My Mom, Natsuko Oshiro Aoki, transitioned to her life after life on August 7 at the age of 91. She was in hospice care at home. My brother Warren and I gave the eulogy, though I wrote both parts. He added his own twist to his part too. Here is the eulogy:
Beloved mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, aunty, sister, sister-in-law, friend. Mom was born in Molokai and raised in Hilo, a graduate of Hilo High School, 1949. She was recognized by her teachers and with their help, mom attended the Queen’s Hospital School of Nursing in Honolulu on scholarship, and became a registered nurse.
She was sent to work at the Kona Hospital, and met “Jonesy” - Yasuto Aoki, a carpenter, coffee farmer, and National Guardsman. They married on June 27, 1953 and soon four children were born in Kona - Shayne, Diane, Kevin, and Brian. Because dad got a job with the federal government, the family moved to Guam, where they had two more children - Warren and Ron.
Mom continued to work as a nurse; most of her career was in the local Guam hospital. When she retired in 1988, she was the Assistant Director of Nurses, having served in many positions over the years. She was very well-respected and people who knew her as a nurse, always spoke highly of her.
They had always known they would move back to Kona upon retirement. The move back was made in 1989, when dad also retired. Around the same time, dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He built the house, with the support of mom, family, and friends, as he was being treated. It was completed in 1990. Dad was able to enjoy the fruits of his labor for about four years; he lost his battle with cancer in September 1994.
Mom spent her retirement years living in this dream house of hers, pursuing her many interests - orchids, gardening, Hawaiian quilting, pottery, sumi-e brush painting, dried flower art, crochet lei-making. She excelled in watercolor painting and produced many beautiful pieces. In her final months, she loved to go holo-holo and “see the world.” On these car rides, she loved the view of the ocean and colorful flowers, especially bougainvillea.
As the one left in mom’s house, I have the privilege of going through the artifacts of her life - clothes, appliances, gifts, knickknacks, etc.. It is a chore, for sure, but it is also a way of honoring her, remembering her, not just who she was in recent memory, which are the strongest and most painful memories, but who she was throughout her life.
As I go through the cards that mom received over the years, I found treasures - cards that seemed to capture the essence of who she was and what she meant to each of us. Shout out to greeting card writers who can put into words what’s in our hearts. For example, from Warren - He says he picked it out because “you do fit all of the adjectives on the card” - beautiful, creative, cool, special, wise, fun-loving, adventurous, unique. From Kevin, “I just want to say thanks for everything - the wisdom, the patience, the love, that came straight from your heart to mine.” From Shayne - You were my first example of a woman’s gentle, caring ways, Mom, and although I may not tell you often, we’re very grateful for your loving influence in our lives. From Ron, “Your unconditional love and the thoughtful things you’ve done have not only been beautiful examples, but also the greatest gifts you could have given, There’s no way to ever repay you, but many, many prayers of thanks have gone up to God for the gift of you.” From Brian, “Through everything life has brought my way - laughter, disappointment, wonder, frustration, joy - you’ve been there to share it with me - celebrating, soothing, encouraging, supporting, believing, nurturing. Your generous heart and inner beauty are gifts I treasure more as time goes by.” Mine: “ A heart that cares, a life that inspires, a love that guides.”
She not only was dear to us, her immediate family, I know by the expressions of sympathy we have received, that she touched many lives. Their memories of her were consistent: She was kind, generous, friendly.
Weeding the yard, I came across the hearty mondo grass. I had forgotten she planted this when she first started to work the yard. The weeds overtook them over the years but they persisted, underneath. There were orchids that my neighbor Linda helped me to uncover, under the ferns in the front. There is this cactus that I swear is being killed by the vines and overgrown grass, but continues to flower even though it looks sick.
Many things that I admired most about her had become less and less visible in her final years. But just like I uncovered the mondo grass and the orchids, I now know that they still persisted, were a part of her spirit, even though they were not always visible. Some of her unique qualities persisted to the end, especially her sense of humor and her love of beauty. Your fingerprints remain your fingerprints, even though your hands become wrinkled and frail. In the end, it didn’t matter that her some of her most precious qualities appeared covered by the challenges of the aging process. What matters is that she lived a rich, loving, and beautiful life. Just like I try to channel dad when I need help fixing something, I know mom will be my guide for living a rich, loving, and beautiful life. In the end, that is what persists.
But this happened
I printed this out and since I didn't want to bring up readers, I used a large font. When I printed it, I only printed two pages rather than 3. So as I'm reading my notes at our covid-sized and zoomed service, I saw to my horror, that I didn't have the third page! I muddled my way through. Everyone said it was fine and I made it work. Oh well, it lightened up the somber service a bit. And life lesson - when things don't go as planned, it's okay.
