Light the Lights and Ring the Bells

At this time of year, almost anywhere you may go, you can see holiday lights. Sparkling lights adorn the evergreen tree in the mall parking lot, as well as decorating doorways and front lawns in your neighborhood. Personally, I’m partial to the blue lights on our Palm tree in front of our house.bluelightspalm

Lights also play a major role in the Jewish celebration of Chanukah, the winter festival of lights.  In Japan, the celebration of Christmas is not necessarily for religious reasons, nor is it much of a commercial holiday.  However, their outside Christmas light displays are amazing.

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But lights are not just illuminating the outdoors.  Two weeks ago, I attended a remembrance service sponsored by the local hospice. Each of us that gathered there had lost a loved one. Some people had lost someone as far back as twenty years while some as recent as a few days before.

Inside the church four candles were lit- one represented grief, the second courage, the third one for our memories, and the fourth for our love. One of the hospice staff lit his individual candle, while saying the names of the people he was honoring and a fond memory about them. He then passed the light to the next person and we each in turn did the same. I’m not going to lie, it was difficult, yet very cathartic.

Inside my home, I lit candles the past 4 Sundays on our advent wreath. These lights remind me that a baby was born long ago to be with us, to save us, to stay with us.  Celebrating that miraculous birthday gives me strength and hope through each aspect of my life.adventwreath2

Our own birthdays are another occasion with candlelight.  My mom’s fell on December 15.  She loved éclairs more than cake. I remember the last birthday we celebrated. She was in a nursing home for physical rehab after her first hospital stay.  She finally had her appetite and I wanted to bring her an éclair.

It sounds easy enough.  However, around here, eclairs are not all made the same.  Some only have a fluffy, frosting cream instead of the yummy custard we had up north.  Anyway… I finally had found a bakery.  My daughter and I brought it to her, along with a little battery operated candle that she could make a wish on.  We sang to her, and kept the candle going the rest of the night. Little did I know, she would be gone in 4 weeks to the day of that birthday.

Last year, I was too depressed to celebrate her birthday.  But this year, I bought an éclair, lit a candle, and we celebrated my mom.

Glimmering lights and candles are used for remembrances and celebrations. In that sense, I feel that a person’s love for us can also be a light in our life.  When someone passes away, their light may flicker, but it is never really snuffed out. The source of the light is just a bit further away, and our loving memories keep the flame burning.

We are now about to usher in 2017. Many countries celebrate the new year with fireworks, firecrackers, and bells ringing. While I was growing up, my mother insisted that I always be home with her on New Year’s Eve. She believed that if the whole family was together at that time, there would be good fortune in the new year.  When I married, and moved further away, I would call her right after the ball dropped in Times Square and wish her happy new year in Japanese –  “Akemashite Omedetou Gozaimasu”. (One of the few Japanese phrases I know). I did this every year until she passed away. I so miss that. (I also miss the time when I could stay awake past midnight.)

In THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM(TLCB), one of the featured holidays is the New Year celebration(Oshogatsu).  Yuriko’s Papa settled his business finances for the year, they cleaned the house, New Year decorations were put up, and Yuriko helped her relatives prepare their special food for the New Year celebration which lasted from December 31st through January 3rd.

I feel that the sentiment from this paragraph of Yuriko’s celebration in TLCB echoes what I hope 2017 will bring:

           I took Papa’s hand as the temple bell began to strike. It rang out 108 times.  Each toll of the bell was intended to symbolize the release of a sin or bad habit, giving a fresh start to the New Year. But with each bong I sat wishing, “Peace, peace, peace…”  

I wish you a peaceful New Year filled with much joy and light with your loved ones!

Also linking up at Coffee For Your Heart.

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SECOND TO NONE

It’s been a while since I wrote a post, hopefully you missed them. 🙂  I had been dealing with a lot of firsts: my first birthday without my Mom, first Mother’s Day, first Thanksgiving, Christmas, and her first anniversary in January. It took (and still does) grief therapy sessions, prayers, wonderful family and friends to help me make it through them. Not only that but they reminded me of the grace and joy still in those very days.

