Thursday, 30 September 2010

Escape to the mountains

I did escape - and had as good a day as can be expected.

It was a crazy weather day - a tropical depression or something - crazy clouds, storms, sunshine, rain, wind chasing eachother across Hokkaido in a wild scurry.

Yujiro and I climbed into the car and drove to Jozankei, a famous onsen village south of Sapporo. Then we drove up to Kokusai ski area - and got out to admire the deserted ski area, look at trees starting to change color and use the toilets. It's the ski area where we met actually.
Then we drove back along the dam lake and the dam back to Jozankei and had noodles for lunch in an old noodle restaurant full of road construction guys.

Then we drove home via the supermarket, the Suzuki dealer garage and UNIQLO (soft trousers for stitched tummy cos I can't even think about jeans at the moment)...and then home to cats, TV and salmon for dinner with Okaasan.

It was fine. Good. I love mountains and trees and sky.
I got more upset in the evening.
I lit a candle in front of a photo of Dad and Jane.
I watched a magic show on Tv.
I exchanged sweet e mails with their financial adviser who knew them both for years.
I cried a little

I went to bed.

I've just got up and my oldest friend has sent me an e mail telling me about the funeral. I think she's going to phone me too.
Another day.

Time to take these cats outside. They are going crazy all over the computer desk.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

A funeral a long way away.

Today is Jane's funeral.
She is there. I am here.

What on EARTH do you do or think or feel on such a day?

I have no idea.

Last night I talked to her sister, about the funeral and even more about the house and its contents and who-is-having-what in the family. It's great of course that the many nieces and nephews can take furniture and possessions. It's great.
But still.
Strange to be talking about things in the house and who will come-and-get-it.
I have booked my airticket for October 20th to 31st and ANA's website seems to be letting me use those blasted airmiles I accumulated last year so the ticket comes down to Y72,000.

By the time I get there the house will look so different. So many gaps and emptiness.
Maybe it's best because I will get my brain around the fact that THAT part of my life is finished.

And so. Maybe today I should get out of the house and get up in the mountains in the car and breath some fresh air. Peer into the future or something poetic.
The funeral is at 2.30 pm in England. My oldest friend is going to read a tribute on my behalf.
Jane's ashes will be kept untlil I go to the UK so we can scatter them under the same tree in the garden where I scattered dad's ashes last year. Well, not scattered - dug in to the hard Cotswold soil.

At home: here....terrible rain all day. Okaasan slept and woke up to eat lunch and dinner cooked by me. Yujiro came home early and we spent the afternoon watching TV. Watched Sixth Sense..."I see dead people" and all that.

Funny what you do and think when someone dies.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Okaasan returneth

She's back.
And not so happy.
Which doesn't look good.
But she had a haircut in her old hometown.
Which IS good.

Yujiro finally brought Okaasan home after 6 pm. Her flight arrived at Chitose at 2 pm, but of course she hadn't eaten any lunch so they had to sit and eat lunch at the airport and then come into town by train and finally get home.
She scurried into the kitchen and her room, darting around like a stressy fly.
Not warm friendly, excited, happy at all.
How was the wedding?....... Eh? So so I guess.
Was it good food? French? Japanese? .......Food? Well, French I suppose.

Yujiro said the surface complaint about it all was that Okaasan felt her brother and his wife were not so friendly to her, maybe because they thought our family money gift was too small.
Sounds familiar?!!! (yup! paranoia central first stop again).
That old "these people don't like me, for some reason which I've just concocted in my mind".
This brother is Okaasan's favorite, nice younger brother and his wife. They are actually good people.
But of course - it WAS their son's wedding day. I am guessing they were a bit preoccupied!
And we are sure the Y100,000 money gift was enough. It wasn't that at all. Of course.

But somehow Okaasan has felt slighted.
Maybe it's because the whole thing was a confusing, tiring experience. A big hotel in Tokyo. Crowds of people she didn't know. Distant relatives who maybe SHE didn't recognise. People rushing around. Two nights in a hotel bedroom. Rushing to catch planes and trains. NO time to visit her old house (Yujiro and his brother really cocked up on that one I feel, but maybe it was best).

Anyway. She sat down on the carept to open the suitcase and spread some stuff around.
I took the opportunity to say: "Oh, while you were away, there was some of your laundry still in the machine, I put it all in this drawer for you. Is that ok?" and I opened the drawer and showed her the neatly stacked piles of pants. Maybe there were 40 pairs of clean pants.
"Ahh, thankyou, thankyou. Hmm, so many?"
('ve maybe never seen them all gathered together in one place like this, but you DO have an awful lot of pants!!).

And I retreated to start dinner preparations.
We ate together as 3 again.
But I could cash in my I Have A Sore Stomach And Can't Sit Down Too Long card...and escape upstairs after 30 mins.
And Yujiro said soon after Okaasan was safely asleep on her sofa.

