WHEN YOU CAN’T PHONE HOME

Copyright The Japan News Yomiuri

Copyright The Japan News Yomiuri

As I attempt navigating the grief journey once again with the recent loss of my Dad, I think about a recent BBC podcast, Heart and Soul. The episode discussed a small town in Northern Japan-Iwate prefecture. It wasn’t about the horrible damage sustained from the earthquake and tsunami that took 2,000 lives in 2011. Instead, the podcast focused on the love that their surviving residents have for the loved ones they’ve lost. Even though their loved ones are not here physically, residents have a unique way to connect with them.(There’s also a great NHK program about this topic).

In Iwate, a white telephone booth overlooks the sea in Itaru Sasaki’s yard. Yes, an actual phone booth with a rotary phone (not connected ). In Japanese it’s called “kaze no denwa” meaning phone of the wind. A sign greets you as you enter the phone booth with the words, “Welcome, I’ve been waiting for you.”

Sasaki-san actually began building the booth, when his cousin passed away in November 2010 and finished it shortly after the 2011 tsunami. Since then, over 20,000 people have visited to connect with their lost loved ones. I imagine that in such a digital age, the very act of using the rotary dial gives a calming mindfulness before sharing pieces of their heart.

Listening to the podcast, two memories came to mind. The first, took place when the woman I knew as my Grandmother passed away in Japan. My Mom and I would call my Grandmother’s number and just listen to the familiar ringing across the ocean.We pictured her picking up the phone and saying hello to us. It was our way to let her know we still were thinking of her. We needed a connection. I also remember the somber day when I called that number and heard the message that the phone was no longer in use.

My Grandmother & I, Tokyo. Copyright KathleenBurkinshaw

My second memory is that I saved one of my mom’s voicemails so that I can still hear her voice and ‘speak’ with her whenever I want/need to.

When my Dad passed away 11 days ago, my Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD) pain flare prevented me from going up north to see him in the hospital. However, the wonderful nurses kept me updated by phone. More importantly, when hospice services commenced the day before he passed away, I had a God-Nudge(instead of a ‘God Wink’), for lack of a better word, to call him. When I did, the kind nurse held the phone to my father’s ear for a 15-minute conversation. Well, not exactly a conversation, I mostly babbled on about memories of my childhood with him and my Mom. He did respond and it was the last real conversation I had with him lucid. My daughter also had a chance to speak with him.

On the morning of the 31st, I called to check on him. I spoke only a minute or so with him. He was drowsy from medication yet, zealously enjoying an orange Popsicle. His favorite flavor. 😊

Later that day, I experienced another overwhelming God-Nudge to call and check on him. The nurse said all vital signs stable, he was resting comfortably, and nothing may happen until the evening or the weekend. Still, I asked if she would hold the phone to his ear so I could speak to him. She did and also held his hand, giving him the feeling that I was physically at his side. I had a chance to say who he’d be seeing in heaven and some things I didn’t get to say in the past few years we were estranged (his choosing not mine). I told him I forgave him (I meant it), loved him (I loved him, not his choices), and would always be his ‘little girl’. And to the shock of the nurse, he went to heaven right then and there.

copyright KBurkinshaw

As devastating as that moment was, I like to think that he waited for me to show how much I meant to him. To show me that he loved me despite some of his actions in the past. It’s a blessing for me and what I try to remind myself of when guilt for not being there rolls in. I am now dealing with anxiety attacks and the memories of the last few days with my mom have returned with a vengeance. It feels like I am losing her all over again along with my Dad.

However, the most difficult realization for me is that the two people who brought me into this world are no longer here. It can be like a punch in the gut without warning hitting me at any point during the day, or night. I know and cherish that I have my loving husband and daughter, a loving extended family and friends, but it’s not the same connection. There’s a hollowness in my heart right now, that I know, in time will fill with the loving memories instead of breaking from the trauma of losing them. I remind myself and find solace in knowing that Jesus knew me before I was born and is always with me.

 

So, I may not have a “kaze no denwa”, but that doesn’t stop me from talking to them during the day and/or night. I hope my messages of love and how much I miss them swirls upward to my family in heaven. I take comfort that someday in the distant future, I will hear my parents say, “Welcome, I’ve been waiting for you!” ❤

In memory of David Hilliker 12/29/1937 – 5/31/2019- Airman Second Class and Crew Chief of 90th bomb squadron, US Air Force, loving husband, Jet Mechanic/Quality Control,Park Caretaker, and loving Grandpa. But most importantly- my Daddy ❤ ❤

Copyright KathleenBurkinshaw

 

I’m also sharing this post at:  Welcome Heart.

 

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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.

tokyoxmaslights

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.