I was looking through my photos looking for a visual representation of my state of being on this second day of the new year. A morning moon? Why? A contradiction? A confusion? Yet, there is beauty in this. I really don't want to write. I haven't been writing all year. I was focused on "doing my part" to change the direction of the country and get rid of the awfulness that was represented by TFG (The Former Guy whose name shall not be mentioned). That was a great day when we won! And then 1/6 happened and then the awfulness was revealed when the R party chose to buy into the Big Lie, rather than to support the democratic process. And it's just gotten worse. I haven't been able to put energy into trying to make a difference, though I see the threats, especially in the attempts to weaken voting rights, oh yeah, and climate change, oh yeah and racism, oh yeah and fascism, oh yeah and covid, oh yeah and abortion rights, oh yeah and divisiveness. Aaaaaah!
My energy went to other places. I lost my mom in August, and in the months prior to that, I was in a lot of anxiety about how best to care for her. I am not ready to share publicly about that experience, or about how I'm doing now. Just know that that undergirds everything. (I'll post the eulogy I wrote on another post). I'm trying to remember where 2021 went and I can see by looking at my photos and files that I had "projects." They are mostly works-in-progress. We shall see if they become more completed. But I am forever a "work-in-progress" so .... (Maybe a blog post on my unfinished work is in order.)
I spend many hours taking care of house things and yard work. I am trying to find balance. My self-care doesn't seem to be writing these days, I do find satisfaction in yard work and to some extent, housework. I have many interests and there are not enough hours in the day to do them all, not to mention energy and attention. I don't know if I want to keep this website going. Right now, I am finding it hard to find the motivation. But pulling weeds and keeping up with the citrus which are now in season now is highly motivating. Getting rid of yucky carpets, broken blinds, outdated toilets, and decades of unused and never-will-be used stuff is also highly motivating. Yet, I still seek balance. It'll come in 2022, That's my intention.
Note: I took a Skillshare class called “The Style Class: Work out Your Illustration Style Through a Daily Project” with Instructor Tom Froese. My project was “By Their Fruit You Shall Know Them” as I identified human “fruit” (values, behaviors, principles) and a fruit for every letter of the alphabet. Some letters have a lot of possibilities, both for the idea and for the fruit, and some letters are a stretch. But I was able to do it, though not all of the fruit are personally known to me. However, all the ideas are important to me, I will use this project as inspiration to write, as I seem to be not writing much in the new year, or since the election actually. Another note: I am writing for an adult audience, though these illustrations look child-like. Maybe my children’s version will come later.
What is authenticity? Being authentic, your real, true self. One of the most influential writers on my life is Parker Palmer. His book Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of A Teacher’s Life got me through the rough years of teaching when I resisted the test-centered mandates.. It helped me to strive to be “authentic” in this struggle - to never forget that my students are precious souls that I am responsible to nurture., to help to be authentic. An earlier book of his, A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life deepened my quest for authenticity and helped me to understand people who appear one way to the world, but whose actions contradict that. Their actions spoke louder than their apparent persona.
This morning I was listening to a podcast - Design Matters with Debbie Millman. The guest was Tanya Selvaratham, a writer-producer-activist. Her book Assume Nothing is an account of her experience with domestic violence. In the podcast, she discusses the insidiousness of abuse by one’s partner. In her case, it was the New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who she fell in love with because his appearance to the world as a progressive who meditated hid his latent misogyny. This reminded me of my interest in authenticity, especially in terms of one's relationships.
My first play, Wind Dances, was about a young Japanese-American dancer who hid her authentic self from her father. My second play, Pulani, was about a young Chamorro girl who had to go on a journey to become her authentic self, a healer responsible to help her community. I wrote a play, Ka Ikena, exploring whether one could or should return to one’s values held in youth. The main character was a visionary poet as a college student and then became a successful developer. When I was writing this, I kept this theme taped to the wall next to my desk - “Can one live an authentic life?” I suppose if I stretched it, I’d find a way to fit this theme into all of my writing, but you get the idea.
How do you know if you are being authentic? How do I know if I am being true to myself, or just fooling myself? Just trying to please? To make nice? To avoid conflict? I have tried to twist myself every which way in the past, especially in navigating the world of relationships and trying to make something work when it wasn’t meant to.
In today's political climate, I am particularly triggered by blatant hypocrisy - for example how one can claim to be "pro-life" but then have no empathy for migrants who risk their lives so that their children can have not jut better lives, but LIFE itself. And who would have thought I would honor Republican Liz Cheney for her integrity? I disagree with most of her conservative views but admire her courage standing up to the dangerous anti-democratic lies that her party continues to spew.
What is truth? Authenticity? I do think the answer is knowable, but sometimes it needs to unfurl on its own. It takes being vigilant, being open to being wrong, being on the lookout for signs. For example, if you lie, and find yourself having to lie again to cover your initial lie, that’s a sign of inauthenticity. If you hurt and alienate loved ones to preserve your lie, that is a sign.