Mission Accomplished.
I'm guessing more things about this trip to Tokyo will emerge over the next few days.
But for now it's done.

and me? My body?
I spent a quieter day. But I think my "quiet" was maybe too much sitting on the sofa or sitting in the computer chair. My stomach muscles ached in the evening.
Today I am going to lay down more.

And Yujiro - sweet, sweet man that he is - has done battle with the ANA website and has MAYBE got me an airticket to London late October for Y72,000 using airmiles.

Time to lay down.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Learning my limits

Empty house.
Okaasan frollicking in Saitama
Yujiro gone to work.
Cats out in the garden.
All day Home Alone finally after living the public life in a hospital.

What do I do with my freedom?

You guesed it: tidied Okaasan's room.
Yes. I need my head examining. The surgeon should go back in and search for a brain. Cos I am not sure I have one.

It started so simply.
Oh - I'll just go in and clear up those old newspapers and put them out for recycling. If I kneel down gently I can reach.
40 minutes later...... I am doing old newspapers, throwing out food wrappers, sorting the pile of 25 plus odd socks (all brown and pink), gathering up soiled underwear (15 pairs thrown out as beyond rescue/40 pairs in the washing machine)....supermarket flyers, rotting food in plastic bags etc etc etc etc.

And my stomach muscles start feeling VERY tender.
It's not that I am doing big bending down and carrying heavy objects. But even sitting/kneeling on the carpet and reaching for pants and socks is actually using stomach muscles.

I stop. Finally. Creep back upstairs and lay down on the sofa for the next 4 hours.
HOW stupid am I?

Spent the rest of the afternoon stretched out or sitting to recover.

Late we go again...I go downtown by subway to meet Yujiro for dinner at a Fall Food Festival in the park.
Yes, you heard right.
11 days after an operation I am walking 10 minutes to the subway station, sitting on the train,  and then walking 3 city blocks to look at and eat festival food.

No brain obviously.
And this was my idea: a date for us because there is no Okaasan to feed at home.

It was okay-ish...the food festival was actually lovely. A beautiful autumn evening in the park, just the two of us and some food/drink.. But the whole trip out: TOO MUCH!

Came home very tired.
I have to learn my limits of phyiscal ability. And all of this was too much.

My brain is beginning to fill up with the reality of England and what I will be doing there: sorting through my childhood/young adult bric-a-brac and deciding what to bring back to Japan, what to throw away, what to try and sell, what to cry over.
Airtickets, shipping companies and stuff....piles and piles of stuff. Soon I will no longer have a family home in England where it can all just sit for years. I can't expect my oldest schoolfriend to take it all into her home....I am dreading the whole thing.
Last night waiting for Yujiro in a downtown hotel lobby I started getting tearful about what is ahead in England. About my step-mum. About the doors closing on my childhood.
I guess going into hospital 2 days after I heard about Jane's death and then having to focus on my body and what the doctor and nurses were doing to it - it all pushed the grieving to one side. And now it's all bubbling up again.

But. I can't start rushing to England now.
If I can't lift Okaasan's dirty underwear without straining my stomach - I certainly can't sort through my childhood possessions and pack a shipping crate. While crying.

Bugger it all.

But thankfully, THANKFULLY...I have no work this week. Originally the hospital said 2 weeks stay, so I cancelled 3 weeks of work (my bank balance is going to plummet because I am paid for when I teach, no teaching means no pay), and this week I really need off.

Aghhh....Yujiro's gone off to the airport now to fetch Okaasan home...and I'd better telephone ANA and ask them how on earth I can use all these airmiles to have some kind of benefit for a trip to England.

Bugger it all.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

She's GONE!!!!!

OKaasan has Left the Building.
We are wonderfully, deliciously, estatically HOME ALONE for the first time in almost 2 years!

It's so good.
Last night we sat across the table from eachother (I usually sit next to Yujiro, both of us across from O), and we ate cheese fondue, and drank wine and played pop music. And after eating we sat back and chatted about things. It was so good to just sit and relax, sit and make eye contact with eachother and sit and chat.
We confessed that when O is there we are both trying to get away from the table as soon as possible, she eats slower than us and forgets what she still has in front of her anyway. We both tend to start clearing the table, putting leftovers in fridge boxes, de-tabbing beer cans etc - all displacement activiities so that we don't have to sit and sit and sit there....usually I escape with laundry or cats or fake phone calls to England and Yujiro washes dishes with Okaasan hovering around the kitchen with Japanese-tea-in-the-making-bits.
Dinners with Okaasan are very boring. Family duty.

But last night we relaxed. I didn't eat too much cheese fondue in case my digestion system went into shock, and I drank a small glass of  wine.
Normal life ;-)) until Monday afternoon......
Well, as normal as you can be with a 6 cm gash on your tummy....
it kind of limits the running naked round the house and wild sex games.
But late September in Sapporo it's probably best to put on a sensible sweater, some more socks and forget about running naked anyway...

