Story Wonders: How to (Not) Find a Grave

Standard

20775213_118620936247

When I read about local history for my books, I sometimes find surprising information about people who once lived here and the places I now see everyday.

Not long ago, I was reading Furusato by Ronald E. Magden, a book lent to me by my friend and pastor Karen Yokota Love. Magden writes engaging accounts of the Japanese immigrants, and I became intrigued with the story of one second generation man who lived in this area.

James Yamamoto had always wanted to become a doctor but had to drop out of school to take care of the family when his father died.

He worked hard at farming in Firwood, running a gas station, and even selling sewing machines. Later he joined local community organizers to improve the lives of his family and those around him.

Then one night, he stopped on the Sumner highway to change a tire. In an instant, he was struck by another motorist and died shortly afterwards at the age of 28.

When I read of Yamamoto, I felt an instant connection. My mother lives on that road. I walk it frequently, and the traffic swishes by on the narrow road with no sidewalks and plenty of mud. I could see that dark night in October of 1931 and imagine the fog that made it so easy for the trucker to miss seeing him until it was too late.

And then I read he was buried in the cemetery on that same road.

That’s when I started trying to look him up and found his marker through Find a Grave.

I decided to find Yamamoto’s resting place myself on one of my many visits to my mother’s. The first time I took my son and the Barli the Dachshund only to find the cemetery staff were out for the Christmas holiday. The second time, the note on the office door said the staff was attending a graveside service.

I have also braved the cold to search the older part of the cemetery alone with no luck.

And today is the day I promised myself I would post this small tale, so here I will put in a photo (by permission) from Find a Grave and perhaps later I will update it for you when I find Mr. Yamamoto on a walk.

I think about him still. I wonder what more that energetic man would have done with the Japanese American Citizens League and how he would have faced the internment had he lived a longer life. 

And I sure do look out for trucks on that busy Sumner highway.

Wishing you safe walks and unexpected connections-

Screen Shot 2015-03-28 at 6.57.01 AM

 

Wednesday Wonders on a Friday:The Guts of Grief

Standard

img_8557

Warning: My dog died. Read on at your own risk.

Last weekend we had to say goodbye to our sweet Cosmo. It’s a sad story with a sad ending that I don’t feel like telling on the Interwebs. In fact, I’m late posting this week because I don’t feel like telling that story, but it’s the one story taking up space in my mind.

I finally came to a few thoughts on grief I do feel like sharing. These are things I’ve noticed after losing 6 dogs since I moved away from my parent’s home. (Six!! My heaven will look like a tail-wagging pack.) I’ve also lived long enough to lose a few humans.

My Observations

In the beginning, I always forget they are gone for tiny moments and then remember with a slap. 

I once read that this feels like climbing the stairs and expecting another step when there isn’t one. The moment of falling into space when I thought something was under me comes closest to that moment when I remember my dog won’t bark to greet me when I get home.

 

I always think about the lasts and the firsts.

I think about how this last summer went by without me knowing it was his last summer. I think about the last bath he endured. I think about the last night he woke me up to reposition himself on the blankets at the foot of my bed.

I think about how my mother-in-law first found him shivering on her front porch on a below-zero February day and how I went out to help my husband take him to the shelter.

I think about looking at those brown eyes that first day and deciding we should help him get over his kennel cough before taking him in. And then how we could never take him into an animal shelter after that.

I always think of the others I have lost.

New grief pulls up memories of other losses. Losing Cosmo reminds me of the other five dogs, of the people I still miss, of the cats who have come and gone. (I know Cosmo would not like me to think about cats, so I left that for the last.)

I always miss the things that annoyed me most.

I miss having to keep the baby gates in front of the bathrooms, so he wouldn’t raid the cat boxes. I miss having to step over him in the middle of the night. I miss seeing him beg at the edge of the kitchen when I make the lunches.

And the other day I was practicing ridiculously high notes on my clarinet. I worked myself up to the G above the staff and then felt hollow inside when Cosmo didn’t howl about it.

I always feel guilty after they go.

Whenever I am grieving, I think of all the walks I should have taken. I think of the times I didn’t stop to notice Cosmo or pet his head. I think of how busy I got and how I snapped at him when he got under foot while I tried to get out the door.

I even regret getting the cats who stressed him out. If I had known he was so close to the end, I would have waited, I tell myself, so he wouldn’t have had the aggravation.

Now when I hear others tell me of their own regrets, I’ve started telling people it’s normal to feel guilty. I miss the one I lost. And I am only human. No matter how much I love someone or some dog, I cannot take all those walks or avoid all irritation.

