Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Fall Family Day Out

I felt guilty all summer that we didn't DO anything with Okaasan - what with my knee, the dramas in England, the work, the garden etc etc

So today - gorgeous weather, no work, no Hula dance class - we headed for the hills and enjoyed a Family Day Out with soba, fall colors at Hoheikyo Dam and a footbath at Jozankei....and it was fun!
Nice, relaxing ordinary life...just what I needed. Okaasan seemed to enjoy a trip out...I'm obviously getting middle-aged when I enjoy this kind of drive-out-into-the-countryside.
Slippers and a pipe can not be far behind.


Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Thankful for...

I'm thankful for my dear, dear students who helped me get through another day of standing in front of a room full of people and talking about Dad.

The worksheet giving everyone the vocab and infomation about funerals and cremations...scatterings etc in the UK helped a lot and through 3 classes in the day we talked about the differences between UK and Japan...the scattering in particular is an interesting concept to many people - and the fact that a family then has no grave to go visit and maybe just errects a name plate on a park bench or a tree as a memory of a loved one - in Japan there is a whole after-death system of memorial ceremonies every few years, where the priest comes, family gather for a party etc

And I'm thankful for the wonderful felt cake that Higuchi-san in Shin-Sapporo made for me! Look at this thing! She took 2 days to sew it. Amazing. It is so realistic.

And I'm thankful to hear tonight from my step-aunt that Jane is doing ok with the puree food eating and trying to walk. The hospital are even giving a 4 to 6 week discharge schedule for her, if she goes home with a full-time carer and special equipment at home. Amazing!

But...not so thankful to hear that Jane fell out of the hospital bed again and has cuts and bruises...apparently she tried to reach for something on the bedside table and lost her balance...and because she herself had insisted on only half-level guard rails...she fell from the bed onto the floor.....

THAT is not the way to get out of hospital and home again.

To gibber or not.

I managed to do the big class yesterday morning without gibbering.
I started to lose it as I was gathering the materials and files together in the office.
The manager looked at me worriedly...
I felt myself welling up.
"Yes, I can!" did the trick of breaking the tension.

Got it under control and marched into the room.
The oldest gentleman student stood up and in front of everyone came over and presented me with an envelope containing money - a Japanese custom  after someone dies.
The tears flooded out and I lost it.
The students cried. I cried. And so we got into the class...

I'd made up a worksheet with system and words for the stages you go through after someone dies, and it worked well. Students of course were interested to hear about church funerals vs crematoriums...funeral it all worked well.
And I shared some of Dad's pictures too, so they could enjoy and ask questions.

The pictures of Dutch and Australian POWs being loaded onto a hospital ship in Hong Kong in 1946 are an interesting conversation point of course here in Japan.
What will I DO with these pictures? I guess I should give them to a veteran's museum or something.

Anyway - another big group class this morning. Then two smaller groups....

Monday, 28 September 2009

Back to the Future

Summer over - back to full time schedule today and a little nervous.
It's one thing to sit with a few students and talk about Dad - it's another to stand in front of 10 to 15 people in a big room and talk about him and the events of the past month.
But NOT to talk about it all would be even stranger. Like ignoring the elephant in the room.
I've never been a "Goodmorning. Turn to Page 26" kind of a teacher. I believe in sharing my life and I hope the students do too, because that is far more motivating than Page 26.

But at times like this it is hard. My students are good people and I'll feel the waves of sympathy coming off them.
I'm not a gibbering wreck about Dad - had a good night out of dinner and karaoke last week, did shed clearing and a picnic lunch outside yesterday - but it's a bit strange to be supplying the vocab and correct phrases to talk about funeral - scattering etc.

My solution is to deflect attention from me onto his photographs and hope that looking and talking about those is a way into it all.
Students who've looked at the photos so far have really enjoyed them: Dad as a baby, young photographer, his wartime pictures in Hong Kong, of Churchill, Princess Di etc...

Anyway. Got 7 hours of classes today...almost 5 hours tomorrow.
That should get me firmly Back into my again.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Too many shoppers...

Too many cooks spoil the broth?
in our house it's: Too many shoppers..