Yujiro got Okaasan off to Tokyo safely.
She somehow managed to pack a a small suitcase, with constant reopening and checking to make sure she had everything. She made piles of clothes all over the room as if going for an expedition, and was constantly asking: Why am I staying in a hotel? Where is Hiroyuki? Where is the wedding?
But apparantly in the past week she had done some preparation for the wedding by taking clothes to the dry cleaners. haircut. She went off to Tokyo looking wild and straggly.
I really think I'll just have to take this haircut topic in hand and book her an appointment somewhere. She seems to have lost the ability to make the decision to do it, make an appointment and go along to it. Of course in her talk on the topic: There IS no good hairsalon in Sapporo. It's only the 5th biggest city in Japan...

Anyway. Off she went. I stood at the door and waved her out. Reclaimed my home. Yujiro took her to the airprt and arranged for the stewardesses to treat Okaasan as an Accompanied Person, so there was less chance of her getting lost.

And then we settled into our Weekend Alone.
I stayed in my pajamas all day. Watched TV, ate chocolate (still at 54 kg!), protected my stitches from the cats with a cushion and drifted.

Yujiro got several phone calls from his brother about Okaasan: yes she arrived in Tokyo, yes she was ok...and then later in the evening: Does she have a coat? We can't find her coat and she doesn't know if she came with a coat!

Ha HA! NOW Older Brother - and other family members - are realizing How Okaasan Is. Realizing What We Do. Finally. Most of them probably haven't actually spent any time with her for about 3 the difference in her mental abilty will be noticable: the constant checking questions, the confusions and the not-quite-connecting-to-it-all.
Yujiro already primed Older Brother that he must make sure Okaasan goes to the toilet regularly and he must control the amount of alcohol she has access to.
We can both imagine how she will be at a day-long wedding party in a strange hotel with crowds of people. It'll be confusing with her. And I fear she will have toilet accidents and lose things. And drink too much. I hope Older Brother and other family members look after her.

NOW they are gonna work for 2 days!
And we are going to relax.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Do you wanna see it?

Do you wanna see my cyst?


It's officially a benign Mucinous Cystadenoma.

Here is the picture that Yujiro took after the operation....when the doctor came out to
meet him with,,,,

are you sure???

Scroll down if you dare... comes...


This is it.

On the left is my right ovary (normal size) and looking rather like something that Japanese izakiyas serve with a bit of soy sauce and ginger...and on the right is the remains of the 20cm X 9 cm bag of water and globule bits that is the cyst in my body for the past few months....yes, that thing looking like a chicken skin bag of eggs....I may never be able to prepare raw chicken again. And maybe you too. The doctor drained off a lot of water first and then pulled it all out of my body through a 7 cm long cut up my stomach.

And now for some better pictures.

 View from my bed - even the local apartment building is pink...and I could see Mount Teine.
 Yup....I DO have a pink nightdress actually...
 Some of the many flowers from students and friends.
 My stomach now.....6-7 cm cut....and a bruise.
Bikini modelling is maybe still a job option.
Hospitl life....

Tonight I am home.
I decided to pee in a trash box (thanks to last year's crazies with Okaasan and know I can do that) and come home and risk a 3kg cat jumping on my stitches.
Okaasan is in a washing frenzy before her 2night trip to the family wedding near Tokyo tomorrow. I did a basic "I'm home, I'm ok thankyou" with her...and I'M leaving Yujiro to take her out to dinner and sort her out.

My pussy cats are a bit manic. But happy. Maybe.

And I m going to be quiet.

Thankyou to many people who came to see me in hospital, it was a bit busy and tiring some days. I'm sorry if I wasn't great of freewhen you came.

Time to go and relax again.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Good news.

Good news: but I'll make this short because I want to shuffle back over the road to my bed again.

1)  Dr. Bedside Manner Zero says the tumor is NOT cancerous. So, this time in life I am very, very lucky.
2) I will leave hospital tomorrow for 9 days of very gentle life.
I will probably stay here at my English classroom for the first night because everything is on the same floor. A nurse showed me yesterday to get down and into and then out of and up from a futon on the floor.
Okaasan goes to Saitama on Saturday morning for the family wedding - she is away 2 nights - and so THEN when she is away I will move home and actually sleep in her room on her sofa - near the toilet etc. Hope I can find the sofa under all her junk.
By the time she comes back on Monday I hope I am stronger to do the stairs - or maybe i'll fall back on that peeing in the trash box idea again and actually live upstairs.

The stairs and the toilet is a useful excuse for why I don't have to go home Friday night and do that boring old family dinner round the kitchen table....I can stay quietly here at my classroom and order in a deliver dinner.
Then Saturday I will really go home and Yujiro and I will be able to run ...slolwy... round the house naked and eat - a VERY small - amount of cheese fondue!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

and I want to see my pussy cats...very, very much.

Monday, 20 September 2010

I'M baaaaack!!! Minus melon.

I'm back.

Minus a 2kg ovarian cyst, both ovaries and about 5 kg of weight.

How to sum up the whole thing?

Basically: I had the operation last Wednesday - the doctor did a much smaller cut than planned. About 7 cm, he sucked out a lot of water and was left with a large bag of ovaries within ovaries of material. Samples of that have gone off to the lab for tests and we'll know maybe one week later WHAT material it was...if it's cancerous or potentially cancerous. Or actually a Yubari Melon.

