Please Look After Mom

Whether your experience with motherhood is being married to one, being one, or having one, you’ll find plenty to make you cringe with guilty recognition in PLEASE LOOK AFTER MOM by the Korean writer Kyung-Sook Shin. The story is simple enough: an elderly woman is left behind when the subway train doors close in Seoul. Her husband, who has always walked ahead of her and ignored her pleas for him to walk more slowly, doesn’t realize she’s not with him until it’s too late. At the next stop, he gets off and walks back to the previous station, but she’s gone.

The couple are from the country and have come to Seoul to visit their grown children. In past visits, one of the children has always met them at the station, so their mother has no experience navigating the crowded streets by herself. As they frantically search for her and put out flyers asking for information about her, they each remember their unique relationship with her, the secret sacrifices she made for each one, the promises they made to her about what they would do for her when they grew up. The promises they never kept. The husband remembers too, how he had taken all she did for granted and how he had not insisted that she go to the hospital even when her headaches had worsened so much she couldn’t bear even to cry with pain.

The mother has her own memories, some secrets that her family has never suspected. Told in four points of view, the result is an intricately woven pattern of a family’s love, loyalty, betrayals, secrets, forgiveness, and emotional transcendence. It’s a story that will stay with me for a long time. Most of all, it made me wish I could spend just one hour with my own mother and beg her forgiveness for some of the thoughtless things I did and said when she was alive. 

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4 thoughts on “Please Look After Mom

  1. I think we all have those feelings of guilt and regret. I’m tempted to send your post to my kids, but I’m sure they wouldn’t appreciate it at this point in their lives.

    As I get older I think about how I’d like to have another chance at being more patient and understanding. Someone once told me that after you turn 40 your values shift. Well that is certainly true and they keep shifting as the decades come and go.

  2. I don’t know if they shift or if they simply expand. We start out with a world that doesn’t extend much beyond ourselves and as we get older it gets bigger. We learn empathy and compassion and to put ourselves in another person’s shoes. Finally, if we’re lucky, we learn that we’re all aspects of one being, and we stop feeling separate from others. All those selfish feelings we had when our world only contained ourselves were necessary parts of our evolving, so I suppose we shouldn’t feel guilty about it. Four-year-olds needn’t feel guilty about how they felt when they were two. I imagine in the overall scope of things, our civilization is about on the level of four-year-olds.

  3. um .

    i have not yet read it

    but i can feel it’s implicit meaning, which can’t be express in words

    the love of a mother, who sacrifice herself for us , is too tremendous to express in words

    now then it’s time to read the book, please look after mother

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