Last night Yujiro started preparing Oden. It's a kind of simmered pot of veggies, fish paste thingies and tofu stuff.
Then he went to get something from the fridge...and found a squid and three fish looking at him.
Okaasan had been out on another but-I-thought-today-was-a dental-appointment-trip...and after being being turned away by the dental receptionist went shopping instead and came home with squid and fish.
But she didn't say anything. Just put it in the fridge. And then he found it and felt obliged to change dinner plans mid-preparation and  start cooking HE was stressed with her, SHE was confused...and I just sat there and got bits of dinner as if appeared.

I felt for him. I really did. Because when you've planned and started cooking it's stressful to have to switch. But I also think he made it worse for himself: the fish could have waited until today to be cooked. She'd already forgotten buying it anyway.
And at least she'd put it in the fridge. Think how much worse it could have been if she'd left it in a bag under her living room table!!!

Aghhhhh!!!! on his behalf.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Back to being a mean bitch.

Well, that didn't last long.

One week of being gentle and sad.

And today I blew it with Okaasan. WHY do I behave like this?????

I was happily outside the front door on my last major area of weeding - having spent 3 days bringing the garden back from the jungle brink.
Okaasan wandered out and spotted the past-it hydrangeas that were just to my right.
She started chatting about how they should be cut back otherwise they won't flower next year.
I said I'd got behind on it all cos I'd been in England etc...but I was getting round to it all now.

She disappeared back inside the house.
I grabbed the cutters and deadheaded the hydrangeas in about 20 seconds flat.
She emerged from the house 1 minute later with scissors.
"Oh! I've done it!" I cheerfully told her.

Poor old lady. She looked a bit stunned and disappeared back inside: "Oh...that's why I went to get scissors...."

Isn't that mean and petty of me? WHY did I have to do it? Why couldn't I let her have a little cut away herself? She has a thing about hydrangeas cos there was a bush outside her old's probably the one bit of gardening she DOES know about.
And I swept the chance away from her.

I am mean, horrible woman. Am I so territorial about the garden I won't let her cut off some dead flower heads?

I hate myself.
I will try extra hard to be nice. Because I feel guilty.

Taking it easy.

Not blogging much - just taking it easy.

gardening...watching endless Sex and the City on TV....all 3 Back to the Future movies...meeting a friend or two for lunch or dinner....hanging out at home. Going to the gym. Pulling up more weeds. Burying the kitchenwaste compost.

Okaasan is fine.
We had a big thing with her yesterday because she wanted to go to Mitsukoshi and buy a blouse that she'd seen. But she also wanted to follow the promptings of the saleswoman and join the department store Members Club. This is a very Japanese thing - every business has a "Members Club/Points Card"....and for this one you have to pay out some money and then you get shopping vouchers back one day.

Yujiro didn't want her to become a member - because she'd just lose the vouchers anyway, and she doesn't go shopping there much...but hard to disuade her. He tried the tack that the store has started closing other branches in Japan and may not be around a year from now to use the vouchers in.

Okaasan insisted that she had to go to the store in the morning - she'd promised the saleswoman. So while I started making lunch off she set.
And never returned.
Well, she returned. But at 4.30 pm. Claiming she hadn't eaten any lunch. And she hadn't bought the blouse anyway. God knows where she'd been!
Another Strange Tale from the Planet Okaasan.

Anyway. We had a nice lunch without her - cheese  from the UK, my homemade zucchini soup...

And we did a MAJOR clean out in her room - opened up all sorts of bags and threw out trash, vacumned, took away the kotatsu blanket for cleaning...did all the stuff it is hard to do when she is there.

got to get back to do nothing now...only 15 more episodes of Sex to watch.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

A.D. - After Dad.

Well, where to start?
I'm back home and sitting up happily with jetlag and the cat.

Here all is well.
Yujiro got work for 2 months taking photographs of buildings for city hall records. Okaasan is piling up clothes on her sofa and scattering socks a-plenty. She is finally going to the dentist for her tooth implant problems. The cat is alive...but even thinner. The garden is a jungle. It's public holiday time in Japan and I luckily have 4 days of nothing.

And in the step-mum is getting stronger and stronger. She is talking (and the family are starting to believe it) that she'll be able to go home to live maybe in November...with a live-in carer probably. She still isn't eating by mouth, but she is so much more focused mentally and stronger. It is a strange, sad irony for my Dad. His death seems to have been the thing to push her into life.

