Saturday, March 8, 2008

Mrs. H

Since learning of the death of Mrs. H, I have been grieving the loss of my friend.
She was such a wondrous lady. As I wrote in a previous post, she was born in 1915 in Hawaii, granting her dual citizenship in America and Japan. She grew up in Japan, lived in NYC most of her adult life working as a beautician. When I think of the span of her life, I am amazed. She lived through two World Wars. I cannot imagine what WWII was like for her, seeing her two countries fight against each other in such horrific and deadly ways.
When she left NYC, she left behind a life of independence, friends, possessions and memories... She shared those memories with me: sometimes they brought a beautiful smile to her face, sometimes her voice grew rough with pain...
Her tiny apartment held the essentials: necessary furniture and pictures of her family spanning the generations.
The last time I saw her, I took my husband. He finally got to meet the lady who had become so much of my life. One of my professor's once commented to me "Doing laundry is not social work!" No, it was God's work. I cannot express the honor of serving her, of doing the chores she could no longer do, of assisting her with simple everyday tasks. Working with Mrs. H kept me grounded in the real world when I was finishing Grad school. On days I was stressing because an "A" was the most important thing in the world and my life depended on it, she was there to remind me that no, there are more important things in life. Love, gratitude, helping others, truly sharing ourselves trumps the "A" every time. Mrs. H taught me that simplicity is enough; that there is a difference between wanting and needing. She was so gracious and grateful. Being diabetic, she couldn't eat the cookies that came with her "meals on wheels" and would save them for me to give to my kids at school or for my husband and me to share over a cup of tea. It wasn't much in the conventional sense, but that gesture was so full of love that to think of it breaks my heart and tears cloud my eyes. I think of this tiny woman, carefully wrapping those cookies and storing them in ziplock bags to keep them fresh, thinking of me, of my work and I just fall in love with her again...
Sometimes we would share a meal of sushi. She loved her some sushi! We would discuss which place had the better rice, if the ginger was fresh and how much we loved wasabi.
She tickled me because she would often point out that the people working in the sushi places were "not Japanese, they are Asians!" as if they were trying to put something over on her and she had trumped them by knowing!!!
She loved plants. Like my mother, Mrs. H had a green thumb. She would stick a sprout, sprig or cutting into dirt and weeks later it was a thriving plant, flourishing on her window sill. I watered her plants whenever I could, knowing it took her hours to walk back and forth carrying a small pitcher of water...
Often when I was there doing things, she would stand nearby and talk, that is when she told me about her life. Later, near the end, she didn't talk as much, and I would often find her napping on the couch. I would watch her a moment, making sure she was breathing, and then go on with my chores. She became very frail and fragile. Sheand I both knew things were changing. The last time we spoke she was in the hospital. I never got a chance to see her again or really say goodbye...
She was one of my greatest teachers. I feel that by honoring her with my work, I in a small way, was paying back all those who helped my own mother before her death when I was so far away in NYC. I guess that may be why I bonded so deeply with Mrs. H, I could see shadows of my mom in her.

Mrs. H died on my birthday. That is something I will need to process, but for now it is another enduring link between us.

1 comment:

TimmyB said...

Rest in peace, Hagihari-san.

I love sushi, too.