Losing a parent

I’d hate to start a post with a darker tone, but January has been a heck of a month.

My father passed away on January 13th. I got a message from my mom on the 11th, saying he is in the hospital and in a critical condition.

He has been suffering from Pancreatic Cancer. He did have a surgery in summer 2010, but they were unable to remove it all.

We, meaning my two brothers and my mom, were told that his Dr. hadn’t seen anybody last longer than two years. Last time I was in Sasebo, my brother told me I should spend good quality time with him.

Last time I saw him in person was back in May 2011, when I was home in Sasebo. I wrote a little bit about it here.

I talked to dad on the phone at one point, around Jan 11th or 12th, but he was incoherent. According to my brother, who was in the room, he was asking “which station” I was at. He had thought I was back in town…

Technology is an amazing thing. My brother was able to Skype with me over his phone and my younger son and I got to show our faces to my dad in bed. We didn’t get to talk much, but I’m sure he saw us. That was our goodbye. He passed away a day after that.

I wasn’t able to make the funeral, because of many reasons. I had a hard time finding a last-minute ticket that I could afford, and also in Japan funerals has to happen on certain days. I was crushed about it initially, but, looking back, I am almost glad I didn’t attend the service. I probably couldn’t take it. I arrived home a day after the service, around midnight.

Then my mom told me what happened. He went into the hospital on Dec. 16, and everybody thought he’d be out after the New Year. Last time I corresponded with my dad was Dec 2, his birthday. I had asked how he was and he said he just found out he had water in his lungs. In the email he had said he was “full of fear”…

Mom told me that he really wanted to live. He didn’t want to go. This breaks my heart.

I am still having a great difficulty processing my dad’s passing.

I am surprised myself how hard it is. Of course, you only have one father in your life. I always knew it would be hard, but didn’t know just how hard.

I was absolutely overwhelmed and grateful for all the friends’ support. I had a flood of emails, Facebook messages, Tweets and texts. I was especially touched by people who shared their personal stories. I had a few messages from people who also lost their loved ones, either recently or years ago, and they all said they are still hurting.

More than few people told me losing a parent will forever change you. I am just learning exactly what that means.

While I was in Sasebo, I slept in the same room my dad’s shrine was. I was half expecting to see him in my dreams, but that didn’t happen.

I got to have a look at my dad’s phone. Under “family” folder in his email inbox, there was the email I sent to him in December. He also had lots of emails from his colleagues (he worked in just one company his whole life- typical Japanese business man) wishing him to get well.

I don’t really have a point on this post. I think I just needed to write it. I still miss him very much.


  • Kanna Laird

    I am SO sorry for your loss and I am extremely proud of you for everything you have done and will do.

  • Anonymous

    So very sorry for your loss… writing about it is therapeutic I think.  

  • Tim

    Yukari, I’ve wanted for a while to post something on your father’s
    passing and I hope now I can articulate things. Like anyone else who
    hears about life-altering events like this I wish there was more that
    could be done to comfort or heal you. You’re to be commended for the
    manner in which you share so much of yourself on the net, I’m not
    sure I’d be able to be so forthcoming. I hope you’re now able to get
    some benefit from those you’ve helped yourself with what you’ve
    shared. You deserve all the help and support the local community can
    give you and any small amount I can contribute I very much want to
    do. About 20 years ago I came across an essay that I’ve hung on to
    to re-read or to pass on to others, I hope you’ll get some benefit as
    well. I couldn’t find a copy online so I’m putting the full text
    below. After the essay I’ve posted a poem by William Blake which
    expresses all our thoughts as well as anyone has ever put it. My
    best wishes for you through a very difficult time, thoughts and
    prayers are with you.