There are pictures of it in all its white and bloody pink glory...but I can't upload them yet till I get home.

The first 24 hours was hard. But now I can walk slowly around, get out of bed with a kind of roll and elbow prop, go to the toilet, have a shower and eat increasingly amounts of normal food.

The doc says I may be out of hospital September 24/5...a few days earlier too!

So all is good- but I still feel tired easily. My first shower and change of clothes sent me back to bed for the rest of the morning.
But today - Monday - I have escaped. I have come out of the hospital building and walked ever so slowly a carefully across the road and round the corner to my English classroom and the Internet line.
I feel I've been away from my world, this room for ever!

High and low lights:

Does it hurt? No, not as much as I'd expected, even after the paincontrol stuff stopped. It hurts when I sneeze, strain a bit in the toilet or do an unexpected move like a hand slip on a wet rail in the shower.

What was the operation like?

The bits I remember: surreal. * Had to wait until almost 4.15 pm to even go into pre-op. Very surreal to walk down in the elevator to the third floor with Yujiro and a nurse...and the stretcher-for-my-return. Walking to your own operation! * Watched Yujiro fight his way into a blue scrubs and a facemask, he looked less like George Clooney and more like a baker. * BIZZARRE conversation in pre-op when the nurses discovered I was the owner of the little English school they see just round the corner on their way home everynight..."um...don't contact me for lessons until October, I am kind of busy...." * The knock-out WAS instant: one moment looking at Yujiro talking about the cats, next moment opening my eyes and realizing that my Japanese friend who has NO SENSE of appropriateness had got into the recovery room with a friend from church and was standing beyond Yujiro gawping at me! (There will be scaling back of this friendship...I told her 3 or 4 times to NOT come and see me until at least Friday and she was IN THE FUCKING RECOVERY ROOM AS I CAME BACK TO CONSCIOUSNOUS!!! If I was a Celeb I'd be consulting my lawyer about stalking laws.

Wonderful: *The nursing staff of KKR Sapporo Iriyo Center. They are a great, great bunch of women. Endlessly kind and patient and helpful and reassuring through all my tearful breakdowns.* The hospital itself - all brand new and smart, with a bedside view of Teine Mountains and Sapporo city, a sunrise view over near neo-natal care. * The hospital food actually, endless rice/tofu and vegetables. But ok...apart from two strawberry jam jellies and cream...that turned out to be tomato-jelly-and.....mayonnaise!!!!!!! * Heather-san's gossip mags, enormous bar of chocolate and...a smoked salmon and salad sandwich.

Hmm?: Surgeon with Bedside Manner Extracted Upon Qualification? Is this a worldwide thing? I am guessing so. While I am glad of course that his expert 7 cm cut 'n suck doesn't stop my Bikini Model Plans yet...I do wonder at a man who briskly peels off the dressing, pats it a bit and exits sharpish when the patient is obviously tearing up as she confronts a gash and stitching in her body for the first time in her life! He sees zillions of these, does it take an iota of human sense to consider that for this human being it may be a kind of strange, scary experience?

Mind you, he can't be blamed or know (even with the Doctor as God abilities) that 30 mins before I'd opened a Get Well card from England, and realizing that my step-aunt had written it at Jane's bedside on Saturday morning...and by that evening Jane had died. The Last Message card PLUS a Gashed/Stitched Body sight all before lunch. Tears allowed.

Small world:  for 4 days my world shrunk to the 5th floor pink and pine, carpeted corridors...where I walked. Sometimes at night I ventured down to 1st or 2nd floor, fought constipation with a 1 am raid for coffee and non-milk chocolate to the all-night Lawsons on the 1st floor. I admired tiny, new born babies in maternity...I swap op stories with the ladies around me. I read. I sleept. I stared at Teine Mountain.

Now: yesterday rush of students and friends came to see me and I was strong enough to talk and laugh. Just now I've managed to walk to here my English classroom - 100 meters from the hospital door. I did training for it last night by walking a circular route through EVERY floor of the 8F hospital building

But I am glad to be in the pink, safe, quiet world of hospital for a few more days.

THANKYOU for many messages!!!!

* and Okaasan? She hasn't been to see me yet...and I hope she won't. Yujiro says she is ok, but he hasn't mentioned anything about her coming. Let's keep it that way!!

Thursday, 16 September 2010

I'm OK.

Hello, Everybody.
I'm Yujiro who is Amanda's boyfriend.
She is OK after operation.
In the case something change, I will tell you.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Off to hospital...see you on the otherside (minus melon!...and ovaries)

This is a rushed blog cos I have to go to hospital in 30 mins.

Was going to do a nice, measured posting.

But just had a 40 min conversation with my step-aunt about Jane, the funeral, the house, the furniture etc etc. SO many things we have to cram into the time before I go to hospital.

