Last month North and South Korea allowed a group of families divided by the Korean War to come together for a brief reunion. Separated on either side of the border between North and South, it was the first time they had seen each other in more than six decades.
Those who took part in the reunion knew that they were luckier than many others, who didn’t get to see their loved ones across the border at all. But they still had to go through the pain of parting all over again – more than likely forever – after their brief, tearful meeting.
I wasn’t allowed to cover the families at the scene of the reunion. But the event made me wonder what it was like for those who returned to a normal life in South Korea after emotional gatherings with their long-lost parents, kids, and siblings from the North.
Some of the families who took part even thought their relatives had died in the 1950-53 war until they got their invitation to join the reunion. What did the reunited families talk about? Did they recognize each other with grey hair and wrinkles? What were the last words they said to each other before their goodbyes?
Wanting to know the answers to these questions, I obtained a list of participants in the latest reunions and began calling dozens of them. It was harder than I had imagined to arrange the interviews. I thought at first the families would be happy to talk in front of the camera. But after fulfilling a life-long dream of seeing their relatives in the North again, I found that many of these elderly Koreans appeared exhausted, and their emotions were spent.