Remembering

Simon and I work up crazy early on Saturday morning to make the 4-5 hour drive from our house in Eugene up to Tacoma for my Great Aunt Setsuyo Mulcahey's funeral. 

Setsuyo and my Great Uncle (my Dad's Mom's brother) John Thomas Mulcahey (who went by the name "Happy") met in Japan when he was serving in the US Army during WWII. She was working at an Officer's home and he helped her do the dishes after dinner one evening. She spoke no English at the time. They began a friendship that turned into a marriage, a move to the United States, and three sons (John, Jimmy and Larry). 

She taught herself English and how to drive and my Dad's family dearly loved her. 

Happy died from cancer in 1975 (the year I was born) and Setsuyo went on to live for 40 more years - raising her sons, working for a bank, building her own home on land they had picked out (that included a special room for Japanese tea ceremonies), canning her own produce until she was 85, and tending to her amazing garden. Her garden was featured in the Sunday Seattle Times magazine in 2002 and was a destination for various garden tour groups. 

Her favorites? Rhododendron's and peonies. 

While attending the funeral mass, burial at the cemetery and reception, I thought a lot about the pieces of remembering.

It's an interesting thing to find yourself learning about your relatives at their funeral. There were so many things I didn't know about Setsuyo (peonies!) and so many questions I had now that I learned a bit more about her life. My over-arching memories of her during the times we were together at family gatherings was always that she had a lovely smile on her face, kind words and a gentle spirit. 

I had a lot of feelings of wanting to know more about her story. More about her and her journey - especially as a widow/single-parent raising her three sons. I wish that I had reached out or cultivated more of a relationship with her over the years. As an adult now, there's so much I'd like to know

My sister-in-law Liz put together the lovely photo display above. Photos. My heart

Setsuyo was buried at a cemetery where many of my Dad's family have been laid to rest (and where my parents will be when their time comes), including my Grandparents above. I left the peonies from my house for them. 

One of the reasons I wanted to bring Simon with me is that he's really interested in family history and spending time with family. He wants to know who and where and when and what happened and why. He asked a lot of questions and my parents lovingly answered as many as they could and shared stories along the way. 

The flowers sent from Setsuyo's family in Japan and local friends were amazingly beautiful. 

I also had many thoughts about the cycle of life and the passage of time. Deaths have a way of bringing everything front and center - perspective and priority. 

Simon and I got to meet the newest member of our family - my niece/his cousin Olive Jean McDougall (John and Liz's new daughter). If you didn't know this already, Simon is a baby-whisperer. He has a special connection with those little ones and he was over the moon to get to meet and hold her. 

After the larger family festivities, my parents, my Aunt & Uncle (Bill and Gaye), Simon and I headed back to the house I grew up in for cocktails and conversation before dinner. 

At dinner Simon made a toast to Setsuyo totally on his own accord. It was thoughtful and out of the blue and showed just how much he was actually paying attention to the day and the reason why

After dinner, back at my parents house, we sat around the kitchen table and talked about family stories and all the questions I had come up with about Setsuyo and her life throughout the day. There were many pieces they knew about and others they didn't simply because stories are not always shared. 

The sharing and the remembering and the not-remembering and the laughing and the grief and the new life - I'm thankful for it all. 

May all of you remember someone special who has passed on in your own life today. May all of you also have the courage and heart to reach out to those in your family you may have lost touch with or never really had the opportunity to connect with over the years. Life is precious and quick and our stories are worth sharing. 

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20 thoughts

  1. Carolly says…
    05/25/2015

    Wow. So sorry for your loss. I am named after my Grandmother who passed away when my Dad was 8 years old. So I never got to meet her. She kept a 5 year diary and wow! Just things that connect me to her , from an outgoing personality, right down to the way our legs are shaped. I wish I could have met her but I am incredibly thankful for what pieces of her story I do have. I hope your peonies do their best this year!!!!!