In the midst of these firsts, I began my first major round of edits for THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM, with my publisher. It excited and overwhelmed me. Excitement because I knew that meant I was on the road to publication. That said, upon opening the Track Changes editing program with its maze of lines and comments, I did what any dedicated author would do. I closed it. I Grabbed a paper bag and began hyperventilating into it. My one thought- I was not capable of writing an email, never mind a blog post, and certainly not a novel.

But, I then made a batch of crispy rice treats, hot cocoa (to soften the blow) and opened it again. I read one comment at a time, instead of all at once (I ran out of paper bags). My editors were so helpful with their comments and directives for new scenes. They also had a lot to say of what they liked-that renewed my hope.

An interesting thing about the timing of these edits, aside from having a tight deadline around the Christmas holiday, recovering from a pain flare, and researching for the new scenes(OK I did enjoy that), was I could visit with my mom once again. I looked through some of my research books and found notes of questions I had meant to ask my mother but never got the chance. But I also found information about her family tree that I had forgotten about.

I could hear the catch and tremble in her voice when she recalled the sad, horrific times. But I could also hear her voice retelling me the joyful loving events of her childhood. I could see the smile on her face and the love shining in her eyes. I remembered the long and tight hugs she would give me afterwards.

So as I approach the second Mother’s day without her, I realize that with each presentation I give, with each person who may read my book, with each hug I give to/receive from my daughter, and with each pain flare I get through, my mother’s love and perseverance are there. These realizations do not erase the ache of losing her. But knowing and remembering that she will always be with me, begins to fill some of the cracks in my broken heart.

the three Ishikawas

Happy Mother’s day Mom, with love from your daughter & granddaughter.

And Happy Mother’s day to all of you Moms out there!

Linking up at:

STATIC

Do you remember what the screen looked and sounded like when a TV station would go off for the night? Yes, I know to some it’s hard to believe there was a time without 24 hour programming or infomercials. White noise bothers some people, but others use white noise machines to relax and sleep.

In Tokyo we were dazzled by all of the bright neon lights and digital billboards. At every subway stop in Tokyo there was an equivalent to the NYC Times Square. The neon lights were not limited to the famous Ginza shopping district.

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Once we exited the subway station in the Shibuya district of Tokyo, multiple digital billboards that talk at you greeted us. At a certain time every hour, all the billboards played the same commercial in unison as a type of surround sound not found in any cinema. I found it eerie-it seemed more like an episode of DR. WHO, when people on the billboards come to life and attack (I have no idea if there is such an episode, but there should be).

shibuya stationThe displays were mesmerizing yet overwhelming at the same time. I can relate it to the emotions that have been buzzing through my thoughts lately. Sometimes, all the concerns and anxiety I have just will not stop yammering.

Some thoughts are exciting ones like: I’m less than 9 months away from the publishing date when THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM hits the shelves! That’s August 2nd for those of you who don’t want to do the math 🙂 But that leads to: how will I successfully market the book? Will I physically be able to attend conferences? Will schools want to buy the book for their classroom? And lastly, will I be able to write anything else?

Other constant chatter involves my concern with my bad pain days increasing and that each RSD flare up takes me longer to bounce back to my “normal pain level”.

The static in my head feels as if my fight or flight switch that turned on 18 months ago from various losses and changes has been on for so long it doesn’t know how to shut off. I feel like I am supposed to put out a fire but I’m running (well limping would be more like it) in circles looking for my lost bucket of water needed to douse the flames.

Sometimes to feel better, I scream, rant, and cry (not necessarily in that order). But it is not always plausible to burst into tears. For example being in the produce section at the grocery store is NOT the best time. Not that I know this for a fact or anything…okay, yeah it happened. However, I do find that if I am in the car screaming or yelling, I don’t feel embarrassed because anyone that might see me may think I have a Bluetooth or am singing a really, really angry song.

I’m still trying to figure out how I’ll deal with the first major holidays without my mom. My grief counselor and various articles I’ve read about the grief journey discussed that there is no wrong way to celebrate the holidays. Celebrate in a way that is comforting to you and what makes you feel the most grounded amidst all the changes. Interestingly enough, a YA novel I recently read has been helpful with this sentiment.

