Cover photo for Sujin Lee's Obituary
Sujin Lee Profile Photo

Sujin Lee

January 9, 1969 — December 22, 2023

Sujin Lee

On the first night after the Winter Solstice, as the Earth began its journey from the cold and darkness and moved toward the growing warmth and brightness of the Sun, our beloved Sujin Lee died. After a two-and-a-half-year ordeal, Sujin succumbed, with her dignity intact, to an almost unknown kind of cancer known as `thymic carcinoma.’ This beautiful bearer of light was with family and friends when she breathed her last breath.

Sujin was the third, middle, and most extraordinary child born to Jae Bok Lee (deceased father) and Gy Yeon (mother). She is survived by her music-playing, mountain-biking, Free Ride-skiing, fourteen-year-old son, her loving spouse of nearly twenty-five years, Timothy P. Lighthiser, her three sisters, Myung Jin Lee, He-kyung Lee, Jin Sook Lee, and her brother Chang Joon Lee. 

Sujin valued education, so much so she insisted that her dowry be spent on her grad school studies rather than expensive fees for a match maker. She received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Educational Psychology from Yeungnam University (South Korea). Later on, she was conferred a Master of Arts degree in East-West Psychology from the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco, California. Her thesis, “Yoga: The Discipline of Homestasis: A Learning Experience of Yoga from a Korean's Perspective,” was published in 1999. She then earned a Master of Social Work degree from Smith College in North Hampton, Massachusetts. For this degree, she wrote ``Exploring the Relationship Between Asian Mental Health Practioners’ Level of Acculturation and Self-identity and their Experiences with Race and Ethnicity in a Clinical Setting: A Project Based Upon an Independent Investigation,” which was published in 2004. Sujin was also certified as a yoga teacher from the Sivananda Vedanta Centre in Kerala (India), and sometime after she became a certified instructor of two East Asian practices known as Qigong and Tai Chi. She also participated in innumerable lectures, workshops, retreats, and seminars. 

For more than two decades, Sujin worked as a psychiatric social worker, treating people with special problems for forty hours a week in a variety of very challenging positions (including butterfly pose and tiger pose, which she steadily held) in locations in San Francisco, Helena, and Salt Lake City. Her impressive career as a caregiver began in 2000 in San Francisco in a supportive housing project called the Conard House on Jackson Street. This is where she—a fully-fledged yogini masquerading as a counselor—first taught Yoga in 2001 as a sort of pairing with psychotherapy/case management. At that time, the word “yoga” was not used. Instead, it was described as a ‘relaxation skill building group.’ Having shed a bright light on the benefits of yoga for the residents, the Conard House eventually incorporated it into group treatment sessions. In 2011, at the Helena Veteran Affairs Clinic, Sujin lead a breathing, stretching, and relaxation (somatic skills) group, an emotion regulation skills group, a mindfulness practice group, along with providing individual, group, couple, and family therapy and case management. Year after year, Sujin would employ this pairing of opposites. At the Salt Lake City Veteran Affairs, she expanded her use of her time-tested techniques by including Qigong and Tai Chi into her practice. 

When Sujin was not working full time at a clinic, running the household, attending grad school, or at times doing all three of these simultaneously, she loved so much of what life has to offer. She relished kimchi, the mountains, the ocean, dream analysis, sweat lodges, hot springs, jogging, stotras, swimming, serenades, astrology, music, fruits and vegetables, trees, books, Hollywood gossip, and the list goes on. 

People adored and revered Sujin. Her honey-sweet voice had a Universe-vanishing power that could induce deep states of calmness that could lead to the closing of an original wound and the opening of a heart. Equally amazing was her memory. Never did she utter the phrase “I don't remember.” As an impeccable repository of other people's life experiences, she had the mind-boggling ability to attentively listen and to accurately recount the plethora of details from any sort of conversation.

A Few Words 

By Nip

Sujin and I used to share a work shift together. She later on went to work for the Citywide Linkage Team at UCSF which coincidentally I was hired for the exact same position a few years later after she went to work for the VA I believe. I was very impressed with her stamina as she would bike from Outer Sunset all the way to Chinatown for work. Not only that, she would bike all over the city to see her clients. Even though I also bike to work and often with Eliott in the back of my bike, I would not be able to do what Sujin was doing. 

Sujin is one of the most gentle and kind souls that I have ever known. Her calmness was contagious and I often felt more grounded when I was around her. I never felt judged by her and only felt seen and heard by her. She was a natural therapist.

I believe most people would agree with me that Sujin radiated strength, she undoubtedly was one of the strongest women I have known. I remember she was working and going to school (MSW) full time and did both gracefully.

By Dexter

I met Sujin at CIIS. She worked at the school's library and I was always struck by her friendly smile and gentle spirit. After graduation, I would later work with her at Conard House and we were assigned shifts on the same days. She did an overnight shift on a Friday and I would come to work the following day in the morning and be greeted by her warm and welcoming energy. I fondly remember how she introduced me to Gimbap (a Korean dish made from cooked rice, vegetables, fish, and meat rolled in gim—dried sheets of seaweed—and served in bite-sized slices) and I just loved it.

We enjoyed working together and shared countless hours of clinical discussion and consultation. She was a very clinically minded person, incorporating her experience of yoga and knowledge of Chakras and combining it with the Western methods of therapeutic practice, which she had a very sharp mind for. Sujin was very kind to the clients but she was also direct and communicated very effectively with the clients in a way that was received non-defensively by them. Needless to say, she was a very humanistic clinician. She was a very diligent and hard worker and I remember when she started doing graduate school at Smith College while she was still working. When we both left Conard House, we would maintain a friendship that included a lot of support, laughter, love and care for each other. In 2018, she and her family (Tim and Oskar) came to visit the SF Bay Area where she stayed with me in Oakland. My sweetest memory is of going with her and family to Stinson Beach where we went into the ocean to wade in the water. She told me "I haven't been to a beach since I was in my youth in Korea". She was so happy being in the ocean and we must've spent hours in the water. I was so happy that I was able to take her there and see her enjoyment with her family. She was truly a unique and independent minded individual and I am grateful to have known her in this lifetime. Sujin, thank you for the wonderful memories and I will always smile and think of you when I have a Gimbap or when I visit Stinson Beach. 

By Jonathon

Sujin illuminated the room with her smile, compassion, and genuine connection to others. This was true both in person but also virtually. I never met a veteran patient who didn’t rave about her skill and care. She truly impacted all of us, sharing her knowledge as a clinician and her compassion as a human. While it is impossible for us to ever be the same without Sujin here, her spirit lives on within our team and in the lives of so many patients that she positively impacted. 


Tribute

 

Like the Sun,

She's a perpetual source

of warmth and light,

a dispeller of cold darkness

 

Like the full Moon,

She's a periodic source

of peace and reflection,

a creator of coolness in Hell itself

 

Like the Pole Star,

She's a single-pointed source

of brilliance and advice,

a navigator during the night

 

Like the Earth,

She's a firm source

of grounding and gravity,

an originator of stability

 

Like the Wind, 

She's an undying source

of inspiration and aspiration,

a restorer of respiration

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