you were being pulled to a place? No matter how many times you were diverted from the course, you still ended up in the location where you needed to be? Did you follow the signs or did you resist them?


I think I loved Seoul from the second we crossed the bridge from Incheon into the city. It’s a huge city of nearly 12 million people, but to me it never felt crowded. For the first couple days we were there, we walked all over our own “neighborhood,” took quick subway rides across to other districts and each time it felt like discovering a whole new city. Each district seemed to have its own vibe and the variety and hustle and bustle of it all was exhilarating to me.

Monday, our third day in the city, we decided to make our Hongdae day – first stop was the Trick Eye and Ice museums, then we’d have time to wander around this vibrant university district for a few hours until it was time to find dinner (the usual way we schedule our days…around a meal, of course!). The museum took a little less time than we anticipated and since we have to carry whatever we own on our backs regularly, shopping was out of the question.

Shawn mentioned in his last post that we ended up stumbling upon the foreign missionaries cemetery. After our plans left us with excess time, I noticed that the cemetery wasn’t a long walk from where we were and it might be a nice break from the city. Shawn and I both enjoy cemeteries, which sounds morbid, but it’s not a Harold & Maude type of fascination; but it seems like you can tell a lot about a culture by the way they honor their dead, and they are always a place of quiet retreat, as well.

The cemetery didn’t take long to explore and I wanted to try to go down to the park by the river, which I could see on the map wasn’t much further. We wound our way through a play/exercise structure (what is up with all these outdoor gyms??), through a parking lot, and down to, what we assumed, was to the be the park. It wasn’t. It was, however, the Jeoldusan Martyrs’ Shrine and Memorial Park. Besides being a retreat from the city noise, it ended up meaning a lot more to me personally. I don’t know if he knew it at the time, but I really needed to be there that day.


Me with said hill in the background

As we made our way slowly through the park, we noticed one Korean after another running up the hill to what we thought was just another statue. Turned out it was time for mass and they were late. Being Catholic and it being weeks since the last time I attended mass, I decided to go check it out. I couldn’t understand a word being said, but the ceremony was familiar and welcoming. Multiple Koreans tried to offer me a cushion to sit on, but I declined and hung back to watch from the doorway. After some time, during the homily which really made no sense to me, I said we could move on so we could try to find the park again.

We took a path down the hill and again all we found was a dead end. We tried heading down another path – again no luck. Finally, we tried the main road and found a way to get out of the martyrs shrine, but there was no obvious way to get down to the park. By that time, I was over the park idea, but had a hard time deciding to leave. But, I didn’t say anything.

As we started to leave the main entrance, I noticed that there was a building selling the candles lit at this beautiful memorial I had seen earlier. I wanted to light one, but couldn’t see where people were getting them from and being that it was supposed to be a place of quiet reflection, I opted not to interrupt anyone and ask. Since they were right there, though, I went in, made my donation and grabbed a candle. A blue one. Shawn decided to stay back as I went to add my little light to the group; I was grateful for the time alone. I wrote my inscription and found myself a spot alone to pray. I looked up and saw a statue of the Mother Mary overlooking that memorial. How had I missed it before? Mary has played an interesting role in my life, as of late, and her “presence” really enlightened me to the fact that I was led there. It was only then that I realized it was the 14th of October.


There’s a part of my life I haven’t shared here partly because I didn’t know how to address it, partly because I was afraid. It is a huge part of me and somehow this experience helps me feel it’s the right time to share it.

It was just after noon on February 14, 2012. I was sitting in the office of my allergy clinic in the office building of my work, where I had just received my weekly allergy shot. It was crowded but quiet and I kept noticing my phone go off with multiple missed calls from my mom and a couple more from an aunt and a cousin. My hands shook as I made my way into the hallway to find out what was so urgent. I felt it deep in my gut, but I refused to accept what I hoped wasn’t true. I can’t recall the words my mom spoke, I don’t think I actually ever heard them, but somehow I figured out the message through the tears and shallow breathing…my brother was dead. He was 35. He died of acute liver failure – we had no idea he was even sick.


PJ always loved the color blue because it reminded him of Mary, who he loved even though he was far from religious

Receiving that news was a pivotal point in my life. PJ (as we called him) was smack dab in the middle between me and my sister, Gina (Gina being the oldest, 9 years older than me, PJ being 4.5 years older than me). We had a rough time growing up together, with our age difference, but as adults we became very close siblings and friends.

 “You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.”
– Anne Lamott

That day changed me. PJ was pursuing his dream of being a sports journalist by going back to college and writing for the school newspaper in spite of his physical maladies and the depression that constantly plagued him with self doubt. At the time he died, we had been working toward our dream for over a year, but it was only then that I knew for sure – we needed to travel. There was no longer a question or whether it was the right move. We proved it by continuing our saving and planning, despite my intense and frequent bouts of depression. We continued to make huge sacrifices despite my desire to go out and spend money on anything and everything, hoping that a fancy dinner or new clothes would somehow make me feel better, even for a second. I honestly don’t know what I would have done without this dream. Maybe fallen apart. Who knows?