When I lose my dog, I’ve discovered, it’s normal to see what I did wrong. I still wish I could go back and fix it, but it soothes me to know this ache is a part of missing someone.

And that’s all I have for today. For now, I sit here this morning with a calico cat on my lap ready to love those I’ve got the best I can.

May you make your own way through the guts of grief when it comes your way-

Screen Shot 2015-03-28 at 6.57.01 AM

img_8477

 

Blessing a Running Road with One Less Crow

Standard

file000354916035

Question of the week: How do you reclaim a place with memories of sorrow?

I recently read a piece by Martha Beck on how to mentally rewrite your tragedies so that you can find meaning even in the random badness that sometimes happens to us. In the case Beck describes, a woman is able to find meaning in a car accident so that she doesn’t have to stay stuck in fear or sadness. This seemed a good idea at the time I read the article. Now I’m considering how to apply the idea to a Sad Thing that recently happened.

I am looking for this meaning because a death ruined my favorite running route. In fact, most of my running routes are ruined because the Sad Thing happened on a road I run which all of my routes stem from or lead toward. This road is like a spine with arms that grow from it or like the trunk of a tree that that lead to the branches of the other roads I follow.

I was running down this road on one of the terrific evening runs I sometimes experience. The weather was pleasantly warm, the air was turning fall crisp and my feet were flying. At that best of moments when I had almost crested the top of the hill on my tree trunk road, a crow flapped out at me from nearly under my left foot.

After jumping up and over, my heart beating harder than it had from the hill, I stopped to take a closer look. My tree trunk road was not a main road but cars kept zipping past. The young crow flapped its wings uselessly each time, unable to get up off the grass and gravel where it sat, one foot splayed out to the side.

I stood to the side wracking my brains for what could be done for the little guy. His eyes were bright. He was clearly young though full sized and clearly stuck in this sad place where the cars came far too close and too often.

I googled with the phone I had just been using for Pandora, but wildlife rehab places are few and far between and not open after 7:00pm.

Finally, I sprinted home to call a relative who knows birds. He wisely and kindly told me that there wasn’t much to do and that the fellow crows would likely take care of him. I tried to relax and went to bed only slightly achy from the sprint and the thought of leaving the crow in the dark.

The next day after taking my kids to school I drove back thinking I would check on the crow to see if I could find a way to help him.

I found him still alert but not flapping. He’d run out of energy. And there was nothing I knew to do, so I again tried the rehab center who kindly told me to drive him there. I did. He was paralyzed and had to be put to sleep. Maybe he had been hit by a car. Maybe he fell out of the tree while trying to fly. Anyway, he’s gone.

I suppose I’m hoping that by writing this post, I’ll be able to run past that spot again. I’m not sure if it’s a way of making meaning or just, as I have sometimes done, a way of cleansing a spot with painful memories. I know I’m not alone in the need for this. Associated Ministries in Tacoma will often bless the sites of violent crimes.

Although my crow death might be small in the scheme of things, I am thinking that finding a practice of letting go of pain is something with which everyone can find a connection. Here’s to another fabulous run in my future and to peace for us all.

 

A Meteoric Bad Week

Standard

file0001741581580Last week a meteor blasted across the skies of Russia with many a car camera catching it’s unforeseen flight.  At about the same time, people gathered in other locations with their telescopes to watch a much larger but predicted asteroid slide harmlessly past the earth. The two events were completely unrelated according to all the news reports I read or heard. But, I can’t help thinking they feel connected. Like one caused the other or made the other more likely. And they smacked of catastrophe or like we dodged catastrophe. Setting all rational science-minded wisdom aside, I say: “That’s weird. Two hunks of rock and metal swiping us in one week.”

That’s the way this past week went for me in my personal life, too.

Here is a short list of the deaths and near deaths that touched my life. Tuesday the 12th was particularly ugly.

  • A three month old baby, whose struggles with genetic anomalies I have followed, passed away.
  • My dear friend’s husband died after many years of living with cancer.
  • Another friend’s father-in-law nearly died from a heart that stopped for reasons the doctors still do not understand.
  • My mother’s cousin passed away after a long life.
  • My cousin experienced public violence that touched his life on the island of Guam.

That was the week’s list. It felt heavy, dark, and like the stars were aligned to bring both death and meteors. I know. Silly superstition. I’m usually an annoying Pollyanna type. When I start to have a bad day, I can most of the time shake myself out of it by expecting something better for the rest of the day. Just not last week.

Here’s to a better week to end up my February and begin the spring.