My mom was a difficult person to please, always keeping her approval just out of reach. In fact, her dying words to me were, “I don’t like the way you live.” Like many Korean parents, Mom’s retirement plan was to be taken care of by her family, so you’d think she would have tried harder to keep from alienating them. When her health started to decline, I was the only close family she had left, and I fell into the role of the reluctant caregiver. Hand in hand, we traversed the labyrinth of an unforgiving health care system where we learned how difficult it is for middle class Americans to retire with dignity, security, or a penny to their names. Providing end-of-life care for my “Tiger Mom” tested my career, my relationship, and my resolve. Our journey together was turbulent and profoundly transformative. It enlightened my understanding of aging and dying, and gave me the gift of empathy for a parent whose love for me was always conditional.
I wrote this story in the style of a classic, syndicated comic strip, with the goal of having them published as a book. The modular format allows me to boil a complex narrative down to bite-sized vignettes, turning a heavy topic into a page-turner. Spread across 241 comic strips (approx 140-150 pages, printed), this challenging subject is easy to read and easy to binge. I go into painstaking detail about every step of our journey, and identify the coping mechanisms that caregivers and the dying employ—consciously or otherwise—in a way that is relatable, authentic, and surprisingly humorous at times. Many of the obstacles we faced were beyond absurd, and in the face of absurdity laughter is often the best medicine.