Celebrating Yoshie – Living Bravely and Boldly with Lung Cancer 

28 Jun

Hello lovelies…this post is about my life between the miles – it is about the celebration of my mother-in-law’s life that came to an early end because of her battle with cancer. 

We celebrated mom’s life this past weekend. We didn’t want this day to come, at least not until she led a long happy life. But we didn’t have a choice. We have been forced to go on without her. And while we all feel the suffering, the pain, and the grieving, we are fortunate mom is no longer experiencing the same. On June 25, 2016 family and friends gathered to remember the light that she was.

Mom was only 60. A fresh new 60. She would have told you she was 37 though. It’s amazing that in a flash backwards we were celebrating her 50th birthday in the same house. She was as magnanimous then as she was during her last days, and remarkably enough, the same age, 37. 

We celebrate mom’s life because that’s what she would have wanted. Nobody has a choice about time traveling on. We just have to. We have to go on without mom. I see the reservoir of pain that the loss has caused in the hearts of her husband and son. I know we are all feeling the suffering and pain of her loss. F*ck cancer. 

During the memorial I realized that the pieces of mom that we keep don’t have to be material. They are memories imprinted on our hearts. Family and friends cheerfully shared stories of her radiant smile and her infectious laughter during the celebration. We learned from others what we have always known, that mom was wonderfully generous and warm. She was always excited to see you and she made you feel like she was your biggest fan. Mom’s boss shared with us that she made sure she was the first to wish everyone “Happy Friday” at work. It was a game! We could picture her enthusiasm at the office and we all shared a heartfelt yet heavy chuckle.
 
In learning of this story I reflected on my Fridays. Every Friday in my inbox I had an email from mom. The subject line was simple, “Happy Friday!” And the content of the email was a “hello, happy Friday, happy weekend. Love you. Miss you. Ciao!” My heart smiled but wasn’t free of pain. I realized in that moment I won’t be receiving any more emails from mom. Our little exchanges stopped when God decided he needed her more than we did. And in those moments I selfishly acknowledged how I still needed her emails. Having mom peppered in my day with a Skype call, phone call or email made everything okay. She gave me peace and made me laugh despite the peripheral chaos. I need happy Friday. And now it’s gone. 

I was sprinkled in and out of mom’s life for 15 years. But in the time I spent with her and her family, I saw how mom had done the best she could raising her family and in being a friend. She, again, gave generously all that she had and more. There was no end to her generosity. Ever. Even during her final days. 

Mom fought cancer emphatically. She knew cancer was a ruthless bitch but she wasn’t afraid. Mom chose to be brave. She fought bravely for 26 months. Her oncologist’s best case was 24 months. Leave it to mom to fight longer! But she didn’t know. She refused to know the prognosis of lung cancer. In a sense, her incredulous disposition allowed her to be jubilantly blind to the unyielding outcome that awaited her. In my opinion, I think it was a blessing because it allowed her to live each day boldly!

Mom was brave her entire life (she took a chance on David – her husband). Brave and equally stubborn (I know where Andy gets it from, thanks mom). This combination of attributes helped her mental grit to stay strong and continue to fight. Not one day did mom reveal that she felt like a victim. She refused. She didn’t take the easy way out and let cancer get the best of her. She stayed happy. It was remarkable. How can one be so incredibly happy when faced with such an untenable and dire diagnosis? She was happier than what seemed appropriate. She really put things in perspective. We can learn so much from her.  

We miss her. I’m so fortunate to have found my way back in her life. Oriana knows her grandma. She used to kick to the sound of her voice and mom’s entire face would light up. Her smile would grow with such exuberance. Oriana will continue to know her grandma. Not in a physical sense. Not by her voice singing lullabies and seeing to it that her granddaughter, who is the splitting image of her son, falls asleep, but because we will continue to speak of mom and share her memory, like they share the same birthday. In a way they are one. 

It’s hard for us to wrap our minds around mom not being here. It’s hard for me to see my fiancé face this reality. The hurt is visible. But I believe Oriana has helped him through this pain. As a mother now, I understand love in another form. And with that, I’m bewildered that with mom being such a soft, benevolent soul, that someone of her own bloodline didn’t make an appearance at the memorial. In addition, she didn’t phone or send flowers. She wasn’t absent because she couldn’t handle the emotional affair, she was absent because over the course of several years, her heart has been completely dissolved of love and forgiveness. She is devoid of feelings. This woman is a mother, too. But clearly she is missing a sensitivity chip, a maternal link that unifies sisterhood and the celebration of women. In addition to her absence, she also neglected to send mom flowers or a card for (her last) Mother’s Day and her birthday. It wasn’t until mom’s husband reached out, again after countless efforts, to inform her that mom’s days were shortly numbered that she finally showed up. The family was happy she made an appearance. Mom was able to see her three grandchildren that were selfishly poached from her for years before passing. 