In ORCHARDS, an award-winning novel by Holly Thompson, the main character, Kana, is trying to find meaning of a classmate’s suicide. She’s sent from the U.S. to spend her summer vacation with Japanese relatives on their mikan (orange) farm on the seaside of Japan. She is only half Japanese so many of the Japanese customs aren’t followed in her American home. I could definitely relate to that 🙂

Kana, stuck in her grief, wondered if she could have helped the classmate somehow and what she can do to help her friends deal with what happened. While in Japan she celebrates the Obon Festival (a carnival like celebration usually in August, but depends on the region of Japan and celebrated for over 500 yrs.).  Loved ones are remembered  with appreciation for all they had done for their family.

The family welcomes the spirit back into their homes with a special altar, sprucing up the burial area, sharing the memories of their loved one, and a bonfire to guide their family members back to their resting place.

Because of other lessons learned while living with her Japanese relatives and partaking in the Obon Festival to honor her Grandfather she becomes ‘unstuck’. Kana discovers a way to remember the classmate, heal her own heart, and help others heal as well. It is a wonderful novel and well worth reading to find out what other steps she took on her grief journey.

The sentiment that got through my white noise was that she couldn’t control one way or another what happened to her classmate, but she could control how she chose to remember her in a meaningful, loving way. So, I am continuing to pray that I am open to whatever God (one constant amidst the changes) places in my heart to offset the static in my head.

(Sending prayers to all who are grieving for loved ones or their loss of a sense of security and peace in Paris) ❤

I will be sharing this post at:

Belated Thank you(s)

After my last blog post, Unconditionally, I received a lovely gesture from Carole Parkes.  She has a delightful blog from across the pond that I follow.  She nominated me for the Written Act of Kindness Award.  This award is given from one blogger to another to let them know their words bring inspiration.

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I am so very grateful to Carole and am sending a very belated THANK YOU!!  Your award definitely brought a smile to my face at a time I needed a reason to smile 🙂

Please visit Carole Parkes blog at: https://carolec55.wordpress.com/author/caroleparkes/

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Later that day, the wonderful writer at the blog Spoons, Sailing, CRPS, and Penguins, nominated me for the Liebster award!   The Liebster Award is given to introduce readers to newer blogs with fewer than 200 followers. Such a cool way to help each other out in the blogosphere!

Liebster

The Rules:

Thank the person who nominated you and link their blog

A truly heartfelt thank you to Sailing Penguin!!!!  She has a wonderful blog as well!

Answer the 11 questions sent by them.  So here are my answers to Sailing Penguin:

Favourite colour                                              Purple

Favourite car?                                                  It was a used Mazda 626, my Godfather helped me to purchase when in college.

Favourite place in the world?                     Japan

Any pets?                                                        Yes.  Well, you all read about my Henry.  We now just have the “other” dog, Scarlet.  I am still not quite sure who plays the ‘pet role’ in our relationship 🙂

Can you play a musical instrument?        I took piano lessons in middle school.  I can still play a tune or two on my piano.  Not that anyone ever has any requests… 

Any hobbies?                                                 Writing!  And when my hands allow, I love quilting and any craft involving a glue gun!

Favourite food?                                              Meatloaf-I know boring-but my mom made a GREAT meatloaf 

Tea or coffee?                                                  Definitely coffee in the morning, but I won’t refuse a cup of tea in the afternoon

Something you would never part with?     My family

Favourite bird?                                               Red Cardinal

Favourite TV programme?                           The third hour of the TODAY show with Kathie Lee & Hoda

Next, nominate blogs with less than 200 followers. The bad news, not all blogs list the number of followers, so I may have named a blog with 200+.  The good news, I love reading your blog! 🙂

Please know you do NOT have to participate.  I am happy for the opportunity to spread the word about your wonderful blogs! In no particular order:

http://wordwranglernc.wordpress.com/

http://painwarriors.wordpress.com/

http://girlseeksspoons.wordpress.com/

http://abodyofhope.wordpress.com/

http://lindamartinandersen.wordpress.com/

http://joanyedwards.wordpress.com/?wref=bif

http://carolec55.wordpress.com/

http://carolbaldwinblog.blogspot.com/

http://www.lindavigenphillips.com/blog/

List 11 questions for them to answer.  Here are my 11 questions:

  1. Favorite color
  2. Favorite book
  3. Favorite place in the world
  4. Any pets?
  5. Can you play a musical instrument?
  6. Any hobbies?
  7. Favorite food?
  8. Tea or coffee?
  9. What is one thing you would never part with?
  10. If you write, where is your favorite place to write?
  11. Favorite movie/TV program?

