About a month ago, I was sitting in front of my computer staring at the draft of the “Close to Home” story and panicking about it going to press. I wanted to hit “reply” to tell the editors that I changed my mind, and I’m sorry that I couldn’t go through with it. I had received a few negative comments through social media in the past, and agonized over why people would say mean things about our circumstances. I dreaded the idea of putting the story out there for more people to scrutinize.
I’m so glad I didn’t give in to the fear. Many people have been reaching out and sharing their own stories of loved ones currently on the streets and suffering from mental illness. One woman, who currently lives on the mainland, was given up for adoption as a child and embarked on a journey to reconnect with her birth mother. She learned that her mother was on Oahu and found her suffering from a severe mental illness, and living on the streets in the Pearl City area. The photographs she shared of her mother were a strong reminder of where my father was just a few months ago. I was able to get a general description of where her mother resides, and hope to find her to give her a bracelet and connect.
Another woman shared a story about her ex-husband who is currently homeless on a neighbor island and suffering from substance abuse problems. My heart aches for the emotional pain she endures knowing that she had to leave the relationship in order to save herself and her son. I am really proud of her for recognizing that her son’s wellbeing is a priority, and despite the heavy sense of guilt she feels about leaving, she is doing the right thing.
The stories have slowly been coming in and I genuinely appreciate that people are reaching out. At the same time, I wish there was more I could do for them aside from offering bracelets. Simply knowing that there are others out there is an extremely humbling and humanizing experience. I had called my mother-in-law the other day to share with her some of the revelations I’ve been having with the stories that have been coming in. She said something to me that I’d like to share with you:
“There is nothing we go through truly alone in this world.”
It has been really difficult to talk about these personal experiences because of the strong negative social stigmas attached to homelessness and mental illness. But it has been such a liberating and empowering experience for both my father and I. My mother-in-law is right… there is nothing we go through truly alone in this world. We are all connected, and especially in a place as tightly knitted as Hawai`i, there are many others facing the same challenges.
On another note, I have been thinking about my late-grandmother for the past few days. She battled Stage 4 cancer and underwent rounds of chemotherapy while my father was homeless. One of the hardest conversations I had with my father on the streets was when I had to tell him that his mother passed away… She worried and agonized over my father’s wellbeing and condition, and we had a really difficult time communicating at the time.
The day she passed away, I had been on the windward side with my family visiting the Byodo-In Temple. We hadn’t been there in years, but for whatever reason I wanted to make the drive to feed the fish and spend some quiet time in the area. As we were getting ready to drive away, a misty cloud hovered over us and it began to rain. The air cooled and the wind and rain whipped through the crack of the car window. My phone buzzed and I saw that I had gotten a message from my cousin… Grandma passed away earlier today and she was being transported to the Valley of the Temples in Kaneohe. We had literally just left. My heart stopped. I looked over at my husband and said, “Grandma passed away… she’s here… the rain… she’s here.”
I looked up towards the sky, closed my eyes, and prayed that she finally understood the feelings I had been holding in my heart and mind. The last conversation we had in this life did not go very well.. she was upset, tired, and frustrated. Her service was a couple of days before my son’s 6th birthday. I saw family members that I hadn’t seen since I was a little girl — faces forgotten, familiar, yet unfamiliar. My grandmother had a way of bringing the family together. My father describes her as the “tree that connected us.” Yes, she did bring us together. I know she is looking down/up/at/through us with a smile knowing that he is doing better. I hope he continues to do better, get stronger, and find a positive purpose to focus on in this life.
I’m grateful for the synchronicity I’ve been experiencing these past few weeks, the sense of togetherness and interconnectedness with others out there, and the feeling that my late-grandmother’s spirit is lighter now that my father is doing better.