A few years ago, Sam Woo woke up to some news that nobody would ever want to wake up to. His mom had just died. She had been battling breast cancer for two years. Although Woo knew what was going on, there was nothing he could've done to be prepared to hear those words.
“After my mom passed away, I had a hard time focusing on anything: school, relationships, activities. It felt like a part of my life had been ripped off,” said Woo.
However, in the days leading up to the memorial service, Woo was able to focus on one thing — he was able to focus on why. Out of the seven billion people in the world, why was he the one that had his mom taken away by this?
“The morning of her funeral, I sat down with my family on the front pew of the huge Moravian Church. I couldn't help but think that this was our last goodbye. After the service, the congregation walked down to the graveyard for the final liturgy. Suddenly, out of nowhere, someone began singing. Another followed, then another, and pretty soon every voice in the field was lifted in singing one of my mom's favorite songs. I was awestruck.
"You see, through every painful step of her diagnosis, my mom would always overcome her suffering through music. Whether it was her comforting hymns or silly lyrics, she would always lift our spirits with her beautiful voice. So when I heard that song in the graveyard, I was reminded how much my mom loved me. Then it hit me. My mom wasn't gone after all. Her legacy and memory would stay with me forever. It was never about why this terrible thing had happened to me. It was about how I was going to grow from it.”
While the question for Woo had changed, the lack of answers had not.
“There was a big change. But what you can do is to embrace and develop the new you. And you'll see parts of that old life but you'll also see new things that have to come from learning to survive the loss of a parent.” says grief counselor Kim Morgan, who worked with Woo through this process.
A few months after the funeral, Woo found a guitar stored away in a closet. It was his mom's. Music had always been a big part of their lives but he had never learned how to play the guitar. That was his mom's thing. Enjoying her music was Woo's thing. With the help of YouTube tutorials, Woo started to teach himself how to play and all of a sudden what the grief counselor had said started to make sense.
“It was a way to keep her memory close to me. Playing guitar has become one of my main hobbies. I've even written some of my own songs and started a band with some of my friends. It has been an inspiring experience. So I guess, in a way, this is the new me — someone who still misses their mom terribly, but who has learned to make something out of the pain and hardship.” says Woo.
As scary as it was, for Woo, finding that “new him” did not mean forgetting about his mom. It didn't mean that all the pain had magically disappeared. It didn't mean acting as nothing had happened. For Woo, finding the “new him” meant carrying his mom's memory in every note, and her voice in every lyric.
“Deep down, I hope that wherever she is she's listening because soon I'll be able to play her favorite song.”