Mama at the center of the front raw. The Author is behind her in the back. My sisters and their daughters sat close to each other. Both brothers-in-law, however, swapped their positions from their own families.
Mother’s Day is approaching.
I wonder how many mothers have lost their lives during this COVID-19 pandemic. At this very moment, how many more are dying in the parts of the world from the recent, devastating surges? Over 3.2 million worldwide and 577,000 in the States alone have lost mothers, fathers, and loved ones to this virus—and very few of us could support or be there for the ailing persons before they passed. Even with vaccines now available, concerns remain about the health and safety of our loved ones, particularly those who are aged.
What if the Covid affected my mother, father, or loved ones . . .
Would I have a chance to say, “I love you”?
My mother, Mama, will be ninety-two this October. Since Papa passed away at the end of 1997, I’ve visited her in Japan at least twice, sometimes three times, a year. But during the period that I was taking care of my late husband, Patrick, and once the COVID pandemic began, I couldn’t physically visit her. The above photo, taken on Mama’s ninetieth birthday in October 2019, was the last time I saw her in person. Let me share with you a (super short) YouTube video that I created right after the occasion. (It’s in Japanese; please bear with me!)
Mama is lively, kind, sweet, and genuine and has always been a devoted mother to all of us. Since my first visit to Japan in October 2016 after Patrick’s passing, she’s been using a wheelchair for long walks. She still doesn’t know how to use it, so my younger sister and I are the ones who always push it. All my mother’s clothes she was wearing including her birthday in the above video, were gifts from me over the previous few years. She always shows her love, humility, and appreciation for whatever she receives.
We call our mother “Oh Mama” in Japanese, meaning great (grand) Mama. She’s never allowed us to call her “grandma.” The writing on the white chocolate on top of the cake in the photo at the top of this post reads, “Happy Birthday, Great Mama!” As for me, I’ve always called her “Oh Mama chan” (“chan” is a loving suffix that we use in Japanese for a dear and/or much younger person).
Just before Patrick fell ill in the summer of 2013, Mama began to suffer from mild symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. Luckily, she had sold her house and started to live with my older sister, Masayo, and her family at the end of 2010.
For the first five years or even longer, Masayo and Mama had struggled with living together in the same house. Yoshimi, my younger sister, often extended her hands to ask Mama to stay at her house too. Finally, after some years, Mama happily settled with Masayo. But at the same time, Masayo expressed that she wouldn’t take care of Mama if Mama’s condition worsened. In the meantime, I lost Patrick and entered into a deep grieving period in the States. I couldn’t be of any help in the situation.
Last year, as soon as the COVID pandemic hit the world, I offered a platform on Zoom for all the people in my family to get together and talk to each other. Our regular Zoom meeting became a roundtable for my sisters, Mama, and occasionally my nieces to meet and express our care for one another during these isolated, difficult times. Staring at Mama from this side of the screen, I could feel how happy she was to see me, how much she loved and cared about me.
How about me? How was I doing on the screen? Though I was often worried about them, I wasn’t there for them all the time. Am I adequately expressing my love and empathy toward Mama and them? Looking at myself on the screen closely, I was rather shocked by what I saw.
I was nervous, but I tried to hide my feelings—I didn’t want them to worry. Seeing myself do this reminded me how I’d done this throughout my life. I didn’t want anyone to sense that I was pretending. Inside, I was crashing and weeping. But I pretended to be fine.
During the early part of quarantine, I completed the second draft of my forthcoming memoir, Finding Home: A Japanese Immigrant Woman’s Life and Transformation (to be published in fall 2022). In the book, I describe my childhood trauma—which mainly came from my father, Papa, and his family—and reveal that the reality of my childhood wasn’t as beautiful as others imagined.
Before I began writing the book, I thought I’d fully reconciled with Papa a few years earlier, before his passing, through our various communications. But while I was writing and visiting various terrains of the past, I found myself moaning with tears and crying in agonizing pain. It wasn’t until the third and fourth revisions that I found the truths I was seeking and felt profound peace with them.
While writing this book, I discovered something: a very small door inside my shadowy rainforest—the mystical, ancient forest inside me that nobody had entered before. It seemed big enough only to allow a leprechaun or a small child to enter. That was the entrance, an invitation to another journey of my inner world. I could feel it– the most vulnerable place deep inside of me.
Instantly, I knew it was the door to my secret around Mama—the place I had long know was there that I’d been afraid of looking into. Since I was a preschooler, I’ve imagined that if I opened this door, it would suck me into the vast darkness like the bottom of the ocean trench. I would never be able to recover myself and return. It reminded me of my own darkest experience in my early twenties.
I’ve recently begun writing about Mama and our relationship for my second book. The COVID pandemic has made me think about our own and loved one’s lives. How can I express my profound love fully and naturally to Mama and my families? I want to be authentic and live a life with wholeheartedness.
None of us are perfect. Family dynamics affect everyone. But through my true storytelling, I can bring out my courage, hope, and love for Mama, my family, and everyone else. I will continue this journey to excavate my truths and ultimately liberate myself, Mama, Papa, and all my family bringing us into the light.
Whether or not we’ve directly lost loved ones during this pandemic, we all are part of the stories. Behind the worst catastrophe of human history, countless real stories are interwoven, awaiting something powerful that will awaken us.
Join me in this sometimes painful but always liberating journey of finding Self.
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