    We avoid talking
    about it. We are uncomfortable admitting that it will happen to all
    of us. Death is a forbidden subject, paradoxically, in a society
    besieged by grisly media images. Inured to violence and gore, North
    Americans remain strangely squeamish about the idea of “resting
    in peace.”
    There was a time when we were born at
    home and died at home, but urbanization changed us. Hospitals became
    the centre for birth, illness and death – rites of passage that
    have grown detached from human reality. The meaning of death, in
    particular, has been obscured, and with it the understanding of
    “We have been systemically
    distancing ourselves from anything connected to death at a personal
    level,” clinical social worker Elizabeth Jong says. “Years ago,
    the family structure was more intact and when someone died, there
    were siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles to share the burden.
    “Today, the concept of the
    traditional family unit has broken apart, and although we are working
    on ways to accommodate this development, we haven’t allowed for
    enough social intervention to support mourners. Mourning seems
    acceptable at the funeral and for one or two months. But anyone who
    is still having difficulty adjusting after a year may be considered
    to be suffering from depression… That sets an unfair time limit on
    some very powerful feelings.”
    Dr. Patricia Minnes, a professor of
    psychology at Queen’s University, says that “people have a
    tendency to rush in when somebody dies buy them quickly drop off.
    However, after a death, it sometimes takes weeks or months before a
    bereaved person can overcome the initial shock. That is when support
    is most important and is least available.”
    There are a growing number of support
    groups that address the need for people to discuss their grief. Yet
    as Dr. Minnes points out, “when you are bereaved, you often feel
    immobilized and, if you have to muster the energy to go and join a
    group, that’s very hard. It takes an enormous amount of courage to
    reach out, especially in a society that still attaches a stigma to
    psychological help.”
    Grief carries its own stigma.
    Mourners may find that friends and relatives are reluctant to visit
    or appear embarrassed by displays of emotion. Already suffering
    intense feelings of abandonment, the bereaved are further isolated
    because their pain makes others awkward. They are a troubling
    reminder of mortality.
    Some are given the cold comfort of
    “life-goes-on” rhetoric.
    “I heard it constantly,” said one
    woman whose mother had died. “ ‘You’ll get over it with time.’
    What does that mean? Is that supposed to be my goal, to get over
    it? There is never going to be a day when I wake up and say, ‘There.
    Now I feel better. Now I’ve finished mourning.’ “
    In Mourning and Melancholia,
    Sigmund Freud placed emphasis on “the work which mourning
    performs,” on the obvious human need to let the grieving process
    run its full course in order to achieve recovery from loss. Culture
    and religion can provide a built-in framework, as Ms. Jong
    illustrates: “There are important reasons why the Chinese burn
    incense after a funeral, why Jews sit shiva, why Muslims hold
    commemorative ceremonies for the dead. Coffins open or closed,
    wakes, memorials – these are all rituals that help us to deal with
    the enormity of death; they help us to deal with the enormity of
    death; they help us face it as a community. Unfortunately, North
    Americans are letting go of the customs surrounding death and dying…
    Here, when a person dies, there is a tendency to forget about the
    whole thing, to leave the bereaved alone and never, never discuss
    In her ground-breaking study On
    Death and Dying, Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross writes that dying
    nowadays is more frightful that ever before – lonely, mechanical,
    dehumanized. This stems in part from a desire to push death far into
    the background. Moreover, advances in medical science have extended
    the average life span so that a number of people are reaching their
    20s and 30s without exposure to death. The longer it is avoided, the
    greater the impact, and a lack of resources and inadequate
    communication leave many ill-prepared.
    As Dr. Minnes says: “No matter what
    the circumstances, you are never truly ready when someone dies: all
    the preparation in the world cannot lessen the shock to the system.
    But successful coping and adaptation to loss can happen when there is
    some positive past experience to draw upon.”
    Joanna Mackenzie is getting valuable
    experience of her own. At 22, she is perhaps the youngest
    palliative-care-unit volunteer in the country. No one in her
    intimate circle of family and friends has died, yet she was drawn to
    working with terminally ill patients.
    She sees the North American
    preoccupation with the physical body as life-limiting.
    “When a person is dying,” she
    says, “They are forced to call on more than just physical
    resources. It is at the point of death when we recognize the value
    of spirituality, of the soul, if you will. But dying is generally
    viewed as something which is done to us, something aggressive. We
    have to learn that it is participatory – death is a time when
    people go through incredible transformations.”
    As a whole, we are suspicious of
    transformations: the unfamiliar is always dangerous, so we turn to
    the business of daily life for protective distractions. We deny what
    we cannot tolerate, a natural defence mechanism but a risky one as
    well, for when we balk at the acceptance of death, the acknowledgment
    of grief is rendered impossible.
    C.S. Lewis once pondered whether
    “death only reveals the vacuity that was always there.” An
    increasingly secular society has reason to reflect on this thought.
    Perhaps, more than death, we fear the revelation of a shallow
    existence, or worse still, the rawness of emotions that are bared by
    loss. If so, then the cry from the heart will continue to be

    On Another’s Sorrow

    Can I see another’s woe,
    And not be in sorrow too?
    Can I see another’s grief
    And not seek for kind relief?

    Can I see a falling tear,
    And not feel my sorrow’s share?
    Can a father see his child
    Weep, nor be with sorrow fill’d.

    Can a mother sit and hear
    an infant groan an infant fear?
    No, no! never can it be!
    Never, never can it be!

    And can he who smiles on all
    Hear the wren with sorrows small,
    Hear the small bird’s grief & care,
    Hear the woes that infants bear,

    And not sit beside the nest,
    Pouring pity in their breast;
    And not sit the cradle near,
    Weeping tear on infant’s tear;

    And not sit both night & day,
    Wiping all our tears away?
    O, no! never can it be!
    Never, never can it be!

    He doth give his joy to all;
    He becomes an infant small;
    He becomes a man of woe;
    He doth feel the sorrow too.

    Think not thou canst sigh a sigh
    And thy maker is not by;
    Think not thou canst weep a tear
    And thy maker is not near.

    O! he gives to us his joy
    That our grief he may destroy;
    Till our grief is fled & gone
    He doth sit by us and moan.