You’ll notice I am using all but two of the same questions I was given-why reinvent the wheel, right?

Let them know they have been nominated.  I most definitely will!

I am also extremely grateful for everyone’s comments of inspiration and support while I attempt navigation on my journey with grief.

UNCONDITIONALLY

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The first 3 months of 2015 have been very difficult for me.  It involved losses that led to change, and I do NOT like change (I know I can’t be alone here).  As you know, I lost my mom only 2 months ago.  I am still reeling from that especially since the sickness came on so quickly.  That meant I had no time to prepare, research, or wrap my head around the whole situation.  I could only trudge through the events that dictated my every move.

One week after my mom went to heaven, we found out my beloved Chocolate Lab, Henry (my favorite as listed in my Bio) had bone cancer.  I went from hospice for my mother to palliative care for our family dog.  Henry was more than just a furry companion.  We bought him from a local breeder in the midst of my multiple hospital admissions.  I had learned of my RSD diagnosis and was mourning the loss of what I had known as my “normal life”. During the day when my daughter was at preschool and my husband at work, I had a difficult time moving around and was lonely.   

Henry kept me company and we were nap time buddies.  Since he was a puppy he could sleep on my chest and we’d snuggle.  I could talk, yell, cry and the same loving look shone in his eyes accompanied by the wagging of his furry tail.

Henry’s comforting, huggable presence got me through the weeks I lay in bed with a pain flare after my mom passed away. (Of course, my husband and daughter did as well-but they couldn’t be there 24/7).

My Mom adored him too.  She called him a mini cow, instead of a dog.  She lovingly referred to him as her ‘Henry Boy’. Henry had amused her with the way he always offered his paw to anyone who would pet him.  We would laugh at his funny antics—he was afraid of well, everything.  He once tried to jump in the air when he heard some pans drop onto the floor.  He couldn’t quite jump off all four paws so he did this warrior type yoga pose.

We have another dog, (the one who’s antics would fill her own blog post) that always wanted to play.  But by the time we rescued her, Henry had turned 8 and wanted nothing to do with a one year old pup with endless energy.  He responded to her by hiding behind the couch.  My husband (who loved Henry), had once said, “Even when he is by himself, he is not the alpha dog.”   I hated to admit it but it was true. But Henry was exactly what I needed.

I miss hearing the ’thump, thump’ of his long fuzzy tail between the back of the sofa and the wall when we mentioned his name. I miss the way he seemed to know when my hands were burning more than usual and would lick them.  Or the way he sensed my sadness and would put his head on my lap.

I titled this post “Unconditionally”, because that word has been on my mind.  A mom will love you no matter what.  You do not have to be a ‘perfect’ child to earn her love.  There will never be someone that can replace that same hug or the loving look reflected in your mother’s eyes.

A loving pet (for me it was Henry) trusts and would do whatever it felt would please you.  Pets are always there for you- and they can’t talk back (try that with teenagers).

When writing, I am so wrapped up in my character and his/her personality that I feel a similar unconditional feeling.  I love the character I created- even if I have to make him/her the antagonist.  This probably explains why it pains us if it turns out you really need to kill your character or rewrite your story without him/her.  This also could pertain to removing a particularly flowery phrase I think is literary genius, but not essential (or at least I heard that can happen).

Each person will experience grief in their own way and time frame. One fact I have learned from my grief counselor- the perfect grieving process does not exist.  I have to admit I am still grieving and it feels horrendous.  It paralyzes me from doing other things.

I guess I am just waiting for this big hug from God saying it is okay.  You did your best.  Your loved ones are safe and they watch over you.  It is okay to look forward and enjoy things in your life.

I have faith that when I am ready to receive this, I know God, who loves us unconditionally, and has been waiting patiently, will do just that.

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