Archive for the ‘ Family ’ Category

It’s Been A Long Time

It’s taken me a long time to feel like coming back here. Writing on your own blog takes a lot more effort, especially since I’ve been re-Tweeting and re-blogging on Tumblr mostly. I’m able to express myself through the words, pictures, and videos/gifs of others – very much in the way I go to Hallmark to tell my parents “Happy Birthday/Mother’s Day/Father’s Day” via card. But now it’s time for me to start writing on my own to express things. I can relate, but I cannot say that it’s my own unless it’s here.

A LOT has happened since I posted here. My dad was diagnosed with Stage Four cancer in his throat. Despite the fact that he smoked for thirty years, it wasn’t tobacco that was to blame – his cancer was from Human Papillomavirus. My dad was one of the tiny percentage in men who contracted the virus and, unfortunately, it became malignant. We were lucky that it was only on one of his tonsils and that we had caught it early enough to have a pretty solid survival rate. It was during this time that I realized cancer was not the worst of the disease – the treatment and recovery are. My dad lost his salivary glands, making it extremely painful to swallow; he had to have a feeding tube inserted into his stomach. Shortly after that, he spent ten days in the hospital from the side effects of the chemo/radiation.

I haven’t really thought about my parents’ mortality, but seeing my dad in the hospital made me realize that we all do come to an end. His breathing was so shallow that I thought he died more than a few times. Simple tasks he used to be able to do – like taking the lid off my mom’s sewing kit – were a challenge now. He lost his voice and tried to write down things he wanted to say. The only thing that he managed to keep was his humor:


Somehow he managed to hang in there and come home in relatively good spirits. We all got used to the nocturnal sound of his stomach pump hissing and clicking in the middle of the night for his overnight “feeding.” He started walking on his own again (with either my mom or me a few steps behind, just in case) and he could say three-word sentences. It felt like things were starting to turn around and the year wouldn’t be fully made of suck.

In Asian cultures, four is a bad-luck number. I guess 2014 wanted to pull out all the stops in that department because my grandmother took a nasty fall and had to be hospitalized. It didn’t seem good in the beginning and for a second I thought she was going to die the next day. She managed to hang in there for a couple of weeks and even had the energy to ask me (in Japanese) if I was getting married soon. I knew she’d never be able to get out of bed again, but she had surpassed the doctors’ expectations and was moved over to a rehab center. Two days later, she passed away while two of her children were visiting her.

new year 2006

Her death was a blow to me. No one thought she would go so quickly. The family knew that she wouldn’t be the same as she was, but we all thought that she’d at least be able to go home one day. I think that’s why it hurt more than when my grandfather passed away – he’d been sick for a while, and we all knew it was a matter of time. My grandmother had been doing much better than anyone had anticipated when it came to an end.

The other side of her death meant that a large chunk of our traditions came to an end. It was my grandmother who dressed me in my yukata, or summer kimono. It was my grandmother who brought us together for a traditional Japanese New Year. It was my grandmother who, as she got older, spoke less and less English but made me keep up at least my comprehension of Japanese. My uncle and I scrambled to figure out how to recreate some of her cooking. Some things were written down (like her sushi rice recipe), but a lot of it wasn’t. Her everyday dishes were all from memory and are typical of Japanese-American homes. (I’ve shared menus with other JA’s and our grandmas more or less make the same thing in pretty much the same way.) It’s kind of daunting to know that all of the traditions you were raised with will die unless someone steps in. I’ve been cooking a little more often simply because I’m scared I’ll forget how she seasoned things.

It’s 2015 and it’s almost over. I haven’t felt like sharing much of this because I’m just starting to get back into being “social.” This means that I’m getting an urge to start interacting with people outside of my bubble in baby steps – mostly through social media, texting, and emails. I’m not 100% ready for phone calls or seeing people for coffee. I got overly ambitious at the beginning of the year and thought I should try dating – it ended with hilariously horrible results.

The therapist I was seeing transferred to another facility, so I started sessions with a new one around May. It’s always a transition when you get a new therapist, but this one has gone as smoothly as I could have hoped. Apparently I’ve made some progress since we first started, but I have to remind myself that it’s all about baby steps.

And that’s about it for now. As much as I want to look towards the future and make plans, I’m taking things day by day.

We Need To Talk

Note: this draft has been a long work-in-progress, partially due to laziness, partially due to stress, and partially because my parents didn’t want to announce anything until after my father’s treatment started. After several weeks of delays, he finally started chemo and radiation two weeks ago.
Note 2: The last draft date was back on April 9th so all of this is really, really old.

“When you have a moment, we need to talk” are words you never want to hear from one of your parents, even if you’re in your thirties. Those words were reserved for special occasions, usually bad ones.

What my mom wanted to talk about was this: my dad received confirmation of stage four throat cancer.

“It’s not the bad stage four,” she quickly added. “It’s the best of the worst.” Which shocked the hell out of me. I thought stage four was just one smidge away from it being death.

Slowly, she brought me up to speed on how my dad discovered he had cancer: there was a general checkup and his GP didn’t like how his tonsils felt. A scan was taken and a small mass was discovered on a tonsil. A biopsy was done and the mass proved to be malignant. The only silver lining to this was that it hadn’t spread to a lymph node.

