Silent Words Behind the Mask
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.