But my last day of freedom was good.
I did errands in the morning, and then escaped from it all and went to Makomonai Park - the old Sapporo Olympic Park - and lay under some trees in the grass to think about Life, Death and the Meaning of it all. Then I read some newspapers. Drank some juice.
Came home via a posh supermarket and bought crab and fake champagne for dinner.
Yujiro and OKaasan and  I sat down and ate crab and toasted my operation.
This is my family now...for better or for worse!

Okaasan has finally really caught onto the fact that I AM having an operation and going into hospital - she overheard my phone conversation with a friend and maybe my recent cheerful chat about "good hospital, good doctors, nothing to worry about" clicked into place.

And so.
See you on the other side.
I'll try to get Yujiro to post an: "Oyomesan is ok" or "Oyomesan gave birth to 3 kittens and a melon" message. And i'll try to get to a computer sometime soon.

Bye for now.

Monday, 13 September 2010

The Day You Hear.

The Day You Hear That Someone Died.
What do you do?

Movies may have long family heart-to-hearts or walks on the beach.
Maybe everyone's reality is different.
Because life around you that day goes on, And you are carried on through it.

Sunday. The day I heard Jane had died.
My day was dominated by Okaasan's hula dance performance at the Hokkaido Newspaper Culture School Performace Day.
Yujiro thankfully cancelled work and stayed home to take over the main caring role for Okaasan.
We stayed home in the morning. I did those essentials after hearing News of a Death: posted the news on my Facebook page....emailed the lost souls who are still not on Facebook...cried, weeded, played with cats, slept, watched stuff on tv, ate salaami sandwiches with Yujiro in the garden.

Mid-afternoon Okaasan was asleep on her sofa. We woke her up and got her programmed in to Going Out...she was surprised to hear that the hula dance event was happening: "Really? I thought it had finished! I dreamt it? ....", that was yesterday, yesterday was the rehearsal, today is the actual event."
It took her ages to get ready. But finally we loaded her in the car and took her downtown again.
Delivered her just before 4 pm into the supporting care of her dance classmates...
Then we had to while away 2 hours while they all got prepped for performance. We wandered Odori Park and sat on a becnch and watched Sapporo walk by.
Then near 6 pm back to the Hokkaido Newspaper Hall to see Okaasan dance on stage.
Her group was second and we both actually felt nervous as they walked on!
Okaasan was strategically place back and center of the group so she didn't have to move around much and she was hidden behind the bigger/better dancers. Her teacher had planned it well.
A vision in blue and yellow with hair extensions, make-up and fake flowers.
It all went off ok. Okaasan keeps up with her group just about. No major drama. She thankfully had a successful dance.

Afterwards the class were booked to have a party at a nearby Italian restaurant. So we had to while away ANOTHER two hours nearby. We live just a little too far from downtown to go home on this kind of day. So we walked a bit and found an izakiya. Had a quiet dinner together at the end of a loooong day...and before the events of the coming week.
By 8.30 pm the hula dance group was breaking up. Ohta-san called us to say Okaasan  was ready to be picked up. We were waiting in the side street near the restaurant. We drove home.

And so. I climbed into futon about 9.30 pm. Exhausted actually.
It was just one-of-those-things that the day I heard that Jane had died was also the day we had to take Okaasan to hula dance performance. That's life. But i'm glad Yujiro could be there to take charge of it all.

Going to bed at the end of the day is hard. It's like you are leaving the person who died behind in that day. I lay looking up at my bedrom ceiling and thought a lot about the house in England, trying to imagine what family and the agency carers are doing. The undertaker - probably the family firm we used last year - the funeral planning beginning. The house.

I will have to go to England when I am well enough to do an international flight.

But for now. Goodbye Jane. The Day I Heard You Died I Was in A Japanese Culture School Hall Watching Old Ladies Dance Hawaiian Dance.


Sunday, 12 September 2010

My step-mum Jane.

Jane, my step-mum, died peacefully in bed at her home a few hours ago.
I woke up to an email from her sister telling family that the end was near, and then an hour later while I was weeding outside the front door with a cat, Yujiro called me upstairs where a new e-mail had just arrived with the news.
Funny. Because Jane was a Master Weeder. She could spend hours and hours in her garden making sure it looked beautiful.

Jane was the oldest daughter of a doctor. She was the oldest sister to 3 siblings. She was a family doctor, wife, step-mum, aunty, great-aunty and god-mother. She was a friend to many, many people. She loved the Church and did a lot of work in her community and for charities across the world. She loved gardening, sewing, cooking, antiques, skiing, horseriding, writing letters, dogs, historic homes, historical books, chocolate puddings...
She married my Dad when I was a toddler, she was actually my mother's doctor and just about brought me into the she has been IN my world for as long as I know.
She was a determined, practical, ultimately sensible person. Fix anything, carry anything, do anything. Knew how to keep my Dad on his toes. And out of the armchair.
She wanted to die at home. Two weeks ago she battled against doctors' and family advice to go home, got the two carers to care for her....and slipped away quietly while sleeping late Saturday night with the carers beside her and visits from her brother and sister just before.
It's the way we would ALL choose to go.