Been a long, stressed 3 weeks. Helped enormously by step-mum's sisters, friends old and new, neighbors in the village, strangers, food....

I did stuff I never thought I could:

*  All the official, legal, financial stuff for my dad.
*  Planning the funeral.
*  Bonding with the postman who'd found dad... 
*  Trying to imagine what the dog experienced left alone 2 nights with her Master on the living room floor.

*  Viewing the body.
*  Giving the Tribute in front of a packed village church.
*  Hosting the after-funeral party and making a display of Dad's photos.
*  Scattering my dad's ashes in his garden.
*  Locking up the family home until step-mum can get back to it....
*  Leaving again for my other life here in Japan.

Staying in the house where dad died proved very hard - it was good to be there to go over all my memories of him in the incidentals and stacks of photos and things...but it was tough late at night to sleep knowing that he'd died there in the living room entrance on the carpet which was still damp after the cleaner had done her best to de-blood things....

So luckily a couple who live 2 fields away offered me dinner...and then extended that into stay-in-the-guest-room and wine at the kitchen table...I'd never met them before and I am so glad I finally have. I stayed with them 3 nights. My step-aunt from Canada stayed other nights and her jetlag and my emotional state kept the lights burning non-stop...but I finally managed to stay 2 nights alone at the house...average sleep time anywhere: 3 hours a night.

The funeral itself was beautiful. 

The sun shone. The whole village seemed to come. My step-mum came from the hospital in a wheelchair and with her nurse and was ok. It was a service of laughter and color. I wrote a Tribute to Dad and managed to read it myself, while the family roared with laughter in the right places...even the vicar made a good joke about how Dad had "appeared to listen to my sermons". He would have enjoyed the funeral. Not too much doom and gloom.

Afterwards we had tea and cake in the village hall and I made up a big table display of dad's photos...of him as a child and young photographer and of some of his pix - Churchhill, Lady Di, the Blitz in London, the Japanese surrender of Hong Kong in 1945...

And the scattering...

My step-mum said she thought the best place was under the old damson tree in the garden.
So, at sunset on Sunday I took the urn (it felt to be about 6 kg??) down the garden with a spade, a rake and a can of cider - and I scattered Dad.
Started off feeling VERY emotional. I walked around the house and garden with the urn...talking to him. Then I  cleared about 5 cm deep by 1 meter square under the tree...hard work in Cotswold soil.
I nervously opened up the urn, took out the totally inappropriate Cremation Serial Number paper, and peered in at what Dad had become. Several kilograms of white ash. No bones. In Japan family members move bones around with special I was kind of expecting some bones. But in the UK - only ash.

I scattered and covered about one third...but then my cleared area was I had to start digging again!
What started out as an emotional activity eventually became a bit of a task - clearing enough soil, deep get rid of the ashes and cover them. 
Swigs of cider from the can helped. Talking to Dad about what a fuss it was helped too.
I kept looking nervously around in case the friendly neighbors chose this moment to pass by on a dog walk and catch me there with a funeral urn, a spade and a can of cider...

Finally after 45 minutes it was done. Not so much Laid to Rest as Dug to Rest. In movies you see people poetically opening the urn and letting ashes fly into the wind over the sea...somehow a Cotswold garden with a spade isn't the same.

But I went back to the garden terrace and had a good howl. Then I put one of Dad's stone statues under the tree and planted snowdrop bulbs. And howled some more as the sun set. I called step-mum in hospital to let her know I'd done it.

Then I thankfully accepted an invitation from the Wonderful Neighbors and went recover from an officially Strange Life Experience with wine and pasta and cheese for dinner.

                                                    Dad's resting place.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Heading home

I'm at Heathrow.

Tired. Stressed. Tearful. I cried 3 times in public yesterday and twice already today.

It's all catching up on me.

Don't know how I'll do hours and hours of travelling now.
4 hours sleep last night. Locked up the house and left it.
Step-mum in hospital getting stronger. She is determined to get home now.

I scatterd my Dad's ashes under   a damson tree covered with a rambling rose in his garden.
Scattering ashes is the strangest experience. I'll write another time.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Funeral and...

