How 4 generations of Korean-Canadian women reunited on an emotional Thanksgiving

Family of long term disable

The Lees met wih 91-year-old Bunim Suk, the family matriarch, for the first time in 18 months

For many families, this year marked the first Thanksgiving they could safely spend with their loved ones living in long-term care homes due to the loosening of pandemic restrictions.

For the Lee family, it was a special one. Four generations of women met outside the Rose of Sharon Korean Long Term Care Home in Toronto after a difficult year and a half without seeing the matriarch of their family.

On Sunday, Sunja Lee reunited with her 91-year-old mother, Bunim Suk, a resident at the home, along with the eldest granddaughter Gina Lee and her two young daughters, Lauren Sy and Kate Sy.

“I think it’s really special given the fact that COVID-19 has kind of separated us for quite some time,” Gina Lee,told CBC Metro Morning’s Samantha Lui on Sunday.

“Any meeting is very special just because we all used to live together. So she’s the reason why we all meet together … She still embodies that sense of family for us. Meeting her, it just brings you back to why family is amazing.”

Mother Story

Lee said she looks to her grandmother as her “saviour.” 

She said her grandmother came to Canada when Lee was just two-and-a half-years old. Every time Lee would attend daycare, she would land in the infant intensive care unit with pneumonia.

“With any immigrant family story, my parents were working very hard, I was going in and out of daycare,” Lee said.

“Because of that, she made the hard decision to leave everything she knows and come to a foreign country to take care of me.”

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Sunja Lee said after arriving in Canada she couldn’t see her mother for 10 years.

“I was so lonely, that time I felt like I made a mistake, because I couldn’t see my family,” she said.

Lee said her dream came true when she was eventually able to sponsor her brother and sister, along with her parents, who all immigrated to Canada.

She said she calls her mother at 8 a.m. every day, and when the pandemic hit, she would call her twice a day — once in the morning and in the evening.

“She’s my mom, she’s my best friend,” Lee said. “I really really miss her, she’s my heart.”

Gina Lee said despite her grandmother only knowing a “lick of English,” when she arrived in Canada, she became a “Godmother of Koreatown.”

“When she would go to Koreatown, she knew everyone, everyone knew her,” she said.”You just knew that she would take care of you.”

Lee says her grandmother is a big influence in the lives of her great-granddaughters.

“I want them to feel empowered, I want them to feel strong, and kind of [that] girl power,” Lee said, describing Suk as “amazing” and the “original gangster of girl power.”

The first thing Suk did when she saw the two girls on Sunday was hand them each a $20 bill.

Kate Sy said she was really “happy and fortunate” to see her great-grandmother on Thanksgiving because she teaches her about Korean culture.

“It really means a lot to me because I didn’t get to see her this past year,” Lauren Sy said.

Their mother, Gina Lee, said Suk has made sure to keep the family together and in touch with their background and culture.

“She’s taught us everything about Korean culture, language and food,” she said.

“The things she’s gone through, the things she’s achieved are very inspiring. So I’m very very grateful that my daughters can experience that and also physically know who she is.”