Today is a very difficult day for me. I’ve already cried more than I should and that won’t end anytime soon. It’s probably going to be that way for the entire course of the next nine days.
Why now? Well, my great-grandmother would have been 100 years old today (born December 10, 1918 in Japan). She was my rock growing up. Even when my relationship with my parents was strained at best, she was always there for me. I leaned on her hard growing up. My great-grandmother was the only one who seemed to understand me as it were and who knew I was “different” even though my parents refused to entertain the thought.
This nine days of reflection will conclude on the 19th. December 19, 2002 was no doubt the worst day of my life. At the age of 84 years and 9 days, my great-grandmother succumbed to complications from influenza secondary to kidney failure and pneumonia. For years I blamed myself for her death (and so did my parents for that matter), for I am probably the one that gave her the flu (I was sick from it the week prior to her death). In a lot of ways the guilt still sticks with me 16 years later.
I try not to reflect on the circumstances surrounding her death but at times I just can’t help it. Had I not contracted the flu would she still be alive today? Probably not but you never know. Would she have lived a few more years? Maybe, but who knows if they’d have been quality years, for she was active right up until the day she died.
Whatever the case, that day I lost my entire support structure and my home life turned to shit for awhile until my high school counselor finally begged my parents to get me tested. When I finally did get the autism diagnosis it was an “I told you so” moment and not only did I feel vindicated I think there was some vindication for my beloved great-grandmother. She very clearly saw what they did not.
For what I’ll remember most about her? Her kind heart and generous, giving spirit. I’ll remember how she almost raised me herself in the early years when my then single mother was working long hours. I’ll remember how she always stood up for me to my parents, my classmates and my teachers. I’ll remember her love for her flower garden and how meticulously she tended to it, especially her beloved peonies. I’ll remember her amazing cooking and homemade sushi (yes, I was eating sushi before it got trendy).
You can tell what kind of role she played in my life. 16 years of trying to put the pieces of my broken heart back together still hasn’t completely mended it, but taking a huge step to get her memory (in the form of a red and white peony) permanently etched into the dermis of my outer left calf was definitely a healing moment for me.
Rest In Peace, Kimiko Shiho-Holland; December 10th 1918 – December 19th 2002. Gone 16 years, but never, ever forgotten. A life well-lived and a legacy that lives on forever.