So - we did it. My father's funeral was on Thursday.

It was beautiful and makes me feel so much better.
A perfect sunny day in a Cotswold village with laughter, tears, food, family and many friends.
My step-mother managed to come from her hospital bed in a minibus and wheelchair and we sat at the front of the church together and said goodbye to Dad.
I managed to hold it together to give the Tribute - standing at the front of the church and speaking about him, with the family roaring with laughter at the funny memories and afterwards we all went to the village hall and had tea and cakes and sandwiches and enjoyed looking at the display I'd put up of my Dad's photos and things from his Fleet Street photography career.

And so, and so.

This afternoon I am in the town again to bring my step-aunt to the hospital to visit her sister.
And I went to the funeral director's to collect Dad's ashes...
So, while I am here in the library on the computer...Dad is sitting quietly under a dog blanket on the backseat of the car!!! I hope the car doesn't get's a surprisingly heavy urn...

I'll talk to my step-mum about what she would like to do with the ashes. Both she and Dad want to be scattered in their garden at home, but I don't know if she is happy for me to do that now or whether she wants to wait and do it later when she is home...

And SHE is amazing. She has stayed upbeat and strong through all of this and is talking a lot about her determination to get back to her house with a Carer fulltime etc...we have no idea if that is possible...but she has so much determination she just might do it....a terrible terrible irony for Dad who visited her every day for months...and thought she was fading away from the hospital Super Bug just before he died himself.

And so. Such a strange time. So many emotions and images and experiences. I have to hand over all the legal and financial stuff to my step-aunt tomorrow and then get ready to fly back to Japan on Wednesday.

All so strange...

Anyway, I should get back to Dad now. I'll go back to the hospital and then take Dad home. Driving REALLY carefully.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Preparing for the funeral.

Here I am in England - preparing for Dad's funeral on Thursday afternoon.

How is it all?

Strange. Tiring. Emotional. A mind-numbing list of Things to Do with the will, the bank accounts, the finances, the tax, the pension...etc etc. Planning the funeral...the catering for the tea party after the funeral, the flowers, the guests...etc. But also transferring many things of my step-mum's affairs over to her we both feel we are doing double things; Dad's Death AND Jane's ongoing needs.
Oh and we are trying to rehome their dog. And the gardener has cancer and cleaning lady is moving....

In all of this my step-mum seems to have revived and is very on-the-ball mentally. So-so physically. Eating a little again and still fighting off the superbug virus. But she is determined to come to the funeral - friends who have a handicapped son have offered to collect her (and nurse) from the hospital in their special minivan with wheelchair...and strong relatives will carry her into the church.

I didn't sleep at all the first stormy night and just sat up with all the lights in the house switched on. My Dad died of an accute blood clot in the pancreas - on the living room carpet on Monday night. The poor postman found him two days later, with the dog sitting next to Dad's body. The postman feels terrible that he could have helped Dad on the Tuesday because he feels he heard Dad say something...but didn't see him. I feel sure what he heard was the dog whining or moaning...but of course he feels so guilty.

So knowing all of that - even though I don't think he was possibly alive Tuesday lunchtime - makes it hard to sleep. The house has many mixed images and memories for me.

The next two nights I sort of slept because I was so tired. And then I took up the kind offer of a couple who live nearby to go and have dinner and sleep at their place. Today Jane's sister has arrived from Canada to stay and I think I'll sleep better.

Tomorrow afternoon I am going to go into the funeral company and spend some time in their Quiet Room saying goodbye to Dad. I dont't know how that will be. I've only ever seen a dead person once before. But I feel I want to. He died alone and the funeral will be an emotional day of people and happenings...I want to say goodbye quietly with him.

And so.

Not all doom and gloom. Sorting through photographs was wonderful: pictures I'd never seen of Dad as a young photographer at Keystone Press Agency in the 1940s, then a navy camerman in the Pacific..and finall more than 35 years at the Daily Mirror. His terrible school reports, baby pictures, divorce papers, childhood letters from me that he kept...I feel I have learned so much more about him in the last few days.

But. The funeral looms large. I have to do a Tribute speech. I am trying to write it now. I stood in the church with the village church warden and tested the microphone today. It all seemed very, horribly real.

And so.