Kisook Ahn, the Woodside nurse who was killed in the Dec. 1 Metro North train derailment near the Spuyten Duyvil station, was remembered at a funeral Mass last Saturday as a kind and extremely bright nurse, outstanding student and devoted family member.
The service at St. Sebastian Roman Catholic Church in Woodside was attended by more than 150 family members, friends, colleagues and fellow parishioners.
Each Christian is a gift from God to Jesus and carries the light of Jesus, according to the Gospel of St. John, said St. Sebastian’s pastor, the Rev. Monsignor Michael J. Hardiman.
“Our sister Grace was just such a gift. And she gave that gift to us as well,” Hardiman said, referring to Ahn by her Christian baptismal name.
The church had given Ahn’s family a candle as a sign to keep her light burning until it returns to Christ, Hardiman said.
“How well our sister Grace was able to carry that light of Christ,” said Hardiman, who assisted in English during the service, which was led in Korean by the Rev. Paul Kang.
Ahn, 35, was the youngest of four people killed in the accident, which also injured more than 60 when the southbound Metro North train derailed at about 7:20 a.m. A South Korean native working toward her green card, she was returning home to Woodside on the last day of the long Thanksgiving weekend after her shift at the Sunshine Children’s Home and Rehab Center in Ossining, NY.
The National Transportation Safety Board has said the accident occurred as the train traveled 82 miles an hour on a curved section of track where the limit is 30 mph.
Ahn’s brother, Jin-Won Ahn, carried a photo of his sister in her cap and gown as he entered and left the church with the casket. Crosses with red roses and purple and white flowers adorned the casket and the altar was decorated with yellow and pink floral arrangements. Jin-Won Ahn traveled from South Korea with his sister’s brother-in-law. Colleagues from work and Kisook Ahn’s alma mater, Lehman College, had originally planned to raise funds for the family’s trip, but the Metropolitan Transportation Authority stepped forward to pay their expenses.
Mourners were openly upset and comforting toward one another. One woman left in tears during the service and was followed out by a fellow mourner.
After the funeral, Jin-Won Ahn told the Queens Chronicle through a translator that his sister studied and achieved all of her accomplishments completely on her own “because she was not from a rich family.”
“Even in Korea, she had part-time jobs, full-time jobs, worked vacations,” Jin-Won Ahn said. “It was so important for her to be a nurse,” he said, that everything she did was to make it possible for her to get her education. He expressed regret that he did not do more to help his sister.
Later, speaking with a larger group of reporters, he was overcome and became unable to continue speaking for a long moment before again expressing regret for not having helped her more, explaining that her original motivation to become a nurse was to help his own autistic son, Kun Chun, one of Ahn’s nine nieces and nephews.
The range of races, ethnicities and ages among the mourners at the funeral reflected the broad diversity of Queens and demonstrated the extent to which Ahn had immersed herself in her American life as a student, employee, Catholic and friend since she arrived in New York in 2008 to study nursing at Lehman College.
Ahn completed an accelerated bachelor’s degree in nursing in 2009 and finished a master’s degree in the family nurse practitioner program in 2012. The college and Perfect Choice Staffing, the firm that brought Ahn to the United States, have established a memorial fund in her name. Lehman also held a memorial service for Ahn on Tuesday.
“She was passionate about what she was doing,” said Catherine Alicia Georges, chairwoman of the Divison of Nursing at Lehman College, who was also one of Ahn’s teachers. “She cared about people no matter where they came from.”
“She was just what you want in a nurse,” said Ahn’s supervisor at the Sunshine Home, who declined to give her name. “She was very, very bright. The reports she would give you on her patients were very, very detailed.”
“She came to Mass every Sunday,” said Jong Lee, a parishioner at St. Sebastian and member of both the church’s Korean congregation and its Korean choir.
And the Korean congregation, with whom Ahn attended Mass regularly, has been supporting the Filipino congregation with fundraising for November’s Typhoon Haiyan and two strong earthquakes that hit the nation’s island of Bohol in October and November. Many parishioners have relatives and friends who have been affected by those disasters, said a church staffer.
The church’s large Korean congregation worships every Sunday at a Korean-language Mass that is followed with a study and fellowship meeting in the basement, and Ahn was part of that congregation.
“They were helping us to raise money,” said another parishioner, a member of St. Sebastian’s Filipino congregation. She said that she and other members of the Filipino congregation attended the funeral either because they were familiar with Ahn or as a way to support the congregation that has been supporting them.