“If it were for her child, a mother would dare to drink up the seawater”
Korea has gone through numerous wars and foreign invasions. During those times, what would have been like for mothers who sent their kids to wars to yearn for the day they would meet their children again and to hear the news of the death of their kids or accept it with no bodies to bury?
The sinking of the ferry Sewol killed 300 innocent people among which roughly about 250 were young students. They were not sacrificed in a war nor hit by an earthquake. Nevertheless, there was nothing their mothers could do to save them. For the year 2014, Paengmok has been regarded as a cemetery for the teenagers whose life had not yet been in full bloom, for the government that failed to rescue its people swiftly and had them lost at sea, and for mothers whose soul has been ripped out through the loss of a child.
So far, there were many occasions where moms had to deal with the death of their kids as the result of tragic accidents. Just three months ago, in February, a roof collapse at the Mauna Ocean Resort killed 10 including students from Busan University of Foreign Studies during a welcoming party for college freshmen. In July 2013, five high school students who attended a private marine training camp lost their lives. A decade ago, in 2003, 192 citizens died in a fire set on the Daegu subway. While 23 people including kindergarteners died in a fire accident at the Hwaseong C-Land Youth Training Center in 1999, 502 were killed due to the Sampoong Department Store collapse in 1995. Months earlier, the Seongsu Bridge collapsed, killing 32 lives including eight students from Moohak Girls’ High School.
All of the above were man-made disasters caused by poor management and oversight. Among others, children were especially vulnerable to such catastrophe. Whenever they fell victim to big disasters and tragedies, mothers were in grief all day.
Cries in Paengmok are echoing throughout the nation. On May 3, eight parents who lost their children during an accident that occurred in the private marine training camp last year visited Jindo to comfort families who have not found their child’s body yet. But they doubted whether they were in the right position. In fact, it was heart-breaking even for them to be at the scene. One of them said “I almost felt like drowning in the sea.”
Mothers have flocked to the joint incense-burning altar in Choji-dong, Danwon-gu in Ansan. A 46-year old woman from Siheung in Gyeonggi Province visited the altar with her daughter, a sophomore in high school, and said “Children are everything to mothers. Despite the tragedy, life would go on. However, I know that the victims’ families would have to live with it and feel the pain. I hope that the search would find the missing as quickly as possible.” The daughter patted her mother on the back.
A woman in her mid-40s, from Seoul, said “It’s horrible and heartrending. I even feel angry. Just take a look at the funeral portraits. Children are so adorable. I can’t imagine how their parents would live a day without them. There are many weaknesses in the current disaster management system which may lead to another disaster. Turning crisis into opportunity, we have to address fundamental problems in the system. I want to be part of the effort. Indeed, mothers would have to join.”
A woman in her 50s who lives in Ansan said “So many children from Ansan died recently. You see, my child is in her third year in middle school.” She added “The government has to carry out a thorough investigation into the sinking so that it would not repeat itself.”
Another woman from Anyang, 56, commented “I cried while watching the news. At the moment, I pity both survivors and the dead. On the one hand, it is regrettable that those who listened to the crew’s direction failed to save their lives. On the other hand, I am concerned whether the survivors would be able to overcome emotional pressures that they disobeyed the crew’s direction or whether they would feel guilty for being alive. They will need some serious healing."
Regarding mothers who have expressed anger and taken some actions, she commented “The government should be held responsible for the disaster response. Currently, there are other issues as well. For instance, people have become too emotional. The biggest issue, however, is that we don’t have trustworthy leaders.”
Families can’t be kept intact in an unsafe society. On the Parents’ Day, this year, mothers chose a yellow ribbon over carnation and joined the wailing at Paengmok Port.