On the one-year anniversary of his death, we were at the Oregon coast for a mini retreat as a family. I decided that day that I couldn’t keep sulking around for the next 7 months until we left. I would kick myself for letting time with my family pass me by while I sat clinging to my depression. I essentially put off the grieving I still had yet to face.


February 14, 2013 – with two of my favorite people

Grieving is an odd thing. The day I found out my brother died, I sat in my living room with Shawn next to me, holding my hand and wondered, “what now?” Do I just spend the rest of the afternoon sitting there sobbing? What was going to happen the next day? Do I go to work? Do I drive to Seattle? If you’ve never experienced a loss like this – one that shouldn’t have happened – it may be hard to understand. Grieving isn’t just about being sad or finding ways to recoup the energy that feels drained from you (although it’s that, too). For me, it’s finding a way to redefine yourself without that essential person. Your story has changed – a major character is gone – how does your story continue to play out without him? These are questions I still struggle with and there are days when I just can’t believe it’s true. Still. Nearly 21 months later. This is how I know I still have work to do.

“The breezes at dawn have secrets to tell you
Don’t go back to sleep!
You must ask for what you really want.
Don’t go back to sleep!
People are going back and forth
across the doorsill where the two worlds touch,
The door is round and open
Don’t go back to sleep!”
– Rumi

That day was leading me back to my path. I needed a reminder of what still lingers deep inside my soul. I remember Sarah, from Sarah Somewhere, once telling me that travel has allowed her to see the messages the Universe holds in ways she never noticed before. I am starting to see what she meant. I don’t plan to miss out on my travels being depressed, but I do plan to give myself the time I needed back then and still need now.


2008, the year of the infamous “chicken wing” incident – PJ was good at getting under my skin

Seoul is the kind of place PJ would have loved. He was always one for big cities; New York and LA were two of his favorites. It seems fitting that it would be there that I’d get my message and it will forever hold a piece of my heart because of it.


{ 34 comments… read them below or add one }

Ali November 5, 2013 at 6:17 am

Beautiful! I’m so sorry to hear about your brother, I can’t even imagine. Thanks for sharing this with us.
Ali recently posted…Purpose, Passion and the Search for What Lights Your FireMy Profile


Carmel November 10, 2013 at 3:41 am

Thanks so much, Ali.


tyrhone November 5, 2013 at 6:32 am

Thanks for sharing your story. It must be horrible to lose someone so close but the direction your life is heading is an omage to his memory.
tyrhone recently posted…We’re back in Playa del Carmen!My Profile


Carmel November 10, 2013 at 3:42 am

I like to think so. I keep reminding myself that although I’m sad, I’m not dead, I get to live, so I want to keep trying to move forward. It’s better for all of us if I do.


Gillian @GlobalBookshelf November 5, 2013 at 7:06 am

Grief, I find, takes it’s own sweet time. I’m glad you found some peace on the road and know now to make a place for grief in the future.
Gillian @GlobalBookshelf recently posted…Monthly Feature: History BooksMy Profile


Carmel November 10, 2013 at 3:41 am

It really does take as long as it takes. I still remember going to my therapist the day after it happened and she said it could takes months, even years…and I hadn’t really considered how long something like this would take to accept. But she was not wrong. Thanks for your supportive words – now and then, too.


Sarah Somewhere November 5, 2013 at 7:12 am

So beautiful, Carmel. I am so glad that you are allowing yourself all the time you need to heal whilst on this journey. I know there will be many more signs, more tender moments, and also times where you will question everything and it all seems not to make any sense. But with your heart open to the world and it’s life giving power, you will be renewed, and through it all you will carry the spirit of your brother with you. Sending you so much love!
Sarah Somewhere recently posted…Four YearsMy Profile


Carmel November 10, 2013 at 3:52 am

Thank you for the beautiful insight. A lot of times I feel so lost, but I continue to just keep trying.


Jenny November 5, 2013 at 7:22 am

I can’t imagine what all you’ve been through, my dear. Your brother is smiling down on you as your dream becomes a reality! Lots of love and prayers.
Jenny recently posted…Dream WalkMy Profile


Carmel November 10, 2013 at 3:43 am

Thanks so much for reading and your supportive thoughts and prayers!