And so.
Here Yujiro has taken the day off work and he'll steer Okaasan to the hula event. We took her together yesterday to the rehearsal, it was a success...but she needed a LOT of guidance to get there with the right stuff, at the right time and place.
I'm not up to cooking lunch for Okaasan and steering her downtown again this afternoon.
I need a quiet day. Weeding would seem to be a good tribute to Jane.

Now I have no parents. All 4, mother and father, and both step-parents have now died.
I have no brothers and sisters.
My family is now this Japanese guy I met skiing, and his mother, our cats. Of course I'm part of Jane's huge family of siblings, nephews and nieces and all their's a strange thing to sit here on a sunny morning in Japan and think. I'm 49 and I have no parents now.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Service as normal...

Okaasan back on course.

That's the strange thing about dementia: there can be a lot of strange thoughts going inside which often pop up in strange conversations or actions, but at this early/mid stage of dementia all generally looks ok on the outside.
Okaasan isn't running around in her knickers howling at the moon or anything. Yet.
To meet her, she is a nicely dressed old lady, trotting out every day to take a walk, going downtown on the subway to shop, dropping into coffee shops and stores to look, chatting to strangers waiting for the train.
Behind this: a lady who isn't really sure what month or day it is. Whether she had lunch or not. Not sure at all where money or keys are. Sitting at home surrounded by plastic bags of rotting food, dirty underwear, bits of paper, unfinished-long-ago things to do, unable really to cook or clean or plan her week ahead. Her conversations are sometimes ok, sometimes a bit random - clutching to the last word or idea she heard and not connecting conversation points.

But yesterday was good. Yujiro and I came rushing home late, to throw dinner together just before 7 pm. But Okaasan wasn't bothered: she'd been downtown and enjoyed watching the Ozawa/Kan roadshow as the candidates in next week's ruling party smackdown match came to Odori Park and spoke to thousands of people...who can't vote for them anyway because it's a politicians and party members only vote as befits a democracy on the British model.
So Okaasan had a good day out in the park with the politicians, she thought maybe she'd eaten lunch and wasn't so hungry really. No talk of hula dance.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

I've quit!

"I've quit hula dance!"  Okaasan announced yesterday.
You did what? When? Why?

I'd popped into her room to borrow back the hairdryer. Okaasan was sitting sewing one of her hula dance skirts. I guessed getting it ready for the hula dance performance event this coming weekend.
"Ahh, are you preparing for the event?"
"The event? No, I quit hula, so I'm unpicking the skirt. I don't need it anymore."

Stunned. That was Yujiro and I.
Standing there at the entrance to Okaasan's room with this news hanging there.

You did what?
I did yesterday. I told you!
No, you said nothing to us. Or the hula teacher. Or Ohta-san.
I didn't? I told someone. Maybe I dreamed it? I told someone. I quit, didn't I?
I can't do it, it's too fast. My body can't do it. I can't......

And then Okaasan cried.
It was so sad. She was sobbing like a child. I backed out of the living room to the kitchen so that Yujiro could comfort her, lots of reassuring words....but she cried....
I can't do it, it's too hard, I dont want to go, I'm at the front of the stage, I can't do it, I don't have my dance accessories, it's hard, it's fast, I can't remember the steps....

Yujiro calmed her down after a few minutes.
He reassured her. He reminded her that HE had all the accessories bag for safekeeping. He said she could quit if she really wanted to, but not to worry about keeping up with the others etc, that the teacher and classmates wanted her to dance with them, that she CAN do it, etc etc.
It was like a parent comforting a child - but here was the son comforting the mother.

Poor Okaasan. It was so sad. I felt for her so much. We all know that feeling: when you know you can't do something. But you will have to do it, in front of people, as part of a group.
Hobbies in Japan are taken very seriously. This hula dance class in a hobbygroup at a culture school run by the local newspaper. Just ladies who like hula dance getting together. But they have these performance events with other groups in front of family members. And THESE events are so important - they practice, practice...there is a whole list of Stuff That Needs Doing, preparations, rehearsals....and Ohta-san told Yujiro that Okaasan has had a hard time with the new routine her group has been learning. Learning new things is so hard.

What should we do?
Let Okaasan quit?
Sounds the best thing to do.
But it isn't that simple.
By next week this feeling of panic has probably passed. Then Okaasan will want to go to the class again.
Or let her drop out of the event this coming Sunday?
Then Sunday morning she'll want to go? Or at the class on Monday when they are all talking about it, she'll wonder why SHE didn't go again...and get the whole "They don't like me, so they didn't tell me about the event" scenario.

Dementia means Okaasan won't remember her own decision. Or conversations.
This panic about the event on Sunday leads naturally to "I want to quit" feeling - but that feeling and decision isn't fixed.

