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.