“Her mind was as sharp as ever”

Would her grandma remember her?

Jane Kim, 41, wasn’t sure. It had been 23 years since she’d last visited her in Korea, and she was nearly 100 years old. 

Jane’s parents had met in medical school in Korea in the late 1960s and, in the early 1970s, had been recruited to practice in the midwestern United States, where, at the time, there weren’t enough doctors. They settled in Milwaukee, and by 1977 they had Jane and two other kids.

That year, Jane’s maternal grandmother flew over from Seoul to meet her and her siblings and help out with them a little. When she saw how badly she was needed, she decided to stay a whole year, even though she only had a short-term tourist visa. The U.S. government barred her from ever coming back.

So, for the rest of her childhood, Jane saw her grandma only occasionally, when she and her family made short visits to Korea.

Jane went to college and graduate school, built a career, married, and had two daughters. And last year, she decided it was time they met their great-grandmother, who now splits her time between a nursing home and her youngest daughter’s apartment.

“I was excited to see my grandmother,” says Jane, a computer scientist in New York City, “but nervous that at her age and in her frail state, she wouldn’t remember me or see me very well.”

“But when we got to my aunt’s apartment, she was standing—without her walker—and was so thrilled to see me and to meet my husband and children.”

“Then, immediately, she went into ‘grandmother mode,’ making sure that we all were eating enough and enjoying ourselves.”

“After lunch, she showed me her room, which had pictures of us from when we were little, and she showed off a rosary that I had bought her on a trip to the Vatican. She talked about my earlier trips to Korea and our adventures together.”

“I was impressed and inspired to see that her mind was as sharp as ever.”