Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Silent Words Behind the Mask

Monday, July 28 was my first full day of work at Ye Olde Academy in a week. Classes had ended on the 18th, but the week of the 21st to the 25th had still been a work week. I'd taken it off because of the situation with my family. So why did I go to work on the 28th? Well, I'd been assigned one day of "day duty" sometime in July, and I had asked for it to be on that day.

The teacher on "day duty" has to be on call all day in case something happens. If it's a day when the office staff is off, s/he has to man the office and keep track of all people coming in and out of the school. Most importantly, the "day duty" teacher has to make sure the school is all shut down and locked up at the end of the day. It made perfect sense for me to do that on the 28th because that was a day the Kashima Philharmonic (new motto: "The ones that don't want to suck are now officially outnumbered.") was scheduled to meet at Ye Olde Academy. I have to be at the school for the Philharmonic to use it. My doing "day duty" on that day sort of killed two cockroaches with one chopstick.

As it turned out, I went to "work" on the 28th but didn't get much work done. Totally BLUED out by the situation with my family, I just didn't feel like doing anything. Besides, my friend Chuck, just returned from his miraculously successful trip to the Galapagos, had lots of stories to tell anyway. About the only productive things I did all day was research stars for Impasse (Don't ask if you don't already know.) and work a bit on both the Impasse Wiki and the Impasse online adventure. I also tutored a senior student extensively, so it wasn't like I screwed around the whole time.

Just before I started my actual "day duty" work, i.e. going around the school after closing time and shutting everything up, I got a text message from my wife. Her mother's condition had suddenly worsened a lot. She had been put on oxygen. The doctor's prognosis was not very good. Not long after I'd started making the rounds of the junior high building I got another text message. The doctor had said those words my wife had been expecting but hoping not to hear: "Gather your family. Make the final preparations." My presence was needed. Luckily, I was able to find another teacher to take care of the Kashima Philharmonic, and after running through the remainder of my lockup rounds I was soon in my BLUE RAV4 heading home to pick up my kids.

As I sped home along the edge of Lake Kitaura I couldn't help gazing in wonder at the sky because it was truly spectacular. If my camera hadn't STILL been missing I would have stopped and taken a picture. It was extraordinary! It had to be one of the most beautiful sunset skies I'd ever seen; it was a dazzling dark blue streaked with gorgeous smears of red and orange. Even more uncanny was the cloud formation hovering over Mt. Tsukuba; it reminded me a lot of a painting of Mt. Fuji hanging on the wall in my in-laws' home. It was actually kind of scary.

A strange feeling went through me, and I began to see it all as a sort of sign. Someone was about to say goodbye.

I arrived home, did a quick U-turn, let the kids hop in, and sped off to the hospital in Hokota. We arrived to find my mother-in-law unconscious, oxygen tube under her nose. My wife, who had spent the previous night and all that day there, had obviously been in tears for a long time.
Not long after we arrived my father-in-law showed up, followed soon afterward by a couple of my MIL's brothers, one of whom had just come from his home in Sri Lanka. We then started our rotation.

As the evening went on, MIL's breathing became shallower and her hands became cold, so the nurse put a full oxygen mask on her. That seemed to help; her breathing and blood pressure both stabilized. Her hands warmed up, too. My wife and my daughter each clenched one of those hands as we waited patiently, hoping against all odds that things would improve. Finally, at ten o' clock, the hospital arrived at closing time, so all staff left except the duty nurse, and the lighting was powered down to night mode. Our group huddled in the dimly-lit ward, my wife and daughter still at MIL's side, my son by now fast asleep on the bench, my MIL's brother from Sri Lanka and his wife as well as myself making ourselves comfortable as best we could, the other brother and his wife impatiently coming and going, and FIL anxiously fussing over everyone and everything. The minutes creeped along without any change. Finally, at eleven the brother from Tokyo and his wife gave up and left, saying they'd be back the next day. The rest of us just hunkered down and maintained our quiet vigil.

At exactly midnight the duty nurse suddenly banged the door open, ran in, and turned on the lights, which was when we noticed that all of us had somehow fallen asleep. A look of panic on her face, the nurse went straight to my MIL and pulled the blankets back.

Under her oxygen mask, my MIL's face looked pained, and her mouth was moving. She was obviously trying very hard to say something. Sadly, we never found out what it was, because she used her last breath to say it. She went back to looking peaceful, but now she was totally still. The nurse checked her eyes, and the pupils were fixed and dilated.

"I'll call the doctor," said the nurse with a sigh of dismay.

Strangely, my MIL's heart continued to beat for several minutes after her breathing stopped, delaying the official pronouncement of death until thirteen minutes after midnight. What was even stranger was that she therefore wound up dying at the same time on the same day of the month (though a different month) as her adoptive father had back in the late 80s.

It's a tragedy and yet a relief. Whether we wanted to admit it or not, we all knew this would be the inevitable result. It's just strange the way it happened. My MIL battled for a long time and held on despite the grave predictions of numerous doctors. But when the end finally came it came VERY quickly...even suddenly. Now my family is going through the difficult process of closure. Rites for the dead in the Land of the Rising Sun are long, complicated, (expensive,) involved, and bring a lot of people together. Arriving home from the hospital with MIL's body and laying her in state in the traditional manner, we were able to get all of two hours of sleep before the first mourner showed up at our door (at 5 a.m.). More were to come. It was only the beginning. Until the funeral on August 3rd (ironically the day the group from my school sets out for Australia...and the music club leaves for its summer training camp...) we expect to be inundated. However, the relatives and neighbors have already been giving us lots of much-needed support. We owe a lot of appreciation to many. We will get through this, I promise you.

