One year ago today, my mother passed away. The next day I wrote this post on my personal blog about my feelings at the time and how that sunny morning on the Oregon Coast back in the USA unfolded. Being alone with my mother and by her side when she took her last breath was the single most moving, soul-stirring experience of my life. (Two months earlier I experienced an equally soul-stirring moment when I first met my daughter after she was born in hospital in Osaka, though the circumstances were quite different.) The day after my mother's passing I said that I felt a sense of closure, but I have come to realize that that was probably not the correct term. For I am not sure if anyone ever really has what we call "closure" after they lose someone dear to them. I certainly feel some empty spot now in my life — after all, I had never known a life without a mother or even gone more than a week without calling home to see how she was doing, no matter where I was in the world. And yet, somehow I still feel her presence today. Perhaps that presence consists of nothing more than my memories stored in my brain. Perhaps. But even so, my memories are real and her presence feels real to me. The quote by Robert Benchley still rings true to me one year later: "Death ends a life, not a relationship."
My mother was also a grandmother and even a great grandmother. So in memory of my mother, please allow me to repost below an excerpt from something I wrote on my personal blog at the beginning of this year. I know this is not about presentation or design or creativity, etc. Although, below is a link to a very creative visual presentation about my mother from my nephew Kirk.
The importance of grandmothers
What is on decline in many so-called advanced nations around the world is Community -- not networks of convenience but real old fashion, analog communities -- and at the heart of community is family. Strong families. Extended families. Three of my grandparents were already dead before I was even born, and I never became close to the only grandmother I knew before she too died when I was still a Child. I never did shed a tear for her passing; I hardly knew her. That is a great shame and something I regret. The relationship between grandmothers (and grandfathers too) and their grandchildren is something remarkably special. It is so much a part of a child's education -- in many ways the lessons learned from a childhood filled with loads of time spent with caring grandparents (and other seniors) is far more important than any lessons obtained from years in school. Not too many generations ago, even in the USA, grandparents played a key role in the education of children. In Japan, and in Asia in general, the importance of the extended family is still very strong, but even here in Japan, that is slipping away a bit as people become too busy with work and school, and economics necessitate moving far from home, etc.
I was thinking about this because of this song below by a relatively new folk artist in Japan named Kana Uemura (植村 花菜). Uemura is still in her 20s and broke on to the pop scene big just exactly a year ago here in Kansai (her song has some Kansai dialect in it too) when her song played for the first time on FM802. At 10 minutes it is an outrageously long song in today's world, but apparently she insisted that there was no way to make the song shorter and tell the story, and a lovely story it is. In this song she sings about her memories with her now deceased grandmother. Even if you do not understand Japanese, you will enjoy the evocative music which she wrote and you'll be able to follow much of the story through the visuals in this video. After that, you can go here to see the lyrics in English and in Japanese (romaji). Uemura has won many awards with this song and has become very famous now in Japan this year with her album which has gone gold.
The song is called トイレの神様 ("Toilet God" though the term kamisama is not used for god and instead "megami" or goddess is used). Uemura lived with her grandma as a child and spent much time playing with her and learning from her. Uemura was not good at cleaning the toilet room so her grandma told her that a beautiful goddess lives in the toilet and if she cleaned it every day the goddess would make her into a beautiful woman. This memory forms the basis of the song. This song is so popular in Japan because many people can relate to her story. This story of happy memories and bitter loss is something we can all relate to. For me, the sentiment expressed in Uemura's story and simple chords really hits home this year (2010) as it was a year of great loss for me and my family, though through memories our mother ("grandma") lives on. (You can read about the meaning of the song here with some background.)
What's your Grandma story?
Shortly after my mother's passing, her grandson Kirk, who is now a young attorney with his own small children, created a short visual story of his memories with his grandma. Kirk lived just a few houses away from his grandma. His story is a great one, and one I was not aware of as I had already left home for college and then for work. His story will be of great interest too for his own children and my child when she is old enough to read.
Read my nephew Kirk's whole short story of his memories with his "Grandma Ruth" on his posterous blog.
Above. My mother passed away on June 5, 2010. We rushed to be with her in the USA on her final days so that our 2-month old daughter could at least meet her grandma one time and make a connection. The saddest thing for me is that our daughter will not be able to spend time with her American grandma, but at least we have photos of them actually meeting. My mother was so happy! She had to wear a mask, but she was all smiles when our little girl met her grandma - her eyes lit up! My mother did not smile for the entire time I was with her until she passed away by my side a few days after this photo was taken, but she was all smiles when she saw her beautiful grand daughter. Our daughter will have no memory of this day, but the pictures are important for her too and she will learn all about her American grandma and grandpa as she grows up -- and we'll tell her about her first trip to the USA to meet her "Grandma Ruth." In tribute to my mother, my daughter has the same middle name as her grandma.
Above. In the Fall of 2010 I finished up my latest book. I dedicated this book to the memory of my mother and I used this picture above in the dedication. This picture was taken in Aomori in the 90s on one of her trips to see me in Japan. I wish she was coming back to Japan many more times, but perhaps in a way she will be.
Above. At Christmas 2007 in Oregon I showed my mother the presentation zen book for the first time -- the dedication features a picture of her and my father when they were in their 20s. I did not care if the book sold at all at that point -- nothing could be better than seeing my mother's reaction to her and my dad's photo in my book. That was the best feeling ever.