We took my mom to see her sister earlier this week. Auntie Grace traveled with us to Japan last year. She and my mom had a rollicking good time. It was hilarious to watch them giggle and laugh together like little girls throughout the trip.
I took this photo of them on Wednesday as Auntie Grace showed off all the plants she was growing.
It amazes me how Auntie Grace can always appear to be so cheerful and seemingly carefree. She loves her plants, children, grandchildren and is devoted to everybody, friends and family alike. Mom says her sister is strong in spirit despite the enormous trials she's had to deal with.
She and mom were the eldest and probably had to sacrifice the most for the good of the family. However, they did it without showing any bitterness.
I'm remembering that phone call I got from my mom in 2005. I remember the shock of it. We were returning from a trip and I was calling my mom from Chicago to tell her we were back.
"Jon died," Mom's anguish was palpable.
"No!" I was confused and shaken. Jon is my son. "I know Jon is fine, mom. I just talked to him a week ago."
"No, not Jon... Joan." Mom's accent is sometimes a little hard to understand. Joan is Auntie Grace's oldest daughter.
"What?" Now I was totally perplexed.
"My head is completely out of kilter," explained mom. "It's Charlotte. Charlotte just died."
I was stunned. Charlotte was my youngest cousin in Hawaii. How could this be? Charlotte lived with Auntie Grace and would often bring her mother to visit mine. Auntie and Charlotte loved traveling together. Apparently, Charlotte had suddenly died just a couple of days after returning from another trip she'd been on. She'd even driven herself to the hospital because she wasn't feeling well, but didn't want to bother anyone.
Auntie Grace refused to burden anyone with her grief although my mother says she knows how her sister was suffering. When we returned to Hawaii later, Auntie let down her guard as we looked at a photo of Charlotte and said, "She lied to me. I was angry with her. She promised to always take care of me, but she left me."
When we stayed at Eiheiji (one of the two main Buddhist temples in Japan) last year with Auntie Grace, we got up at 4 AM and were led to the ancient zazen (meditation) hall by our priests-in-training.
Mom says Auntie has always had a sixth sense and has had some really unexplainable things happen. At one point after the war, she was ill with typhus and may have died for a time.
"I'm not afraid to die," said Auntie. "I know what it's like."
When we left Eiheiji Auntie Grace said, "I was really shaken up during the zazen. I could feel my parents' presence. My father (Buddhist priest) said it was good that we made the trip. Then I could feel Charlotte's presence and I realized that it was her birthday. We've been traveling so much that I lost track of the days. But it is. It's Charlotte's birthday today."
Her heart seemed lighter.
Whenever I see Auntie Grace, I'm just so astonished at her cheerfulness. She keeps looking forward to the joys that life will offer along with the sorrows. She loves new experiences and traveling, her mind always open to learning. Granted, she's got her quirky side which endears her to everybody. She makes my mom laugh, and for that I'm always grateful.