This person saw her brother but disregarded him as blood. One could speculate that she gives more respect to strangers than to her own family. In her typical tasteless mannerism, she also failed to congratulate Andy on the birth of his daughter and engagement to me (like some other tacky people). 

Anyway, I’ve given this woman too much attention but I bring it up because Andy, despite the history of her wretched behavior, included her in his speech as well as in an exquisite video montage that he created for the service. 

While we scoured through photographs, I couldn’t help but have sheets of tears fall down my face. Picture after picture painted an image of mom holding her first granddaughter. Laughing. Smiling. Dancing. Nurturing. Exactly how I remember mom. In those moments I was forced to accept that mom has three grandchildren that had spent minimal time with her but the time that was documented revealed a history of fun and joy. And here we are with Oriana who will never be charmed by grandma’s silly lullabies, soothed by her gentle touch, or bounced by the rhythm of her dancing. In a very short time going through pictures I had a laundry list of upsets because Oriana was robbed of mom by cancer, and her other grandchildren were robbed of mom by her very own daughter.m. Andy’s sister has no clue what she has done. I would do anything to have Oriana know and love mom in a physical state. I would do anything to have my daughter be embraced by the warmth that was mom – but she never will be. The thought is unbearable. 

What I’m writing isn’t absent of honest conversation. Every family has dysfunction. I’m not airing out dirty laundry – her behavior has been flagrantly evident and witnessed by family, friends and medical staff for years. But the tale of this dysfunction stopped at mom’s death. There were so many opportunities for this woman to make things better, amicable at best. Andy, being the class-act that he is, found that he exhausted his efforts over the years. Any effort made was returned with mute silence. Silence that begged to be undisturbed; screeching evidence that she had long abandoned the family. The disturbing thing is that mom knew she wouldn’t come to her funeral. The only time I saw mom cry was when she spoke of this. Cancer didn’t hurt mom’s spirits – her daughter did. 

The memorial was a success. Andy did not preclude his sister from the service. Family and friends asked where she was and he casually remarked that she couldn’t make it. Interesting. Family from Japan made it out to see mom in March when it was revealed that the cancer metastasized to the brain. That was a 13+ hour journey not including layovers. Family and friends also traveled from Arizona to Wisconsin to celebrate mom’s life. We even drove 13+ hours from DC to Wisconsin (with a newborn and a dog). But she couldn’t make a 3 hour drive. The trek must have been burdened with too much traffic, or perhaps guilt…

She is undeserving of this attention. I digress.

Mom, we will practice forgiveness as you have displayed by example. It was just that her actions were so glaringly dismissive and you deserve more. You deserved more. You deserved the world. 

Your absence hurts but we know you and Oriana share the same spirit. We see you in her smiles and hear you in her coos. Andy, Oriana and I are writing a new story. Oriana Yoshie is your bloodline and she has your charismatic spirit already! Your life is being carried on through our little girl, and that is our sweeping redemptive ending – or beginning. Your spirit goes on. 

The reality that you’re not here though sends an electrical current of hurt through our bodies. Moving forward without you is a monumental task. We celebrate you, every single day. I wish you could be here. We wish you were with us to watch the NBA finals. We wish we could have seen your happy dance when Cleveland won! We wish you could hold your granddaughter today and every tomorrow, but we are eternally grateful you both met each other. I know you’re looking down on us and you can see this, but I want to tell you, your son is an extraordinary father. A generous fiancé with a stubborn streak. Please help me learn to accept this! But honestly, with his stubborn attitude aside (an indication that you’re still very present) you would be so proud. We ask that you continue to guide us like you have through this unchartered experience. 

We will remember to see the beauty in the ugly. We will remember to fight through adversity. We will remember that there is always a reason to smile when things feel heavy and hopeless. We will carry on “Happy Friday!” notes. We will let go of resentment. We will practice forgiveness. We will do all of this in your honor. We will live courageously, bravely and boldly with you in our hearts and your cinematic laughter in our ears. In closing, and with Elton John’s words, we remember “How wonderful life is while you’re in the world.”

We love you. 

Wishing you all unconditional love, the courage to forgive and the strength to fight boldly any battle or heartbreak that you face.

God bless.

Thanks for stopping by.

XO

Valgal


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