The quest for authenticity is a song that never ends.You can keep adding verses, keeping the theme and melody of your authentic self. It can get more and more complex, but you know it’s consistently the same song. If you don't know what that song is - the melody, the theme - that is a sign and a first step is to find it. . Then sing it.
Writing long essays were good for me, to help me to organize my thoughts, back up my arguments, etc., but it was a lot like preaching to the choir, and having few readers.. I find that writing letters to the editor of my local paper serves a greater purpose. This is my community, so I am in dialogue with people in my own small community. I don't have illusions that I changed anyone's mind, but I think it's important to TRY to educate. This was in response to a previous letter writer who wanted to know why the media called the insurrectionists involved in the Capitol riots a "mob" while the Black Lives Matter protesters are called "protestors" or "activists."
The sun sets on 2020, and in the past I made a list of "best things" about the year. This year, my list is shorter. No travel, but lots of learning. This will not be in chronological order, or in order of importance. Except for the first one, the things will be posted as they come to my mind as I relax with this adult beverage.
If I had to choose a word to describe how I feel about 2020, I would say fortunate. Though I am sad to have lost loved ones I will never see again (two cousins, a beloved husband of a good friend), for the most part, I have been fortunate. Instead of feeling restless and frustrated, I feel gratitude. Grateful that I have a place to live, an income (pension, investments, social security), a family, friends, health, a sense of purpose.
Reflection one year after a psychedelic women’s retreat
Many of you who know me might be shocked to know that the women’s retreat I went to last year was a psilocybin (aka “magic mushrooms”) retreat, so this is a “coming out” of sorts. I had been meaning to write about my experience at this Dia de Muertos (Day of the Dead) women’s retreat in Oaxaca, Mexico ever since I returned a year ago. But it is better that I waited a year; I can now write about how it affected me.
My psilocybin journey connected the dots for me in many ways and I am convinced this particular gift from nature has much to offer the world. I wrote a detailed account which I will publish in total at some point. In this essay, I skip the activities and descriptive details and instead share how it helped me to break through spiritual, creative, and psychological blocks.
The Dec. 1 Bloomberg Opinion piece on education policy reminded me of the bad old days of former presidents George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind and Barack Obama’s Race to the Top, with its anti-union undertones and that trigger word — “accountability.”
It paints unions as protecting members, devoid of accountability. No one goes into teaching because it’s easy, or because they can do whatever and be protected by a union. If you ask educators why they went into the profession, their answers will most likely be altruistic. Teachers want to be successful in their jobs, but most know that success measured by test scores is shallow and demoralizing. Encouraging positive relationships, assigning meaningful long-term projects, promoting collaboration with others, fostering creativity, reading to pursue their own interests, applying critical thinking are goals that don’t get measured but contribute to measures of success for most teachers.
The Bloomberg piece encourages Biden to expand charter schools. We do have successful ones in West Hawaii, but expansion means the opposite for traditional schools — reduction. Again, the Bloomberg piece demonizes unions, saying they have “waged war” against charter schools. In Hawaii, charter schools are represented by the same union as traditional public schools, so there isn’t the same antagonism that other places may have. However, there is some resentment between the two types of schools, having to do with funding.
In the Biden-Harris administration, I am hoping for a new era of respect for public education. Opportunities that we provide can be monitored and elevated. Besides securing the basics, we can note if students are getting the counseling they need and the arts that would enhance their learning; if their physical environments are conducive to learning; if they are safe; if they have nutritious meals; if they are learning how to get along with each other; if they are connecting to their communities and the world; if critical thinking is valued and implemented.
Test scores are only one piece of information about student development, but if it’s the major thing you consider, everything else will take a back seat.
Diane Aoki is a resident of Kealakekua
Another of my letters to my local paper.
Democracy or republic? Electoral College or not?
I agree with Patricia Knox’s letter on Nov. 24 that civics education needs to be mandatory. Just as important is thinking skills, which can be taught all across the curriculum through all grades. This includes the ability to process complex issues, such as whether the United States is a democracy or republic, or the merits of the Electoral College. Ms. Knox claims that we are not a democracy. A democracy is a government by the people either directly OR by their elected representatives. In a republic, laws are made by elected representatives and governed by a constitution protecting its citizens’ rights. So, we are both.
The Electoral College was a cunning deal, with the slave-owning states gaining the upper hand. Counting their slaves as 3/5ths of a person, gave them more representatives and electors, which served them well. Now that we have Constitutional voting rights protections, does the Electoral College still serve to perpetuate racism, as it did at its onset?
One thing to consider: A vote in California, which has a very diverse population, carries less weight than a voter in Wyoming, a very white state, when translating the numbers into the Electoral College. A vote in states with large urban areas, which are racially diverse, have less weight than states that are largely rural, which are mostly white.
The times demand of us to be critical thinkers. Civics education must include the history and impact of this racism.
Diane Aoki is a writer who explores other modes of creativity as her intuition leads her.