The true beginning of Mama and my recent story was at the hot spring in the autumn of 2016, only a few months after my late husband, Patrick’s passing. I was deeply grieving but I couldn’t admit it back then.

At the hot spring, I was left alone with Mama. My sisters had already gone to the adjacent bath area beyond the sliding glass door on which the hot steam was constantly licking and streaming down the surface.

Mama was already undressed, holding a towel in front of her body, and ready to go inside the bath area. I was next to her, hesitant to show my body to her, yet slowly undressing down to my underwear. Suddenly, she extended her hand onto my shoulder, looked at me, and said,

“It must’ve been so difficult for you for these years… I can tell from your body… almost like that of a man.”

I gulped. I felt as if I were hit in the head, lightheaded, and couldn’t process her words for several seconds. Then I gathered myself to breathe again gasping the air.

This was the first time Mama spoke to me directly since my arrival. In fact, it was since I’d left Japan three and half years before. While I was caregiving to Patrick during such critical constant battles, Mama wasn’t informed of the situation at all, because my sisters had judged it would be too shocking for her to bear it. Finally, after Patrick got registered for hospice care at home, they informed her little by little.

I focused on my immediate and easy thought on what Mama said. She saw my body, which I didn’t even realize, had changed so much by almost carrying Patrick every day for all these years. I’d never thought about it or never known how it had affected me both mentally and physically. Mama’s words brought my thoughts back to Patrick, again.

I took Mama to the sliding door to pass her to my younger sister, Yoshino, who came to the door for help. She took Mama to one of a dozen small cubicles of showering and washing areas on the slated floor. A couple of large bath tabs made their surfaces with natural rocks facing the washing cubicles, steaming, and making constant sounds of gushing spring water into the tabs.

Now I was alone in the dressing area and began to silently weep. I cried, choking in tears, my shoulders shaking. I knew what had truly shocked me a few minutes before. But I quickly wiped my tears, unrobed myself, and entered the bath area.

After I helped Mama wash and bathe her body, I began washing in my own small cubicle and started to cry again as I could hide my tears in a shower.

*       *        *

My thoughts came across various times in my life, remembering the stories of us, Mama, and me behind “the closed door.”

I was an empath. Before I could develop any boundaries around me, Mama had been confused, constantly invading my heart and filling it with her own sad stories and emotions. With my genuine preschooler’s heart, I’d learned to become her emotions without knowing it.

But later, I had no choice but to intentionally hide all of the stories in the deepest part of my heart. I put them in the locked old wooden chest with a rusted heavy Wrought iron hinge and sunk it in the deepest ocean trench. I was only twenty-two after failing my suicidal attempt and I thought back then it was triggered by Mama.

*        *        *

What truly shook me at the hot spring was the simple and natural facts to anyone; how much Mama had loved me, and how much I’d loved her. Since I put all of my feelings in my chest and sunk them in the trench, the realization of the simple facts shook me as hard as the earthquake that caused subsequent violent tsunamis. It was too big for me in the middle of grieving to handle and digest them properly. But back then, I recognized the epicenter that I would need to focus on was the love we’d held for each other. It would lead and guide me eventually to a place of peace and harmony with Mama and everyone. The incident in the autumn of 2016 made me commence this journey without knowing how I would get there and how long it would take.