Two months and a half have passed since you departed this life. The bon festival is just around the corner. It’s when the souls of the deceased are believed to return to their earthly homes. Are you getting ready to come back to the familiar place your family are waiting for you?
I first met you when I joined an interest club (table tennis) for parents of school children as a part of PTA program more than 30 years ago. You were a few years senior to me in that club. You were self-reliant and assertive and fun as well. Somehow we hit it off. You took initiative and I was a follower. I once told you that you were so reliable and faithful that you would be sure to come to me whenever I had difficult times. You really did so. I owed a lot to you. Since I moved here, we have seen at least twice a year for each other’s reciprocal birthday dinner.
Two years ago, you took me to your home country, Korea. We stayed in the center of Seoul, where you spent the days of a prestigious women’s university as a progressive and active student. You said it was the place packed with lots of memories of those days. After graduating from it, you married a man of second generation of Korean living in Japan. It was not always a rosy dream for you to live in Japan because of a feeling rooted in some people by irresistible force at a certain period of time in the history, but you were always positive and made lots of friends.
In that trip, you had planned to take a stroll down memory lane around the campus but unfortunately it was extremely cold outside in February. We gave up the plan and instead, enjoyed esthetic salon and got in the restaurant. Korean dishes were so good. Maybe because you selected good restaurants. I was lucky to have such an efficient guide with me.
Last year in July, you called me and said you were diagnosed as an end-stage pancreas cancer. I was speechless. It was unbelievable; you were still so active and eager to play table tennis besides being busy as a certified judge of both domestic and international matches. You said you had felt terribly tired, so you went to see the doctor. That day the doctor told the result straight to you. You were crying and I could do nothing but cry with you on the phone.
You were thoughtful, well- determined and had the good grace to start getting ready for leaving this world. You said you had lived your life to your heart’s content and nothing had left undone so you were quite satisfied with your life but the next moment, you confessed, the thoughts were shuttered down with despair and fear. What I could have done for you? All I could do was to be with you when you needed me.
In the meantime you showed a sign of recovery. We hoped you could get along well with your cancer. This year, however, things turned worse. Last time I visited you at the hospice, it happened to be cherry blossom viewing day. I wheeled your wheelchair and saw cherry blossom together. You said you would never forget it for the rest of your life. You know how happy and how sad I was to hear that. How will I see cherry blossoms next year?
You were getting weaker and spending almost all days lying in bed but thanks to a terminal care you felt no pain at all. It was a great relief. When I emailed you and said I wanted to see you soon after that, you refused my offer. I felt shocked at first but I understood how you felt. Maybe you wanted to be remembered as the way you used to be; healthy and cheerful and active. Instead of going to see you, I sent mails so that your daughter might read them to you.
You seemed to be in lull for a while but the time never failed to come. I burst into tears after hanging up the phone from your husband. I should have well prepared for that moment, still I couldn’t control my feeling. I was afraid I would get into bottomless depression.
The funeral was held only with the people who were closely related. How I was grateful to your family for having me attend the ceremony as a friend. I was able to see and say thanks and good bye to you.
Later, your daughter told me that while you were awake in bed, you often looked at my phone number. She was worried that your refusal might've hurt me but she told me that you murmured, “She understands me well, she knows how I feel”, and she kindly added to me, “You were always in my mother's heart. She really liked you”. Those words made me cry and sank into my heart and healed me a great deal. I was happy and proud to have a friend like you.
What happens to people when they die? It’s a universal question. Where are you now? In the world brimmed with bliss and love and lights? I believe you became “consciousness” and whenever I think of you, I can connect with you.
Have a safe landing on your home and enjoy family reunion for a while, my dear friend.