I heard that the Japanese movie “Departures” has finally opened in the U.S. in the past few days. The Japanese title is “Okuribito“, meaning a person who sends out (something or someone). This movie won an Academy Award for best foreign language film, though I don’t believe many Americans know of this film (and it will most likely not become a blockbuster movie). I watched it about a week ago after borrowing the DVD from my colleague. I cried on several occasions. I was watching it alone, and there were some scenes that made me think of my grandparents, both of which passed away in their own home, at different times. It made me wonder if they were taken care of as well as the ones that were shown in the movie when they were “encoffined” i.e.: being placed in the coffin.
My grandfather was really angry and disappointed when my mother told him that I was getting married to an American. Having experienced the war, he had strong feelings either against the U.S. and/or Americans. The thing was that everyone was surprised when they found out that he had strong feelings about it, because he never talked about it nor even implied that he “didn’t like” the U.S. He even sent one of his children (my aunt) to spend one year in U.S. when she was in high school. We wondered if it was because he was getting old(he was 92 years old after all), and also whether or not it was his way of expressing his sadness of having to be far away from one of his favorite grandchildren (myself). I left Japan after marrying my husband, and even when I went back to Japan to visit my family after that, I didn’t go see him. Two years later in February, he passed away. He was 94 years old, still very sharp and fit both physically and mentally, did his daily routine of taking care of the plants in the tiny garden, went out to get groceries, played violin, had dinner with my grandmother (they were living by themselves), and went to bed. He never woke up again.
When I heard that he had suddenly passed away, I couldn’t decide right away if I wanted to fly back to Japan to attend his funeral. The airfare was about $1000 because it would have been a last minute purchase. Our relationship was not exactly close towards the end. I wasn’t feeling angry at him for not being more supportive of my marriage. I understood his lack of support and accepted it. It’s just that I was missing his approval and felt sad about it. But after talking to my brother on the phone, I decided to go back to attend his funeral. I felt like I needed to see him one last time before accepting that he was gone. When I arrived at my grandmother’s house in Tokyo, my family and relatives were very happy to see me. And then my mother told me that he had a clock in his room, that was set for California time. My grandmother told me that many nights while having dinner with her, he’d say things like “I wonder if Ecchan (my childhood nickname) can cook meals and can take care of herself properly”. Even though he couldn’t tell me in so many words before I left Japan, he still loved me and cared about me. I cried when I heard that. We all did.
It could be one of the hardest things in life that someone you love does not approve or accept the choices you make. Especially when it comes to choices such as whom you want to marry, or what you want to do for a living. When my family was less than enthusiastic about who I chose to be my life partner, I often wondered, “Should this not be a basic, fundamental decision in life?” By basic I don’t mean easy, but “personal”. Why can’t I decide with whom I want to grow old with? Why is it that I can’t decide this for myself? (In reality, nobody actually said I couldn’t, but it felt like I was not supported as much as I wanted to be). In the end, I stuck with my decisions and they eventually came around. I never reconciled with my grandfather before he passed away, but by going back to Japan to attend his funeral, and hearing the story about how much he still cared about me even though he didn’t agree with my decision, I remembered how much I was loved for all those years. That trip to Japan was a journey to get to know him again and I was glad that I went. One day my kids will be old enough to make their own decisions about life – and when that time comes, I hope I will be able to let go the needs of protecting them and be supportive of their choices. Someday.