Saturday, April 18, 2009

Celebrating a Life VS Mourning a Death

On March 21st, our family held a memorial service to honor my father, who passed away last November. My mother spent much of the four months between the time of his death till then, planning with great care how best to honor his memory through the memorial service. Anyone who attended it can attest to how lovingly and faithfully she designed every facet; from the musical selections played by the recorder choir my dad loved listening to once a month when they played at church & by the organist in the prelude, to the ones performed by my brother (on guitar) and my nieces (on violin and viola, and again vocally). All the songs the congregation sang were also favorites of my dad.

The best part of the service for me, though, were the words of remembrance given by my brother and my nephew (representing the kids and grandkids), followed by a random and spontaneous selection of comments offered by the guests in attendance, that the pastor went around capturing with a cordless microphone. Although I knew many of the folk reminiscing and could even remember firsthand some of the anecdotes they shared, it was very interesting hearing how my dad had touched their lives and it was gratifying they wanted us to know what he had meant to them.

I wasn't able to contribute anything for the service personally, but I also had the opportunity to pay tribute to my dad by preparing a number of small visual exhibits (for the reception afterwards), celebrating various facets of his life:
1. his artistic talents,

2. his hard work for the International YMCA organization throughout his entire life,

3. his dedication as an editor to many newsletters through the years,

4. his work as a college professor, advisor to foreign students and as the director of Continuing Education at his school and later Assistant to the President (of the college).

5. I had a poster of a world map on the wall, with strings glued from many countries where he worked as consultant and trainer for the Y, to photos from those experiences arranged on the outer border.

6. There was a collage of photos celebrating his life as family man and friend to so many.

My biggest regret was that I never took a proper photo of the exhibit before dismantling it. But I was glad many who attended the reception got to see it. My son was able to catch this one shot of part of it, anyway.

A dear friend wrote me just before I left for the states to attend the service that this was my father's last gift to all of us: the opportunity to gather together and celebrate his life. I felt his presence there, without having him physically present.

I felt him in my eldest brother, who is so like him in character (despite his great efforts to the contrary), it was a little spooky.

I felt him in my cousin, whom I hadn't met in 40 years so it hit me like a ton of bricks when he reminded me of my uncle (who was Dad's younger brother).

I felt him in my son, who dutifully took it upon himself to be the cameraman of the event, bless his heart. I had the same familiar sense of security, knowing I didn't need to use my camera at all and he would "cover" things for all of us (just like my dad used to do).

I felt him in my nephew, who has the same friendly people skills imbedded in his genes!

Daddy was everywhere -- in the Y's Men and Women who loved him enough to come all the way from my hometown in Illinois to attend.

And I felt him in the people of the retirement community where he lived for nearly 13 years, touching lives in a significant way.

The entire day was a joyous celebration of HIS LIFE, beyond any argument. And it proved what I have believed all along: that there is much more value in holding a big party to honor the one that has "gone before" us, rather than have a funeral to mourn their passing, and our loss. In the case of my dad, there wasn't anything lost. He added life everywhere he was and through everyone he touched. Even through his death, LIFE is what remains for us and LIFE is beckoning us to follow in his footsteps!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

My Men

I love this photo. It was taken at the reception for my father's memorial service on March 21st. Can you decipher the relationship between these men? They are the men in my family (minus my husband, who wasn't able to attend the event); all very important to me.

The two on the left are brothers. Probably anyone could guess that; they have looked similarly most of their lives, due to a fondness for facial hair. The second and third from the left are father and son. Their similarity is also striking, probably also due to the shape of their beards, among other shared qualities.

The next fellow, second from the right, is a dead ringer for his father, my deceased uncle. I'm sorry to say I don't have any photos of him to show you; just take my word for it. He's my brothers' and my only first cousin; we got to see him for the first time in 40 years!!

The fellow on the end to the right is my son, of course. He takes after both my husband and I; so there is some likeness shared between he and his American first cousins, shown in the following photo.

Monday, April 6, 2009

The ABCs of Culture Shock

You know how when a person goes to live in another country everybody talks about culture shock? That's referring to how a person leaves the very familiar and comfortable home country's environment ("A") and discovers how strange and different the new ("B") country's customs seem in comparison to 'home.'

If you live in B long enough (and especially if you have no plan to return to A to live), it becomes less alien and B's culture becomes the more familiar, so that when you go back to visit A again, you experience reverse culture shock. With that, you get to see with much more clarity the quirks or charm points of your original culture, and you can appreciate that it isn't the only way to live anymore. You have an expanded field of reference. You are a stretched, more globally aware individual. The blinders have been dismantled and you will never again see A as A, but rather, as C, a revised version.

The experience of culture shock, and/or reverse culture shock is a wonderful opportunity to gain insight into the way you tick as an individual. You can discover a lot about yourself: why you are the way you are, and why you relate to others the way you do. I tend to be rather self-analytical to begin with, so such an opportunity is a pleasant and welcome one.

That said, I am left wondering what to call the experience I am having right now, upon returning to Japan after three lovely weeks with my mom in her Ohio home. Is there a reverse-reverse culture shock??? My Japanese home (I called "B" up to this point), is being seen in a new light during the period of adjustment back to Japanese time/space/climate, etc. I'm tempted to call it "D" in fact. "D" for dirty (ha ha), or disorganized (and how!), or disturbingly silent.

This trip back to my mom's house was the very first time I got to spend twenty-two days talking to just my mom (for the most part). Twenty-two days of being cared for and cared about by the one person in my life who has the most invested in me; more than husband, son, brothers, other relatives, students or friends. I was immersed in her love 24/7.

I don't know that I've ever felt it this intensely before, because I was always a Daddy's girl, and my relationship with my mom was like sloppy seconds, or something. Never intentionally that of course, but simply as a result of the dynamics at work with my dad; he was possessive of my affection and his attention defined my value as a daughter. When he forgot who I was due to the Alzheimer's, it was a blow to my identity as a daughter.

Having my existence fulfill a big need in my mom after his death was the beginning of healing that gash in my identity and laid the foundation of the wonderful relationship we are now privileged to share. I have never been happier as her daughter. Talking together as much as we did during those twenty-two days was so stress-free. I didn't need the computer, or TV, or a Game Boy, or movies (all coping methods vitally important for stress-diffusion in Japan). I did miss snacking after a couple of weeks (because we tend to eat three meals a day in her world), and found myself doing that more the last week, so that stress-diffuser was still necessary on some level. I need a little more introspection to figure that one out, I guess.

But all the other ways I battle my loneliness in living in a land where I am more misunderstood than not, and have to work so hard to communicate with others (particularly my husband), were completely unnecessary while in the presence of my mom. She listened when I needed to talk, almost compulsively, after the family reunion (in which my elderly aunt and one sister-in-law did talk compulsively to any and everyone for much of the time), and I listened, too, although not as patiently, I'm afraid. It really meant a lot to me to have her love for me reaffirmed. When Daddy was alive, he hogged the Loving Parent Limelight, and I was just foolish enough not to look beyond him much. I can see now I did her a great disservice. I wish she were here to hug in apology!

Hmmm, I can see my culture shock-related musings have veered off into another reflective direction...which I'll take as my cue to stop for today.