In fact, after this meltdown yesterday morning at 10.30 am...we left Okaasan sewing the dance skirt BACK together. By 11.30 am she was fine again.
We ate lunch 3 of us together. Chatted. Then we took her kotatsu blanket out for drycleaning and even got Okaasan to vacumn her room! (asked me 8 times in 30 minutes how to operate the vacumn cleaner and 5 times: "Am I going somewhere today?"). And bundle up old newspapers, She cleaned her room! Did laundry! Watched TV! Went for a walk! Came home on time! Ate dinner happily.
All smiles again.

It's the curse of the hula dance.
What will happen this weekend?
There is an event on Sunday afternoon. There is a rehearsal on Saturday. It's my Oyome-san job to get Okaasan ready for these two outtings, take her there and hand her over to Ohta-san.

After that I think I'll need a good rest.
Ahh! Two weeks in hospital? That will do nicely!

Monday, 6 September 2010


How do you blog about the funeral of a friend?
Can't really.
Last year I blogged about the funeral of my father. Shit, that event was a year ago this week.

So, now Flemming.
My first boss in Japan. A guy who taught me the difference between the Past and the Past Perfect (I think he'd learned it the day before).
He let me stay in his home for free until he'd paid me enough for work to move out on my own. Then he introduced me to roommates, two women who have gone on to be the sisters I never had as an only child.
He probably took me to my first karaoke, he was there at my first earthquake....we got drunk together, he introduced me to the writer Dean Koontz, hiking, eating, Japan's silly side....he was often noisy, abrupt, rude, dismissive and uncommunicative....but he was Flemming.

This weekend I flew down to Shin-Koshigaya in the northern sprawling suburbs of Tokyo and met up with Flemming's wife Yukie-san, their children Mai and Ken, and so many old friends and students. Kids who I taught when they were tiny are now full grown young people.
And we remembered Flemming, who died of breast cancer last Tuesday in a hospice after a final two weeks of struggle with it all. His daughter Mai got back from school in Denmark in time to see him, and his sister and niece came too.
We cried and talked and ate and drank. A Japanese funeral is in two parts: the wake and the funeral....and then usually just family at the cremation.

The wake on Saturday night was in a funeral hall. The open coffin and many, many sunflowers, messages, photographs, letters, memories in one room - and sushi and Sapporo beer spread out on tables in the other. Crying in one room, gossip and laughs in the next.
It's a great way to see someone off.
Flemming and Yukie started an English school in their apartment more than 20 years ago, then it grew, they built (literally because Flemming was a designed and carpenter) the next school, they employed foreign teachers, they taught generations of kids in their home area, they expanded to another building....they built a house. They raised two great young people Mai and Ken.
They made a big  difference to many lives.

Funerals make you think about many things in life. What is important. What is just fluff of the passing days. Who is important to you.

On my way home I used the computer at the airport for 10 minutes. Read an e mail from my step-mother saying that my step-mum isn't so good...the nurses and doctors don't see much improvement.
I feel another farewell coming.

Here in Sapporo Yujiro is trying to coordinate Okaasan into an approaching hula dance performance - making sure she has all the right things on the right day. Her grip on what day of the week it is getting pretty weak now.
As I travelled through the airports this weekend I tried to imagine what it will be like when Okaasan is doing this later this month....I can't. All those oh-so-attractive-shops-selling-stuff!!!! Maybe she'll disappear into the Haneda Airport Triangle and never be seen again....I think Okaasan's heaven will be one big department store, never ending shopping....just hope we don't lose her into it sooner than expected.

Am I mean?

Friday, 3 September 2010

Nope....operation on schedule....

Size doesn't matter.
It may be should still come out.
September 15th is still All Systems GO!

We spent a few hours at the hospital, going from section to section to get the pre-op tests done and to confirm that my heart, lungs, blood etc are all super-fit.
Then in to see the doctor - who is herself alarmingly large as she is due to give birth any minute now I should guess - and she said that while it's great that it may be a bit smaller and things are more comfortable in my should still come out because it won't disappear completley however many Christians are praying or however little food I am eating according to a J-guru.
I did know that really. My hopes for a downgrading to a laproscoptomy were just hopes and dreams...from all my web-surfing and talking to retired nurses I understood that a tumor this size doesn't just vanish.

So. I should be glad that my last week of freedom I am feeling fine. Feeling strong and healthy actually. The knee is good. The stomach is fat and I don't think an ordinary bra will fit. But, I can go to Saitama tomorrow and say goodbye to Flemming with old friends....

* Okaasan News: the old "the hula-dance-class-people-paranoia" is back. She said to Yujiro today that she doesn't want to go to the September 11th dance event because...."they didn't invite me to the last event, so why should I go to this event!". He had to start all over again, reassuring her that they DID invite her to that event in the summer, but SHE had decided not to go etc etc etc......once a negative idea has taken hold in Okaasan's brain it just lodges in there somewhere and rears up again.....

Size matters?

Can anyone else see the difference?
Hmmm...maybe an MRI is a better idea, this standing in my cycling shorts with the camera and the mirror isn't so technical...

two weeks ago...
actually the big difference seems to be the bum!
two weeks ago there was a lump at the you can see my backbone...
I can't make head or tail of it.
Off to hospital this afternoon. Hopefully the doctor has a better idea!

