August, 2012

This page is written monthly
by Harumi Okochi.
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Sumiko's album

Sumiko's Album

 How are you, friends?
August is the month of Bon-Festival in Kyushu. The Bon is the time when our deceased ancestors visit us once a year for three days.
I lost my mother in June, so this Bon is the first festival for my mother to come back home. I will write about her this month, even though it is still very painful. To make myself stand up, I think, I must face this sorrow, not turn away from the loss.

 Sumiko Yamaguchi left us on the 6th of June. She was 96 years old.
I am not going to write about her 13 years' illness, which was also my struggle of caring her. Instead, I will write about Sumiko's Album.

 My father, Hatsushi Yamaguchi passed away suddenly when he was 89 years old. Mom was 79 then. I made Mom move next door to me, and she somehow managed to live by herself for 4 years after father's death.
At 83, the first stroke attacked her. She was paralyzed, but this time with much rehabilitation, she could walk again. She needed much care, and I was glad that I could do that for her.
At 90, the second, and very hard stroke attacked her. She could not even move her own body. She began to forget everything. She could not even identify her daughters.

 Sumiko' s Album is the photo album to make her remember who she was.
From so many photos of her long life, I picked up twenty pictures and made this album.
Now this album is my treasure, because here, in this book, my mother's proof of life exists.

I would like to meet my mother, in this Sumiko's Album.

The photo on the first page is her parents. Mom gazed at this photo without saying anything. But after some days of repeating of asking "Do you know who they are?", she said in a small voice, "Father and Mother".
How glad I was that Mom could identify them! I thanked my grandparents who had long gone.

This was the start. 
 The second photo was her family. At that time, they lived in Pusan, Korea. Sumiko is the girl standing at the back of her little niece in white kimono.
Isn't it a big family?
Parents, eldest brother, his wife and two children, eldest sister, her husband and a boy, second sister, third sister, second. brother,
 Sumiko could not tell everyone's name, but she remembered that they were all her family.
This photo is taken about 80 year ago, and Sumiko often insisted on going back to this home in Korea, because, she said, her mother is waiting for her there.
 The second brother took much care of his youngest sister Sumiko. He died in his 60's, and I remember that Mom was weeping in the kitchen everyday.
 Two of her three elder sisters. The right person is the eldest sister Yoshiko, who lived at Sumiko's house in her last years until she was hospitalized at the age of 90.

When Sumiko was first stroked and was in her serious situation, she said in a delirium, "What do you want, Sister ?"
I was surprise and asked her, "Mom, do you see somebody?
Mother said, "Sister Yoshiko is here."
Right after it, I received a telephone from the hospital and knew that Aunt Yoshiko was dying. I hurried there and asked Aunt, "Please leave by yourself. Don't take Mom with you, Aunt"
Aunt passed away, but Mom survived. Strange, but real story.
We will get back to the time when Sumiko was a highschool student.
Her school friends always said to me, "Your mother was the top student. You must study like her."
Almost all her friends are now gone. 
  Two years after graduation, Sumiko got married. Aunt Yoshiko was the person who found a man, named Hatsushi Yamaguchi, my father, poor but gentle, and made him marry Sumiko in a hurry, because Sumiko's father was in his death-bed and wanted to see his youngest daughter as a bride before his departure.

I cannot imagine how she was feeling on her honey moon trip knowing that her father was dying. I should have asked her before she forgot everything.

Our grandfather died 10 days after Sumiko's wedding.
 The first baby was born to my parents. Father was the principal of a very small primary school in a village, where he was the only teacher with 12 pupils in the whole school. Mother taught girls how to sew a kimono. This must be the happiest time for my parents. The war had not started yet.
But they lost this boy, Naohiko, at the age of two. In that village, there was no doctor. Mom ran to the next town with the boy in her bosom, but the baby could not live.

When we (my sister, me, and my brother) were children, parents never talked about the lost boy in front of us. We didn't even know we had a brother until we got older.
It was only after Mom had a stroke and forgot about the present that she began talking about the boy. In a while she cried "Where is my baby? Please find him!" 
 One year after Naohiko's death, my elder sister Yumi was born, and three years later I was born.
This picture was taken in 1945, when Father was drafted only two months before the termination of the war.
At the back of the photo, Father wrote, "Dearest daughters, I must go and die. Remember me forever."

Father came back to us, and so did this photo.
The war was over in 1945, and the family managed to come back to Karatsu, which is my father's hometown.

In 1946, my brother Mabumi was born. We were happy family again, even though parents lost everything in the war. There was no job as a teacher for Father, so learning from the relatives, he started to sell dried fish or see-weed. The business went well, and Father bought me a book almost everyday. I was a book-worm, and read a book many times and memorized the whole book in a day. Next day Father came back with a new book. 
5 years after the end of war, Father could get a house. Humble, but a warm house it was. Mom had a green thumb, and she changed this vacant place into a beautiful garden of many kinds of flowers.
 Around the middle age, Father started his new hobby, Go-game. When he had free time, Father always enjoyed Go by himself, studying from the book
Mom often teased him, saying, "Heta-no-yokozuki!", which means, "One who has poor skill has more enthusiasm"
Father died 16years ago at the age of 89. Right after his death, Mom did not mention him at all. We wondered. Wasn't she sad? How could she live without saying anything about Dad?
But when Mom forgot the present, she was talking only about Father. "Why is he so late? Where did he go? It is very cold. Did he wear the coat?"
One night Mom suddenly said loudly in her dream, giggling. "Heta-no-Yokozuki!
Then I knew that Father had been beside her all the time.

 I will skip some photos in Sumiko's album. They are pictures of us, her children, their spouses, and grandchildren.

This picture was the last one in her album.
It was taken 18 years ago, when Mom was conferred a decoration by the Emperor for her long voluntary service in the welfare work.
This is the last photo of my parents together.

I am grateful to this Album for letting Mom remember whose daughter, whose wife, whose mother she was, and how she lived her life of 96 years.

 Sumiko got into hospital on May the 1st, 2012. The next day, May the 2nd, was her 96th birthday.
I wrote a card.
"May the 2nd, your 96th birthday, Mom.
Congratulations! And please live long!"
Reading this card, she nodded several times.

On June the 6th, she left us forever.
Now, she must be happy being together with Father and her little boy.

 Thank you very much for reading this story.
I wish you good health, happiness, and long life.

See you next month again.

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