    Reply 0 Replies
  2. kmarbon says…
    05/25/2015

    So great that Simon is connecting with family-new and old! Setsuyo sounded like an amazing person and even though you weren't able to get to know her when she is alive, it's lovely that you're honoring her story now.

    Reply 0 Replies
  3. MargieH says…
    05/25/2015

    Hi Ali. Your post hits home for me. As a Japanese-American, I have always been curious of people who come from Japan and lived their lives here in the States...before, during and after WWII...many stories. Last year, my husband was commissioned to compile a book on the history of Nichiren Shu Buddhism in the US on its 100th anniversary. While helping him, I learned more of the congregation members' way of life so interesting. I loved all the pictures you shared of Setsuyo. On another subject, I'll be flying to Tokyo next week but unfortunately will not be meeting with my friends who took your class at CKU-A in Chicago back in 2006! Yes, we still keep in touch! LOL! Have a great week xo

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  4. mtercha says…
    05/25/2015

    Beautiful, loving and touching. She was such a beautiful, lovely woman. Thank you for sharing your story. I enjoyed seeing the photos and reading your thoughts. Michelle t

    Reply 0 Replies
  5. Donna_Clements says…
    05/25/2015

    Sorry for your loss, Ali. Your story and photos are so amazing! Nice opportunity for you and Simon.

    Reply 0 Replies
  6. jscrapper4ever says…
    05/25/2015

    Ali I am very sorry for your loss.My grandfather (my mother's dad) died before I was born, and my grandmother (my mother's mom) died when I was 6 years old. I am very lucky that I have some photos of each of them and stories about them that my mother told me over the years before she passed away. Joann

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  7. Maggie_Zygo says…
    05/26/2015

    Ahhh this brought a tear to my eye. Beautiful writing.

    Having a baby ourselves, I love thinking of sweet Simon as a baby whisperer. And that toast~what a fine young man he is becoming!!

    Reply 0 Replies
  8. fannyathome says…
    05/26/2015

    Thank you for sharing this.
    Very profound stuff.
    Always inspiring, Ali! Thanks!

    Reply 0 Replies
  9. Sbarkeloo says…
    05/26/2015

    I love this - thank you for sharing. I am going through something similar and have a renewed desire to document my family history/stories before it is too late. I hope that the July story kit (theme "Roots") will help with this type of story-telling.

    Reply 0 Replies
  10. klamb67 says…
    05/26/2015

    Absolutely beautiful; thank you for sharing!

    Reply 0 Replies
  11. edillow says…
    05/26/2015

    I loved reading this. What a great life story!

    Reply 0 Replies
  12. COEngrGirl says…
    05/26/2015

    Ali, what an inspiring post. I am sorry for your loss and hope that your family finds peace in your memories of Setsuyo, who was clearly loved. This post made me think of my grandmother. She passed away on December 22, 2014, two days after her 101st birthday. She too was widowed in 1975 and lived 40 more years. Grandma Vi was a sassy woman who lived on her own for 26 years before being stricken with Alzheimer's. I learned so much about her life while sitting with my parents, Aunts, Uncles, and Cousins in the days leading up to the funeral.

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  13. kathyflong says…
    05/26/2015

    Thank you for sharing. Sorry for your loss. The way your niece Olive is staring back at Simon, brought tears to my eyes. Such a sweet photo.

    Reply 0 Replies
  14. Llynx59 says…
    05/27/2015

    Ali this gave me a lump in my throat. I loved seeing the pictures of Satsuyo and your family. Your Simon is a loving and kind young man and I know you are very proud of him. You have a lovely way of sharing your thoughts and memories and thank you for sharing this with us.

    Reply 0 Replies
  15. KarineC says…
    05/29/2015

    That photo of Simon and Olive...amazing. Simon the baby whisperer...who'da thunk?

    Reply 0 Replies
  16. Angelique70 says…
    06/12/2015

    This is so beautiful. I'm sorry for your loss, Ali. No matter the challenges, family is so important.

    Reply 0 Replies
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