My husband died. I was interrogated. And I continue to live in South Korea
Here I am a widow, living and working in Pyeongtaek, South Korea. My name is Valencia Hunt and my journey began in North Carolina. On August 30, 2017, my family and I arrived to our new home. What unfolded a little more than a year later, I would have never imagined.
Life in South Korea was an adventure. My family quickly settled and adjusted to the Korean culture to include the food, people, and traditions to the point that we had made Korean friends and everything was going well. With our satisfaction in our decision to relocate and the notable happiness of the kids, my husband and I began discussing extending our commitment and serving additional years until we maxed out our time here. Everything was going well, and then, it wasn’t.
Thanksgiving 2018, I went TDY (temporary duty) to Ft. Leavenworth, KS for the CES Intermediate course. Following the three week course, I went to Fayetteville, North Carolina for an additional week to visit family and friends. The bond between my husband and I was so great that we talked daily during my absence. I will never forget how he would always tell me how much he missed me and how he was ready for me to come home. What happened next is etched into my memory and I hold dearly to our last conversations. Upon missing my return flight to South Korea, I called him so upset and in his gentle way, he said “it’s okay sweetie, things happen.” Once arrangements were made for an alternative flight home, we spoke again and the last words I said to my husband were “I can’t wait to see you.”
And then it happened. In the midst of my 14 hour flight from Atlanta to South Korea, my husband died.
The next few days, dare I say months, were a complete blur. How does one identify their husband’s body? How does one get interrogated by local national police as if you are a prime suspect in your husband’s passing? How do you walk through this trauma and still be the mother, employee, friend, sister, and daughter that so many still needed? If those questions ever came as fleeting thoughts before, they were now my reality. Once interrogation by the Korean Police subsided and I identified my husband’s body, working with the Army mortuary affairs to get my husband home, I was then able to shift gears and focus on my new reality.
Returning to South Korea following my husband’s death was hard. My new reality included solo parenting, loneliness, and adjusting to the lack of any family support. The foundation of living in South Korea was strong and my best friend and her family had recently been stationed at the same post which was one of the greatest life lines I could have had at that time, and now. Having her as a support through everything eased the additional stressors of being a solo parent overnight. The established connection, trust, and bond that we share has been the life support to an extremely difficult situation. I recall how the Korean police questioned my daughter and I and their response was, “he was too young to die.” But his death reaches far beyond age. He was the center of our lives. I was his queen and he meant the world to me. There were no more mid-day text messages or phone calls. The impact he had on the household, from chores to raising our daughters were now all on me. My family wanted me to return home. A month passed and I too wanted to return home. But then I realized that, regardless of if I was in South Korea or the United States of America, I would grieve and not have any help because, my family had to go back to their lives and work. So we stayed and things began to get better as the days turned into weeks and the weeks turned into months.
Going through such an experience and living life as a widow has certainly not been easy and some days are harder than others. But there are notable things that were helpful. I can’t speak enough to the importance of social support. My best friend who helped me through everything was essential to my process. Being in a close community has also been a significant factor in being able to address the pain and changes that have come with being a widow. My village has continuously come through, in a number of ways throughout the months since his death. A key part of my village are my Sorority sisters. They have truly shown that there is “joy in our Sisterhood.” While there are many other factors that have impacted life as a widow in South Korea, the last one that I will note was being afforded the opportunity to “take what time I needed” as my supervisor instructed me. I would encourage any widow out there to do just that. Whether you too have to navigate the ropes of single parenting or have to find unique positive ways to connect with others, prioritize yourself. Our stories may be different but life doesn’t have to stop there.
So here I am a widow, living, working, and thriving in South Korea.
Valencia Hunt is currently serving the United States Army living in South Korea with her children. She's been widowed from Robert Hunt since December 2018.