Archive for the ‘hiraeth’ Category

I feel homesick there, I feel homesick here.
I feel homesick everywhere.
I feel homesick when I’m at home.

I feel homesick but home doesn’t exist.

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who you are

I remember who I was.
I was Korean.
My mother tongue was Korean.
My name was MyungSook.
I was the daughter of  Koreans.

They raised me as their own, someone I was not.
I was raised to live as their own and I became who I wasn’t.

They told me to be someone else.
I’ve been someone they told me to be for so long  that I am who I wasn’t.

To forget who they told me to be means to forget who I am.
I’m Quebecker.
My mother tongue is French.
My name is Kim.
I’m the daughter of Quebeckers.

To remember who I am means to remember who I am not.
I’m Korean but I’m not really Korean.
I don’t speak Korean.
Her name MyungSook sounds like Chinese to my Quebec ears.
I am the daughter of nobody.

They raised her as their own, someone she was not.
They killed her, they created me.

The dead lives in the memory of the living.
She lives in my memory, I live in her body.
Her body I call mine is her coffin.

To remember who I am, I need to remember her, the missing me.
She is not because I am.

To remember who I am, I need to remember I am dead
I am not me, I am her, I am dead.

Korean girl





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The title of this post was inspired by that of an article published in 2013 in BBC News Magazine, The adults who suffer extreme homesickness, which describes the struggles adults have coping with homesickness.  Spanish footballer Jesus Navas, for instance, suffered from homesickness so severe it induced panic attacks that kept him away from training camps and pre-season tours. It is said he has overcome his homesickness through counselling.

I found the article while searching for “homesickness, depression & suicide”. I was led to search on this subject because when you belong to an adoption group you cannot avoid the subject of suicide and while reading the study according to which adopted offspring are nearly 4 times more likely to attempt suicide than nonadopted offspring,  I recalled the story of The Little Prince and the word hiraeth.

The Little Prince  is one of my favorite books. Little Prince commited suicide by receiving the snake’s venomous bite to return home and to be reunited with his beloved rose (“I can help you, some day, if you grow too homesick for your own planet,” said the snake). [See my blog post The Misunderstood Little Prince].

“I can help you, some day, if you grow too homesick for your own planet. I can–“

Homesickness in adopted children is overlooked or ignored.

When I watched the documentary Mercy Mercy [link and link], which featured the heartbreaking story of two Ethiopian children, Masho and Robba, adopted by a Danish couple, I recognized in Masho a little girl I once was  suffering from homesickness.

Homesickness in French is “mal du pays” (literally “country-sickness”). Despite the way it’s coined, homesickness isn’t necessarily about home (neither about country). When you’re homesick, you’re not literally just missing your home, you’re missing what’s normal, what you’re familiar with, the people you love.

I felt homesick and axious the same day of my arrival to America when I first met my adoptive parents (whom I had named “the yellow-haired woman and her fat American man”) at the airport.  My arrival day (or “the day I got you”, as my adoptive mother would say) was on December 2nd. Less than three weeks later I cried the entire evening during their  Christmas party with their employees.  To console me, the yellow-haired woman gave me the gift which should have made me happy: it was a doll I fell in love with during my first Christmas shopping in America (the first toy I ever wanted  that she had pretended to refuse and she had put it back on the shelf) but I was inconsolable. I cried while unwrapping it and continued to cry while everyone around me was dancing, drinking, celebrating, and speaking aloud.

I was scared of being in the middle of strangers. I was homesick. I missed home (orphanage). I missed my country. I missed my friends, the nuns, the caretaker. I missed foods. I missed everything I was familiar with and everyone I loved. But my homesickness was ignored. A friend of the yellow-haired woman took a photo of us.

To console me, my adoptive gave me the gift that should have make me happy, but I continued to cry...

To console me, my adoptive mother gave me the gift which should have made me happy…

The American who took the photo attributed my cry to fatigue. He said to me as if he was talking to a baby, “…. tired, tired… tired..” , while another was saying, “… spoiled,…, spoiled…” And he put me on pajama and to bed, but the yellow-haired American took me with her because I kept crying in my bed. At the end I sobbed and then I pouted while she tried to console me. And the American ‘photographer’ took another photo of us.

I pout

I sobbed and then I pouted…

It was still a mild form of homesickness. I was a happy child despite being homesick and being eager to return home (house where I lived with my father). I was told that they (first orphanage staff, and then the second orphanage driver-director) would search my home (I had given them my former home address). From my understanding of adoption, I would go back to Korea to my father after staying for a while with the American parents. Thus my homesickness was similar to that of a child in a summer camp, aggravated by being in an entirely different environment people, culture and language.

But the homesickness grew deeper. I became melacholic and very nostalgic of my birth country less than a year after my adoption. As it grew deeper it became hidden, invisible and was never noticed by anyone….

Homesickness is a too weak word to describe adoptees’ feelings.

I attempted suicide many times during my teen years and in my early 20s. I was 13 at my first attempt.  I also attempted and thought of attempting suicide in my 30s, until I joined an adoptees online group in my late 30s.

I remember feeling an intense nostalgia, longing for something, for a missing something during those years, but I didn’t know and was unable to identify what I was nostalgic of, what I was missing or longing for.

Homesickness can have similar symptoms to depression. In extreme cases it can develop into a panic attack while it can also result in social withdrawal, sleep disruption, nightmares, and concentration problems and can lead to suicide. [see list of some of the signs of homesickness]

 But homesickness is a too weak word to desbribe my feelings. Nostalgia, longing, yearning are not the right words either. I found the right word just this year, at 49. That feeling was/is hiraeth.
Image from Facebook page, Is Adoption Trauma?

from Facebook page, Is Adoption Trauma?