Hannah November 5, 2013 at 7:29 am

Carmel, this was so beautiful and raw. I’m so happy that you are taking time for yourself out on the road; it’s the perfect place to be your most perfectly imperfect self, and allow yourself the space to simply be and feel all the things you need. Sending you love and light my dear, now and always xxx
Hannah recently posted…Taking the slow roadMy Profile


Carmel November 10, 2013 at 3:43 am

Thank you sweetheart. xoxo


Karen Montgomery November 5, 2013 at 8:01 am

Dear sweet Carmel. Sharing this piece of your heart, your soul, is not only beautiful, personal, revealing and ever so intimate. Thank you for this wonderful piece of you. You are loved. karen & norm


Carmel November 10, 2013 at 3:43 am

Love you both!


Rika | Cubicle Throwdown November 5, 2013 at 12:37 pm

That was brave of you to share Carmel. I’m happy you found some solace in Seoul. xo
Rika | Cubicle Throwdown recently posted…Snakes, Spiders and Scorpions – Jungle Life on RoatanMy Profile


Carmel November 10, 2013 at 3:44 am

Thanks, Rika!


Donna G November 5, 2013 at 2:15 pm

Just beautiful!!


Carmel November 10, 2013 at 3:44 am

Thanks so much!


Kim November 6, 2013 at 12:30 am

I love that you were pointed in the direction that you needed to be there in Seoul and that you followed the arrows. Thinking of you now and always. XOXOXOXOX
Kim recently posted…Reflections on the Camino (or, a love letter to walking)My Profile


Carmel November 10, 2013 at 3:44 am

Kind of like the Camino, right? 😉 Sometimes it’s best not to fight the signs.


Kathrin November 6, 2013 at 2:02 am

Beautiful! Love that PJ can join your trip with you. He’d be proud that you’ve made it happen. And even prouder that he got to join you on part of it!


Carmel November 10, 2013 at 3:45 am

I think he would be proud. He was always such a huge support to me, even though he was relentless in picking on me. That’s what big brothers are for, I guess. 🙂


Kellie November 7, 2013 at 2:43 am

So brave of you to share this with us. I’m so sorry for your loss, but glad you’re finding a way though.
Kellie recently posted…Midweek Eat! Comforting Cauliflower CheeseMy Profile


Carmel November 10, 2013 at 3:47 am

Thanks, Kellie.


Maddie November 7, 2013 at 3:25 am

Thanks for sharing your story Carmel, it really is a beautiful account of something so tragic. It’s a horrible irony that sometimes the most terrible experiences can push us to do something different or follow a different path that end up bringing so much joy. Have a great time in Seoul, think of how proud PJ would have been of what you’ve accomplished.
Maddie recently posted…A drop of adrenaline in the desertMy Profile


Carmel November 10, 2013 at 3:48 am

I really wish that wasn’t SO true of life, but I am glad that I haven’t just curled up in a ball and given up. Thanks for your comment.


Konya November 10, 2013 at 3:40 pm

Your words touched my soul. What a bitter/joyous feeling to share. Thinking much of you, lil’ sis.


Carmel November 10, 2013 at 7:30 pm

Thanks so much, Konya! Miss you!


Leah Easton November 11, 2013 at 9:01 pm

Hey Carmel, I have been thinking about you two on your adventure! I am so glad you had that experience in Seoul, it sounds beautiful and powerful. I am glad you are finding some peace with the unfair death of your brother, but I know sometimes is just…….sucks. Do you have any idea how much I miss drinking beer with you?


Carmel November 11, 2013 at 9:20 pm

I miss Women’s Group so much! We need to FaceTime with the group some time.

It was definitely a surreal experience, but one I’m glad I had and will try to be more open to in the future.

Drink an extra good beer for me!!


Amy November 14, 2013 at 5:54 am

Moving post; I’m so sorry to hear about your loss but I’m pleased you found the strength to continue on and focus on achieving your dreams of travel. It’s great that you found such a poignant way to reflect on everything while in Seoul too.
Amy recently posted…A Trip to the Elephant Nature ParkMy Profile


Carmel November 17, 2013 at 7:43 am

Thank you, Amy. Sometimes our dreams have to act as life preservers in the tough times.


Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) November 18, 2013 at 12:09 am

Carmel, I don’t even know how to respond to such an honest, heart-felt post like this except to say that I am in awe of your strength and your courage and your unwillingness to back down and let this crush you and beat you. I’ve never experienced the kind of loss you talk about here, though I suspect that some day I will have to and I dread the coming of that day.

I’m glad that your heart led you to, and through Seoul, and you found a bit of yourself in the hidden parts of that massive city. When the universe calls and we find the courage to answer, I find it tends to take us exactly where we need to go.
Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) recently posted…Moreish MuarMy Profile


Carmel November 18, 2013 at 5:04 am

I don’t even know how to respond to your most poignant and eloquent response! I’m just amazed sometimes at the messages lurking about in our daily lives and wonder how many we miss while running around. I’m very grateful for some time and quiet during our travels. Thanks, as always, for your support and kind words!


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