Earlier this month I celebrated my birthday; another year gone by to reflect on and a new year ahead to shift priorities, realign my values and look ahead to where I’m going. In the high desert of New Mexico, the beginning of May usually arrives spitting sleet and snow, a final hurrah for winter. This year brought an abundance of sweet lilacs but it didn’t stop the emotional storm from rolling in around me. The beginning of May, and especially my birthday, feel complicated - joyous and sad and filled with so much grief.
Three years ago my maternal Grandmother passed away. Nine years ago I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid arthritis. My dear friend Stacy, would have been celebrating her Saturn return if she was still on this earthly plane. They say trauma lives in the body and my birthday only has to roll around to remind me of this, to bring all these events to the forefront of my mind and my being.
This year in particular, I am feeling the vacuum left behind by my grandmother. The last year has forced us to confront issues of race and identity, something I feel like I am just beginning to understand for myself and which I have so much work to do. And then came Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage month on the heels of countless Asian hate crimes. I’m a Yonsei and fourth generation Japanese American whose Grandparents and their families were interned in camps during WWII while my Grandfather enlisted in the US Military.
It is a lot to unpack.
My Grandmother was my connection to my lineage, my Japanese-ness. Her death lives intertwined with my birth, the becoming of my own mother and the birth blessing of my daughter. Without her, there is a deep chasm, a gaping hole that feels as wide as the distance separating me from that island, a motherland still unknown to me. That liminal space is filled with such complicated emotions spanning very opposite sides of the spectrum. And in an act of strength and bravery, I choose to feel it all.
I’ve always loved the quote, “grief is just love with no place to go.” While that resonates deeply with times of grief in my own life it also feels like it needs a place to go. I need to observe, to honor and to channel the complicated emotions of grief somewhere. In my family I was not imparted with time honored traditions of marking the passing of loved ones. There’s no gathering or ritual to be carried out in order to collectively mourn. And so, over the years I am beginning to create those for myself and for my family. For my daughter who will never meet her maternal great-grandmother but who carries her namesake, Taeko, and who, in time, will come to know who she was through ritual and remembering.