The first thought that came to mind was of George Harrison; he had throat cancer twice and passed away because of it.

The second thought was of my dad losing his hair. Apart from some minor thinning (due to aging), he’s had a full head of hair as far back as I can remember. I’d have to try and find him some soft beanies; bonus [for him] if there was a New York Yankees logo on it.

The third thought (and totally random in my opinion) was that I may not have a father around to walk me down the aisle (if I ever get around to getting married).

I found my dad in the kitchen and promptly burst into tears. He pulled me into a hug, which was startling for me: my dad is about as Japanese as you can get (i.e., stoic). The last time he comforted me like that was when I was around four; I used to run to him after my mom yelled at me for misbehaving.

Like how he used to, he spoke quietly, interjecting small jokes to try and cheer me up. He told me he wasn’t dying, that the cancer hadn’t spread, that he wasn’t going to lose his hair but it was a good thing he’d always had a full head of it…little things like that.

Fast forward two weeks. A second biopsy showed that the cancer hadn’t spread, and was actually better than what the oncologist originally diagnosed. My initial fear of “my dad is going to die!” has faded a little bit, but there’s still a nagging pang in the back of my mind. I know my parents aren’t immortal; no one is. I’m in my thirties; my parents are in their sixties. All people die. This is fact.

It’s having a solid possibility of what will bring a parent’s death that jarred me. The reality is there (opposed to just thinking, “it’ll happen down the line”). And that’s the scariest part for me.

I’m not sure what to do or expect, even though it’s been two months since my parents told me about his cancer. Life has changed a little bit: meals are [kind of] planned out, schedules are being shifted to accommodate doctors’ appointments, and more visits to the drug store for prescriptions and basic medical supplies. The next few weeks will be difficult for sure but what can you really do?

Hello, My Name Is…

I go by several names these days. If you call me:

1. Katie: You’ve known me for a very, very long time or you met me through a family member.

2. Kae: You met me sometime in middle school or high school.

3. Kathryn/Kat: You met me during college/when I started working.

4. The Letter Kae: You’ve “met” me on the internet sometime within the past eight years or so.

5. Kathy: You don’t know me at all.

6. Irene: You’re my mother, who cannot remember the name of her only child.

My mom started getting my name and her younger sister’s name mixed up shortly after her husband passed away (my aunt’s husband, not my dad). She’d say “Irene” when she meant me, and she’d call for “Katie” while trying to get my aunt’s attention. No one can figure out why this happened, but it’s been like this for over twenty years.

It wasn’t so bad in the beginning. My aunt and I would be at family functions and my mom would mistake one for the other. Then she began to call my aunt “Katie” over the phone. A couple of years later, she’d call me “Irene” while we were on vacation – just the two of us(!).

It’s now progressed to the point where my mom’s admitted to having to keep telling herself who she’s talking to when she’s on the phone with my aunt. “I’m talking to Irene, I’m talking to Irene,” is her mantra. As far as I know, it’s working.

We had dinner with cousins from Tokyo this evening. The entire immediate family was there, which meant my aunt and I were in the same room. During a conversation lull, I decided to ask a burning question:

“Hey, mom…what’s my name?”

My mother opened her mouth, my name on the tip of her tongue. She shut it immediately after, and paused to think. She had to seriously think who was talking to her.

I used to joke for years that I should change my name to “Irene” to make it easier. However, in the final days of my twenties, I’m seriously considering it. Turning thirty seems like something significant should happen, and several people have told me that their thirties were the decade that brought on major life changes. While I thought that I’d do something drastic (become physically fit by LA standards, for example), my achievement may not be much more than going to court to fill out a request form.

Hau`oli Lā Hānau

The story I’ve been told is this: when my paternal grandmother left her second husband, she and my father packed up their belongings and boarded a plane for Japan. Since it was the late 60’s, there was a layover in Honolulu to refuel. The stop was probably no more than a few hours, but my grandmother (being the stubborn person that she was), demanded to get off the plane to stretch her legs.

Long story short, she loved Hawai’i so much that she was living there permanently within months after going back to Akita.

This is how I came to have my “Grandma in Hawai’i.”

Grandma's modeling pics

She gave me my first ukulele when I was three. She made an excellent reason to make the trip to Hawai’i every couple of years for summer vacation. She was the only one who ever called me by my middle name on a regular basis (which is also my Japanese name). She would send me letters that were always written on her typewriter and were finished off with an elaborate signature. And she only gave and accepted gifts from Macy’s, Liberty House, and Neiman Marcus.

Today would have been her ninetieth birthday. I wish I knew more about her, but sadly she was the black sheep of a very traditional Japanese family (i.e. never going to find out anything before 1960), and my dad doesn’t really like to talk about his past. The little bits and pieces I do know come from miscellaneous pictures and a cardboard box of her belongings. My memories of her are simply made up of her long hair, shopping excursions at Liberty House, and remembering to respond to my seldom used Japanese name.

Old Photo

Hawai’i is a place full of memories for me, and a good majority of them include my grandmother. She’s been gone for almost fifteen years, but there’s a tiny part of me that still expects to meet up with her at the Ala Moana Center for another shopping date.