“There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love.”
July 8th, 2014I would like to thank you all for your condolences, empathy, love, and support. I am overwhelmed and inspired by the thoughtful kindness that I have witnessed in the following days by all of you. It is what gives me hope for the future and that which has kept me afloat in the moments where I feel as though I am drowning in despair.As much as I feel like coping with my pain privately, and feel pretty adverse to social media at this time-- I felt compelled after today to share a little bit of my experience.Today we got to say our farewells. Days leading up to it I could not decide if I could bear witnessing my mother's body without her soul still present. There would be no undoing of either decision I made and I started to gather opinions of my family and closest friends. The results that I got were 50/50 and every reason made sense. There was no right or wrong in this. I decided that I would decide when the moment presented itself to me.When we arrived at the mortuary we were led to the small chapel room. My heart raced and when the door opened and I saw the light shining on my mother's hair, I nearly collapsed. Karina grabbed me and held me in the hallway while the rest of the family went in. I couldn't do it. I heard cries from the room and I felt like I needed to be with our family. We entered and stayed in the back of the room. I sobbed as I watched Nimai cry and Asami and Okasan courageously preparing and decorating her with flowers while tears streamed down their faces. Karina looked at me and said that she would step outside of her box for me. That if I was going to see her, she would too. My world was collapsing on me. I needed to uncover my eyes, and grip reality. How could I not be there for my mother's body? How could I not stand by the rest of my family and not help them? It was her body. It was the vessel of my beloved mother and I did not want to fear it or reject it.I saw her. I looked at her. I cried. I touched her. I kissed her. I talked to her. I got my confirmation. I got the confirmation I needed to accept that her soul was no longer in this material body. I felt that I would never be able to heal properly if I could not embrace death. I don't want to continue my life being sheltered and disconnected from something that is real and inevitable for all of us. I put my hand over her heart and I felt that she left me... all of us... with an ineffable life force. I looked around me, at her children to whom she gave birth to, her sister who helped to raise her when their mother passed... and I could see her in all of us. I thought about how she told me in the recent months that you never experience the kind of falling in love like you do when you fall in love with your children. And in that moment, I loved them all that much more too. My heart ached with so much love. So much gratitude.My mother has touched the lives of so many. She was well respected, humble, and kind. Her life was dedicated to working hard so that her children could have a place to always call home. Her life dramatically changed from being very active to almost complete solitude when her health declined. She never wanted to be a burden, and never wanted sympathy. Despite her suffering I am so grateful that in her last decade we got to experience a deeper connection and relationship with our mother. She went from being a strong, independent, hard working mother to my becoming soft, expressive, and open. She became my best friend and I shared everything with her. We got rid of the parent-child filter and shared our deepest thoughts and feelings. I got to speak with her almost everyday and learn from her wisdom. I got to experience a closeness most people never get to have with their parents. She did so much to help us while she was here. She did everything she could do to fuel our motivation, hopes, and dreams. Whatever our interests or pursuits-- she would educated herself on it and do everything in her power to guide and motivate us to achieving it. She lived through us. She expressed how important it is to live a life that truly made us happy, and in order to enjoy our happiness we had to be healthy to do so. Our health is our greatest wealth. Love unconditionally.I feel that she is still doing the same for us even now. I can feel her conspiring with the Universe to guide us, because from where she is now-- she is that much more powerful.Be Well,Kayko Tamaki
It felt so nostalgic driving through San Francisco the other day, despite all the construction, changes, and gentrification of the city. These changes have been raising much controversy; however, for the first time in a while, the city felt like it once did some time ago. The sun was out, the skies were blue, and we had the windows of our old red Mustang rolled down with the crisp air circulating around us. Not only was it a beautiful day in San Francisco, but Tj, my lover, my partner, was driving us to our double date with my childhood best friend, Aya and her husband, Julian. It felt like such a profound coming together of both my past and present life (and self.) We were driving from Oakland to Japan Town; and, because of heavy traffic, we were routed through Pine Street. As we drove up the historical, steep hills of San Francisco, we were both commenting on and appreciating the beautiful Victorian homes. We fantasized about maybe giving city living a try.
Looking out the window, I started thinking about how much Mama loved this city. She has always been romanticized by this city and so was I. I thought about how we once lived here, shortly after I was born in Hawaii. I thought about how incredible it was that she, a woman, born and raised in Japan, managed to break through the societal norms of her time, to find herself traveling the world, Go-go dancing for the Air Force troops in Vietnam, having children with an African American man, living in all the major cities, opening a little punk-rock fashion boutique on Polk and Post, and employing gay boys in her store. She was truly brave, open minded, and unchained by social reform. I thought about how courageous it was to be a woman of that time; with English as her second language, to actually open a business in the heart of San Francisco. I wondered what the apartment in Japan Town we lived in must have looked like and if it still existed.
