Just fine without the turkey
Posted at 1:52 AM

Nov. 25, 2011
In the busyness of everyday life, who really knows whether our life is the gooey, stinky, but tasty and cheesy part ... or if it's the holes in that block of cheese, the airy, ethereal area that lets us breathe, while simultaneously giving our feet nothing to stand on.

That very day when you realize that you are standing on nothing isn't just something that will pass. It is when you know your life will never be the same. Maybe everything that led to it, the busyness, the joys of life, the pain of not knowing ... maybe it was all for the wrong reasons.

The day my mother died, it was a flood of mixed emotions. I was torn because I'd been sick for a month with a sinus infection and flu, and the facility she was at forbade any sick people. Yet I know I'd done my best, given beyond anything I could've imagined in those last years when she got weaker, sicker, more frail than she had already been. Physically, she suffered. Mentally, she was just sharp enough to know that her mind was slipping away. "Turning off" sometimes, as she'd say.

I'd bathe here, tuck her into bed at 10 every night when I wasn't at work. It was never a quick process, almost as if she was stalling. Or warming up for a big game of sleep. And I'd kiss her good night, and she'd let me press my forehead to hers. She'd smile. Once in awhile she'd sign to me, "Good boy."

That always made me smile, a laugh smile, not a proud smile. I know I was never a truly good son. But she knew I was her match, pound for pound, fire for fire, and that made us indivisible, more than just a parent and offspring. I'm still glad we got past all those stupid arguments, the anger and hate, long before.

But there it is, one day, when the most important person in your life is gone forever. There's no thinking of eternity and heaven and seeing her again one day. It's just a blank page when your mother is gone. That emptiness does not go away. I learned over time that the void is not my enemy, but the pain of missing her is God's way of reminding me that love is precious. Real love is temporary, but that shortness doesn't make it any less real or valuable.

I go months without talking about her with anyone, even if I think about her daily, sometimes hourly. Even today, seeing my aunties and uncle - her younger sisters and brother - doesn't involve a lot of talk about her. But she's there. A conversation about plants and flowers and red ti leaves from Maui, and it's unavoidable. We all think about the people involved in the fabric of our histories, from my mom's mother to the next generation and down to me and my cousins. Talking about cherry tomatoes between Thanksgiving meals goes along with my aunt's observation that Paula Akana's shade of hair is different some nights (light brown and dark brown) and my cousin's rewind to a picket at her workplace a few weeks ago.

I don't care that there hasn't been turkey and stuffing at her house on Thanksgiving like the old days. The fact that she opens her home and we bring food potluck style, even though she's exhausted with caretaking for her husband, standard expectations about big birds are useless. I like seeing my aunty relax and breathe a little for a change.

When my uncle asks about how my laptop works and he learns about the touchpad thing for the first time, he doesn't mind my questions about whiteflies and moss in my aunt's back yard. I don't know if it's just our nature as a family to sit and chat, or if showing them my shoebox full of vegetable seeds makes a difference. But when he talks, I see my mother's face, her cheekbones and rare moments of poise. When I repeat myself to my aunt, who is losing some hearing in one ear, I can't help but connect the dots - of all her sisters, Aunty Kay was the one who tried best to learn sign language so she could communicate with my mom, one of two deaf siblings in a family of nine children.

I don't know if they ever get annoyed when I ask them about the old house and farm life in Kula during the Depression. Every memory they share about Maui - going to school at Lahainaluna or visiting grandma at Hale Makua in Kahului - has a good vibe. Maybe too many years have passed to remember the hard times, life without electricity or running water, walking miles to school. Maybe they spared us all that in the spirit of grace. Seems my mom was the only one who ever talked about the hard times, being dirt poor, nine kids in a tiny house, enduring cold Upcountry winter weather by sleeping close together. The good times were beyond simple. The taste of freshly steamed sweet potato that had been sitting in a furo or something like it, just out of the ground.

I don't go to see family on holidays with expectations. I do leave feeling different. Feeling better. However much I've missed mom, hearing my uncle and aunty's voice brings an unmatched quality of peace in my heart. At this point in life, when God speaks, I tend to listen more often rather than counter with the case against following. So I listen, and the day ends with my soul gaining contentment. I can remember my mom's smile and laughter more easily. That's all the reason I need to spend a holiday with family. It means a little more than any deal I can get at the big box store on black Friday.

Previous Article: ILH football championship: Pupule's pick
Next Article: Math are hard?