After I visited Orlando for my wonderful cousin Jeff’s memorial service, I never really had time to sit and write about my trip and the service.
I’m glad I went and made friends with Jeff’s friends and relatives. Sorry I really surprised Laura, who rushed to the entrance of the hall the moment she spotted me, as if she had seen a visitor from some other planet.
The service was filled with love and thoughts about Jeff, which began with performance of bug pipes followed by singing with guitar. The song was lovely and the lyrics fit perfectly to the occasion (“Dancing in the Sky” by Dani and Lizzy).
Then people who were close to Jeff spoke about him. Unlike very ritualistic ceremonies popular in Japan, it was a heart-warming/breaking moment to share memories and recollections of Jeffrey.
After several people spoke, the pastor invited people to the podium and share memories. I should have shared this story with everyone at the ceremony, but I wasn’t really prepared then, so I’d like to share it here now.
Jeff did a lot of wonderful things to make people happy and give them courage. This is another episode that shows his courage and determination.
Jeff fought with oral cancer for six years. He had to remove his tongue, and had to live on the nutrition liquid from his tube that goes into his stomach. I can never imagine how hard it is not to be able to eat and drink, let alone speak fluently. He made such an amazing effort to be able to speak without his tongue. It took me a little while to get used to it, but I understood most of his speaking while he was in Japan last October.
He was such a courageous and thoughtful guy, but he couldn’t stand it when people eat and drink near him. The pastor mentioned it at the ceremony and related that Laura had to cook and eat in the garage so Jeff didn’t need to see her doing so.
As a matter of fact, in the course of exchanging email with Jeff and Laura, I was told that Jeff couldn’t be present while people eat and drink nearby. The main reason Jeff came to Japan was to bring back the ashes of his mother Michi (my aunt) and lay it in her family grave, because she wanted to come back to Japan after her husband Harry passed away.
With the help of my father and aunt Yasumi, I was organizing the Buddhist ceremony at the temple. Traditionally, relatives get together and dine after the ceremony. So, I tried to think of the best way to deal with the tradition while Jeff didn’t have to see and bear people eating and drinking near him. I exchanged email with Laura about this back and forth. By the way, Laura, I can’t believe we hadn’t met even once before you came to Japan.
Here is a quote of one of the message from Laura:
I talked to Jeff about the gathering after the ceremony. Thanks for offering the tea and cake as an alternative, but Jeff does not think that is good enough for the relatives that have come together for us. So, Jeff was thinking that you should go ahead and have a lunch. He was brought to tears about thinking how many relatives would be there and he feels that they should not all sacrifice for him. Jeff said go ahead and do some food. But me reminded, he would not like if someone came up to him and was eating in his face, that would be hard. He might have to go away or turn his back sometimes. But he would like everyone to be able to enjoy. He really wants everyone to have the lunch.
So, I decided to prepare lunch boxes for everyone so they could bring back home without eating in Jeff’s presence. That way, all the relatives would be able to chat and do a lot of catching up on each other without giving Jeff hard time.
Then, after a few weeks I heard from Laura again, and she told me Jeff was practicing coping with people eating around him. Here’s another quote of Laura’s mail:
You have a very good idea, and thoughtful, about the lunch boxes for everyone. You have been beyond understanding for Jeff’s circumstances. You are so kind. Jeff is worried that is not good enough for the family, he just told me this. Although it would be difficult on him, he really wants everyone to be taken care of. If lunch can be set up for everyone, Jeff would be good with this. We still would like a private spot/corner where Jeff can have his nutrition. We will be willing to give toward the costs involved in a large group. He has actually just opened up more to me eating around him and having food around him. This just in the last 4 or 5 days. It’s a great step for him. I know this is a big change from what we first discussed, but Jeff is evolving with his coping. Do yo think that can be set up for everyone? Again, let us know of any costs.
By the time they arrived in Japan, Jeff was totally capable of dealing with people eating in his presence. He must have made unbelievable effort to make people happy.
Actually, while Jeff and Laura were in Japan, I took him to a unagi (eel) restaurant, where Laura enjoyed kabayaki and Jeff enjoyed the scent of it. After we visited the Tokyo Skytree, we joined my father and aunt Yasumi and had a wonderful party at a Japanese style pub in downtown Tokyo. Of course there was nothing to worry about at the party after the Buddhist ceremony, and everyone ate and drink while Jeff and Laura talked with them. On the last night in Tokyo, my father and aunty Yasumi joined us again and had a gorgeous sukiyaki dinner in Shinjuku. Laura enjoyed sukiyaki, and Jeff even ‘tasted’ the soup from his tube.
Jeff especially remembered the scent of miso soup because his mother used to make it often. So, I made miso soup for him and brought it to his hotel room. He injected it from his tube and tasted it. He said he could smell the scent that rose from his stomach. What a guy!