I thought about how this incredible city will always represent a part of her that will live within me forever. This city was once a home to her, to us, and over the years, we created wonderful memories exploring it together. I felt my tears streaming down my face, trying hard not to let Tj notice. I started to feel a deep and profound sadness over the struggle she endured in the last 10 years of her life. She could not enjoy growing old the way she deserved to and endured such a debilitating illness that caused her so much suffering. She lived in such discomfort for as long as she could for the sake of her children. I cried and cried and couldn’t seem to stop the flow of my salty tears for all of her pain and suffering. Although the hardships brought us close together, she didn’t deserve them. Her rapid decline in her health with an untreatable autoimmune virus, Sjogren's syndrome, was a life altering condition that forced her to withdraw into herself. She could no longer be the busy business woman she once was. She could no longer go running, play golf, practice yoga, drive her real estate clients around, eat out, travel, or socialize. Even something as simple as being outside, feeling the cool island trade winds, being under the warm tropical sun, or going to the store became almost impossible with her condition. Everything in her life came to a screeching halt; and because of her cultural influences of never wanting to be a burden to anyone, her condition was kept a secret. To the outside world, it was as if she fell off the face of the earth. I thought about how isolated her life had become in her solitude and how insecure she felt about herself and her appearance—although to me, she was still so beautiful.
As I cried these tears of painful sadness, we came to a stop at an intersection and a cable car passed by. In a matter of a few serendipitous moments, my tears became a deep and comforting reassurance. It was as if this cable car intercepted my heartbreaking sadness and reminded me of the immense joy we shared. I was flooded with memories of Mama and the cable cars of San Francisco. She once gifted me a wind-up wooden cable car that played the melody of “I Left my Heart in San Francisco” that I kept in my room. I would look at it and fantasize about how one day I too, would travel to that romantic city.
I thought about the trips we took in her last 4 years here on earth and how we would ride the cable cars throughout the city. It was the only handful of times during her 10 years of being confined to the interior of our home in Hawaii that she would just somehow miraculously pull herself together. Her sister from Japan would join us and Mama would step outside of her suffering for the sake of us. It made us think that maybe she was going to be all right and that maybe she was getting better. Unbeknownst to us, she was still struggling.
I thought about one particular memorable ride on the cable car, she was seated behind me and she wrapped her loving arms around me. It was one of the rare moments of physical affection. She gave me the most loving embrace and squeeze that said “I love you” more than words could ever express; I was her bambino, her baby. I always felt so loved by her, without the reenactments of TV-moms that I grew up watching on television that lavished their children with hugs, kisses on their scraped knees, and endless “I love yous”. That wasn’t how we were; but it never mattered. I understood her, I understood the Japanese culture, and I always knew she loved me. There would be moments where she would just stop and take a moment to look at me with such love and adoration. She would touch my face or come and hug me out of the blue and those moments were so incredibly powerful. I saw how other kids would roll their eyes at their overly adoring mothers and I couldn’t relate. I appreciated her love. The moments we shared stood out; they meant a lot to me, and they were so precious. I knew on that ride that that moment would never leave me; I knew that it would forever echo the incredible love that only a mother could give, and in that moment, when I needed it the most, I felt it all over again.
The double date with Aya and her husband ended up being momentous. It was the perfect meeting and experience of the propensity of both life and death. We watched a movie at the iconic Kabuki theatre and ate delicious Japanese food. During our meal, Aya had an important announcement to make that she had been waiting to tell me in person; she was pregnant! My childhood best friend, who was both a beautiful woman and yet, the 10 year old little girl, who showed me true friendship. Aya was going to be a mother. I was utterly overjoyed. Tears of happiness flowed from my eyes. I felt absolute, pure unconditional love; the love of a child for a mother and a mother’s love for her child. I felt that love in its entirety and in every fiber of my being.
My joy and my sorrow hold hands with one another; they are two sides of the same coin, just as birth and death are. They both stand beside us and are our life long companions. Birth welcomes each one of us to exist here in this world and death is that which will see us all out. We also experience them alternately for we die and are reborn many times within a lifetime. Both joy and sorrow visit me continually. One always greets me while the other awaits its turn, and sometimes they keep me company at the same time. I have been blessed with such profound love and joy and with that comes inevitable, deep sorrow. The depth of my sorrow is an equitable reflection of that boundless love; a union that could not exist without the other. I have learned that joy and sorrow will continue to co-exist in my life, that both will tenderly embrace me—just as Mama’s hug on that cable car ride will continue to embrace me for the rest of my life.