19 Comments:

  • So sorry to hear, my condolences to you all. Thanks for including us in your family's life.

    By Blogger ladybug, at 10:12 PM  

  • Dear M.M.

    Nothing that I can write to reduce your sorrow since only time can do that and I hope it will.

    May God bless her soul in Heaven.

    With my heartfelt sympathies!

    By Anonymous L.C_D, at 11:36 PM  

  • Blessed be. My thoughts are with you.

    By Blogger Kami, at 1:46 AM  

  • Take care, my friend.

    By Blogger Don Snabulus, at 6:04 AM  

  • This comment has been removed by the author.

    By Blogger Olivia, at 10:11 AM  

  • Thankfully your MIL is now in a peaceful place. Wishing you and the family much strength over the next few weeks of mourning.

    P.S. Odd that you mention Impasse - I now know what it is thanks to your friend Eltigrez emailing me last week.

    By Blogger Olivia, at 10:18 AM  

  • Dear MM, I am so so sorry about your loss. May your MIL rest in peace. My condolences to you and your family. Take care.

    Thank you for the update.

    By Blogger Happysurfer, at 5:18 PM  

  • I think that this is the first comment I make here even though I've known your blog for almost two years. And my condolences to you all. I'm sure that whatever you will go through will surely help you strengthen yourselves.

    I wanted to talk to you about my AO entrance exam because I don't think I will get to see you at school during the break.

    Please email me at the email address below:

    bach5music@ybb.ne.jp

    Thank you.

    By Anonymous S.Ogawa, at 11:49 PM  

  • Ladybug
    Thanks, and you're welcome. As far as I and my family here and over there are concerned, the Snabulus clan ARE family.

    L.C_D.
    Maybe not, but the wonderful support I'm getting from people like you definitely helps. Thanks always!

    Kami
    Thanks for taking the time from your busy writing schedule to be here!

    Don
    Always appreciated. Thanks. I hope you got your server problem fixed!

    Olivia
    Thanks a lot. I hope she's in a more peaceful place than our household right now. (My wife says she's afraid her mother is angry about all the goings on right now, but oh well.)

    Eltigrez emailed you about Impasse? I'm almost afraid to ask...

    Happysurfer
    Thanks a lot, and thanks for stopping by!

    S.Ogawa
    Well, hello! Thanks for stopping by! You've known about my blog for two years now? Hmm...are you the one that tipped off the principal at Ye Olde Academy and got me in trouble? ;-)

    Of course I'll e-mail you.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 12:07 AM  

  • MM, I'm sorry that there is so much expected as you host all those who have come to pay their respects (at 5am?!). I hope your family will feel comforted even in the midst of the chaos.

    By OpenID nikkipolani, at 5:19 AM  

  • Ah, it was originally about the frog in the wet wig story on my Blogger profile. Not sure how the discussion got to Impasse and more techie things.

    I hope you are taking time to rest and take care of yourself "even in the midst of the chaos" as Nikki phrases it.

    By Blogger Olivia, at 12:32 PM  

  • Moody I’m truly sorry for your family’s loss. Peace and quiet in this time of sadness to you my friend.

    By Blogger Swinebread, at 12:48 PM  

  • Oh, I didn't even know that you've gotten in trouble until I read the e-mail from you. Don't even worry, I wouldn't do that. =)

    By Anonymous S.Ogawa, at 4:06 PM  

  • My condolences to you and also your family.

    Take good care!

    By Blogger Selba, at 6:27 PM  

  • Nikkipolani
    The chaos is continuing, but for the most part it has been touching to see how much support we've been getting from everyone (except my school).

    Olivia
    The frog story probably reminded him of a frog-like character in the campaign.

    Swinebread
    Thank you very much.
    And a very warm "congratulations" to you!

    S.Ogawa
    Oh, I know it wasn't you. Actually, I was turned in by (ironically) a parent of a student at our sister-school in Australia! I didn't get in such serious trouble, but I was given a warning not to show pics of students or talk about school business too much here.

    selba
    Thanks. No slapping necessary this time!

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 11:53 PM  

  • Hi Moody, been a little busy with building work at the villa (and little or no time for the internet or blogging in July)

    A sort of working holiday - lol!

    But I hope to have time to catch up and keep abreast of my favourite blogs in August.

    Glad to see you've been enjoying a break too!

    By Blogger QUASAR9, at 12:51 AM  

  • Its too bad you did not get to hear her final words. I wonder what she might have said. Well, I expect that you and your wife will receive a visitation, so you may get to hear it afterall. Be sad, be happy, then remember if you don't get it done in this life time, no one in the next life will have any idea what you are talking about.

    By Anonymous Dave, at 7:40 AM  

  • i'm very sorry for your family's loss. i can imagine that the next few weeks will be intense. my blessings and good wishes/thoughts are being sent your way.

    i'm thankful that the traditions/customs in Japan are such that you have lots of ppl around you to help, that's a blessing.

    By Blogger Um Naief, at 1:50 AM  

  • Our deepest condolences to you and your family. No matter if such an event is expected - and we all expect an end to this life, it is always a tragic and sad loss.

    Take care.

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 10:09 PM  

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