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Okaasan's AWFULLY big adventure!

Okaasan is going to Tokyo!
Well, actually Saitama...but still....airports! airplanes! trains! family wedding! oh MY!

After 2 years of sitting in Sapporo and watching TV, she is escaping and heading back to her roots in Kawagoe for the wedding of a nephew at the end of September.

It was a busy day here: Yujiro worked overtime sorting out Okaasan's life.
They spent about 45 minutes searching for missing Hula Dance event tickets in Okaasan's room, and then searching for the dance accessories, and trying to find out why Okaasan has two sets of tickets etc etc
And then planning the nephew's wedding.
Yes, there is a nephew. Yes, there is a wedding. Yes, Okaasan is invited. and YES! She will go!

She'll stay 2 nights in hotel in Kawagoe near her brother's home.
And....this is hilarious....the Useless Brother will finally DO something for his mother. Yujiro has arranged that he will take Okaasan to Chitose Airport (our local airport), hand her over to a caring stewardess who will make sure she gets on the right plane and doesn't disappear in the airport shops forever, and then Useless Brother will be waiting at Tokyo to pick her up and take her to Kawagoe etc etc.
And look after her for the weekend. And deal with: "I need to go to my old house and get a LOAD of stuff to bring back to Sapporo!!"
Yujiro - sensible man - will stay in Sapporo with the TV/sofa/beer/cats/and girlfriend in hospital demanding chocolate.

Useless Brother will have a tough weekend. Of course Okaasan will want to go to her old house. And once there I can't imagine what games she'll get up to...probably get all the kimono out for drying and insist on packing up all sorts of crap to bring back here.

Ho, ho, ho. All very funny. But of course I'll be in hospital with a stitched stomach.
So, I won't be here to appreciate a home-with-no-Okaasan.
Okaasan will have a great time in her childhood city, with family members and memories. Hey ! She might decide to stay and never come back to Sapporo!

Meanwhile: I decided to go to Tokyo THIS weekend and attend the funeral of my first boss in Japan. All expensive with suddenly bought airtickets etc, but that's life. Flemming is the reason I stayed in Japan: working as an English teacher at his little English conversation school in the Tokyo suburbs 17 years ago, living with his family for a few months, drinking/singing/laughing/eating together - I worked for him for 3 years and somehow he made me into an English language teacher. So I am going.

A week ago I don't think I could have physically done it. Get on a plane and go to Tokyo. But this tumor thing IS getting smaller, I am sure of it, and I actually feel I can do the trip ok. My knee (remember that?!) is also stronger, so maybe I can walk the airports unaided.
Tomorrow is the hospital checks.

Wouldn't it be amazing if the doctor says I don't need the big operation, but just the laproscoptomy? Just the tumor pricking and sucking out. Wouldn't THAT be amazing?!
My Christian friends will claim it for Jesus. Yujiro and Okaasan will claim it for Nishi-sensei..
I will just be very, very happy.

We'll see.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Summer crazies.

I think the heat has flipped a switch in Okaasan's brain.
She seems more animated/manic.

In the past 48 hours we've had stuff about a nephew in Tokyo getting married and I-must-go-to-the-wedding, we've had I-ordered-a-T-shirt-from-a-shop-but-I-can't-remember-which-one...we've had all sorts of little strangenesses......I think we should buy her an electric fan quick and get some  air under that mop of wild hair.

Poor Yujiro. He has to check with Okaasan's brother to see if there IS a wedding (there IS a nephew, so maybe it's true, the brother called last week about temple payments) and he had to phone round some shops seeing if they knew anything about an order. Of course they knew nothing.

I guess the good thing is that Okaasan isn't keeping all of this stuff in, but sharing it, endlessly with Yujiro!

And. My witching powers are also -sadly - switched on.
Yesterday morning in class - amid a discussion about health/cancer/the importance of everyone getting regular checks etc - I told students about Flemming, my first eikaiwa boss in Saitama, Japan. A wonderful, strange, off-the-wall Danish man. Two or three years ago he discovered he had breast cancer. He had treatment for it. Got ok etc.

Last night a friend in Saitama called.
Flemming died yesterday morning, from the breast cancer.
He was 53 years old. A crazy, wonderful, creative spirit. A brilliant carpenter and husband and dad. He was my first boss in Japan. He offered me - a complete novice teacher - a job, and let me live with his family when I started work for him.
Everything that has happened to me in Japan came because Flemming and his wife Yukie gave me a chance at this lark called English teaching. My life changed completly because of that chance.

I haven't seen them for a few years, they came camping with the children in Hokkaido a few years ago. He used to come vodka drinking and ice carving in the Sapporo Snow Festival too.

But he died. Yesterday.
I have some kind of Sixth Sense of whatever, I think or dream about people and within 12-24 hours they contact me, or I hear something about them. Twice it was the happy news of friends being surprised pregnant, sometimes it is contact after a long time...this is the first time it is because someone has died.

Summer Madness all round.