Hiraeth is a Welsh word that has no direct English translation. An approximate definition  of hieraeth would be: a homesickness tinged with grief or sadness over the lost or departed. It is a mix of longing, yearning, nostalgia, wistfulness, or an earnest desire for the lost places of the past. [wiki]

Hiraeth bears considerable similarities with the Portuguese concept of saudade.

Saudade describes a deep emotional state of nostalgic or profound melancholic longing for an absent something or someone that one loves. Moreover, it often carries a repressed knowledge that the object of longing might never return. A stronger form of saudade might be felt towards people and things whose whereabouts are unknown, such as a lost lover, or a family member who has gone missing, moved away, separated, or died. [wiki]

Houaiss Dictionary of the Portuguese Language defines it as “a somewhat melancholic feeling of incompleteness. It is related to thinking back on situations of privation due to the absence of someone or something, to move away from a place or thing, or to the absence of a set of particular and desirable experiences and pleasures once lived.” Dictionary from the Royal Galician Academy defines it as “An intimate feeling and mood caused by the longing for something absent that is being missed. This can take different aspects, from concrete realities (a loved one, a friend, the motherland, the homeland…) to the mysterious and transcendant.”

Saudade is similar but not equal to nostalgia, a word that also exists in Portuguese.  It is also associated with Galicia, where it is used similarly to the word morriña (longingness). Yet, morriña often implies a deeper stage of saudade, a “saudade so strong it can even kill.”

Hiraeth, a word that describes many adoptees feelings

Hiraeth is a word that describes many adoptees’ feelings. I first saw it on my Facebook Newsfeed. It was posted by Sunny Jo, a Korean adoptee and the author of the book From Morning Calm to Midnight Sun. Since then it was posted, shared, liked or commented by many adoptees on their timelines and in FB adoption groups or pages (and most likely other online groups). I also wrote two posts related to my feeling of hiraeth on this blog [link and link]. For instance the image above comes from the Facebook page, Is Adoption Trauma?

Hiraeth is much more than homesickness [link].

It can mean a longing (yearning, nostalgia, wistfulness, or an earnest desire) for something or someone, not just for home. It’s a soul-deep longing. It has  the sense of being so much part of the place, the person or the thing, that when you’re separated from it you feel incomplete. [link]

For the adoptees, it’s a soul-deep longing for their mother, family,  people or homeland they were separated from by adoption; for their lost mother tongue and culture; for their lost true self…

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Her given name is Myung-Sook. Her surname is Kim.

This body I call mine belongs to her.
I grew stronger while she became weaker.
I began to talk when she began to lose her talk.
I was given a name when she lost her name.
I was born when she was buried.

I am because she is.
I live with her memories in her body.
I remember her past life in Korea when I didn’t exist yet.
She was proud of being a Korean.
She thought she was pretty with her beautiful big eyes.
She loved her name and was proud of it.

She’s not because I am.
Her life began to end when I learned to say and write my name.
My name is Kim Goudreau. I’m a Quebecoise de souche (“old stock Quebecker”).
I’m ashamed of Korea and being a Korean.
I wish I was entirely White.
I hate my ugly slanted eyes and my flat nose that make me a foreigner here.
I loathe my middle name, Myung-Sook. It sounds too Chinese and it’s irritating to my ears, just like fingernails being scratched on a blackboard.

Myung-Sook and I are totally different but we were one at the beginning of my life/at the end of her life.
This hand I call my hand wrote her name everywhere while she was dying.

She’s buried deep within me.
She’s my departed true self.
I am not me, I am her.

Every cell of my body yearns for her.
I’m homesick with grief when she yearns for her home country.
I’m wistful when she yearns for her lost language.
I’m nostalgic when she yearns her lost name.
I want to die when she yearns for her departed true self.
I want to die so that I can be reborn as her, my true self.

*hiraeth: a homesickness tinged with grief or sadness over the lost or departed; a mix of longing, yearning, nostalgia, wistfulness, or an earnest desire for the past.

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In my next life, I want to be reborn as a 개나리 flower in Korea, so that I can make Koreans happy for a spring and die on my homeland. That’s how much I love Koreans and how much I miss Korea. But I never ever want to be reborn as a girl in Korea, because I was a Korean girl who was happy at the sight of bright yellow flowers.

In my next life, I want to be reborn as a 진달래 flower in Korea, so that I can bring tears of joy to the eyes of a little Korean girl and die on my homeland. That’s how much I love Koreans and how much I miss Korea. But I never ever want to be reborn as a girl in Korea, because I was that little girl who had tears of joy at the sight of the beautiful pink flowers in a forest.

In my next life, I want to be reborn as a 무궁화 flower, so that I can live and die on my homeland being admired and loved by my people. That’s how much I want to be loved by my people and how much I miss my country. But I never ever want to be reborn as a girl in Korea, because I was that little Korean girl who admired and loved her country’s national flower.

In my next life, I want to be reborn as a 나무 in the middle of a forest in Korea, so that I can never be moved from my homeland and so that I can filter the sunlights through my leafy branches to make a girl dance of joy. That’s how much I love and miss my country. But I never ever want to be reborn as a girl in Korea, because I was that little girl who wanted to dance of joy looking the sunlight through leaves in a forest.

I’m nostalgic while humming the air of the songs whose lyrics I lost except the words 개나리, 진달래, 무궁화 and 나무. I’m homesick with grief and sadness when I think of my people. I long and yearn for my lost language, homeland and people.

I want to die at this moment and be reborn in Korea.  But I never ever want to be reborn as a human being in Korea. That’s how much I hate you and despise you, that’s how much you hurt me.

In my next life, I want to be reborn as a flower or a tree in Korea. Because I was a Korean girl, a human being you sold.

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