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.
Diane Aoki is a writer who explores other modes of creativity as her intuition leads her.