Fully Alive

If I’m going to keep you up to date on what’s happening in my life, I guess I have to put in the good and the bad, the happy and the sad. This has been a sad week for me. For 47 years, I have had the most wonderful stepmother imaginable, an incredibly kind, loving woman. I never heard her say a mean word about anyone, never saw her get angry. She was Japanese, an artist (a painter), and an incredibly gentle person. Everyone who knew her loved her, she was wonderful to me and my children. Even now, in later years, she would send us all little notes to encourage us, and thoughtful small gifts. She was the consummate kind person. Her name was Kuniko.

She wasn’t very old, but she has been gradually getting more frail. She still had a lively spirit, she painted, read current books and was interested in the world, although she hasn’t gone out much in the past year. I returned from Paris ten days ago, and visited her two days later, and found her in dire strait’s. She appeared to be unconscious, although she then opened her eyes twice when I spoke to her. And fearing that it could be he last time I saw her, I told her all the things I wanted to say to her, and thanked her for all the years she had been wonderful to me, all the kind things she did, the love she lavished on me. I don’t know if she heard me, but I wanted to say them just in case. And since her eyes opened twice, I hope she heard me. I also read two letters to her that my children had given me for her. And then I left. And she died that night. I couldn’t help wondering if she wanted for me to return from Paris, I called her several times from there, and she was sleeping.

I don’t think I will ever come to a place of peace about people disappearing. The whole idea of never seeing someone you love again is so awful. It is such an empty place in your heart, an ache, like a severed limb. The person you knew and loved is suddenly no longer there. When my son died, I kept waiting for him to jump out of a hiding place and tell me it was a joke, the way he did when he was little. I could never come home from a trip without expecting to see him, and feeling the ache of loss again. It will take me time now to get used to the idea of my stepmother being gone. I will always miss her. She is a big piece of my history and my adolescence. She always came to stay with me for several weeks when I had a baby.

She was a talented painter and a very creative person. She was from Tokyo, and lived in Paris, New York, and recently California. And she was so kind to us all.

The funeral was yesterday and it was very hard. She was my last living ‘adult’ relative, since I am the only child of only children, have no uncles or aunts, and both my parents are gone. Now she is too. It has been a huge blow and to my children as well. The funeral was very pretty, beautifully done by the pastor of my church, with all the touches she would have loved. He asked each of us to say in one word the quality of hers we loved best, which brought us actively into the service. The flowers were beautiful, and the music. Her family and ours were there, and I put some of her paintings up around the room. And even some members of her college class came, and friends from her childhood. I think she would have liked it.

When I called to ask the priest to do the service, he said to me that “The Glory of God is men and women fully alive.” His sermon at the funeral was about joy, and noticing all the joyful moments in our days and lives. I loved what he said about being fully alive.

It was a wonderful reminder to stay connected in the world, to stay busy, and engaged, and live life to the fullest. Fully alive. I want to do that. And her passing was a reminder to cherish those you love while they are with you. We will miss her so very, very much.

Kuniko Steel

Kuniko Steel

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26 Comments so far
  1. Gabriela May 29, 2009 6:24 pm

    She sounded like a wonderful person. I’m so sorry for your loss.

  2. Janice Matthews May 30, 2009 10:42 am

    Thank-you for sharing the good, bad and all the in between. You have given so much to the world and family, I am sure you were heard in the end. The peace of God be with you in this time of loss. May the void be filled with loving memories of your step-mother and her light, as in life, guide you and in her death comfort that she suffers no more. May you look to the heavens and know that one day you will be reunited with those wonderful talented people that have….for now.. gone. They gave you still another gift….to live in the moment!!

  3. Janice Matthews May 30, 2009 12:22 pm

    May the peace of God be with you in your time of loss.May the void be filled with her light and remain and guide you knowing she suffers no more. I am sure she heard you and until you are with these talented ones again…their gift for you to live the moment.

  4. Nicole Wilson May 30, 2009 2:20 pm

    I was so sorry to hear of your loss. I too lost a stepmother that I loved dearly. It takes a special woman to love someone eles’s child as her own … but she did. I am thankful every day for having known her, I am sure you feel the same.

    My prayers are with you and your family at this difficult time.

    On another note, I want to say how much I enjoy your blog and appreciate you sharing so much of your life with us.

  5. Bettye Thomas May 31, 2009 7:48 am

    Oh, Danielle. I feel and understand your pain of losing someone you loved so dearly. I lost my younger sister, Nancy, suddenly, and I have never, never gotten over it. Also, my Dad has been gone for twenty-five years, but when I go back to my old home, I expect him to be sitting in his chair by the door. Finally, sometimes when the phone rings for a moment, I hope it’s my Mother, and I know it’s not going to be her. We all just have to remind ourselves to cherish everyday with our family and friends, and always let them know how much we love them.
    I am sorry for your loss. I know you loved Kuniko very, very much.

  6. Mary May 31, 2009 10:30 pm

    Your recent addition was emotional to read as I know very well the feeling of loss. When my Mother passed away I felt a pain I never knew existed. Thank you for writing about Kuniko, she sounds like she was a beautiful lady, and I am so sorry to know she is no longer with us.
    I like to think that my Mother is never far from me, at the very least in my thoughts.
    Thank you for all that you do, and I know Kuniko must have been very proud of you and your family.

  7. P.J. Mayer June 2, 2009 8:15 am

    It’s not very often that we hear of a step mother being so genuinely loving and appreciated for it, you were both blessed.

  8. kimmi June 2, 2009 9:54 am

    So sorry for your loss and heartache. What a beautiful tribute to your mum in life.


  9. Kelly Wagner June 3, 2009 7:00 am

    I am so sorry for your loss , I lost my mother 2 months ago My father 22 years ago I know the pain you have. My Mother was a huge Fan of yours she has your entire collection of books , She loved you. You are in my thoughts and prayers.

  10. chris June 3, 2009 11:13 pm

    So very sorry to hear about your loss. I hope you and your loved ones are able to comfort each other with your beautiful memories of her.

  11. sharon munro June 4, 2009 2:32 am

    I’m so sorry for ur loss there’s no words to describe that kinda pain. Stay storng in the face of a battle.

  12. Bee June 4, 2009 7:33 am

    I lost my mother to lung cancer 11 years age. You never forget your mom. She las three grand children that she has never seen.

  13. LINDA June 5, 2009 2:07 pm


  14. deanna June 6, 2009 4:06 pm

    I’m sorry about your loss, I am glad you had the opportunity to tell her all of your favorite things, I just know she heard you. I recently lost my mother-in-law… although I had only known her the last 16 years, she had become my best friend. I admired her for some many reasons– she was a great mother and celebrated the small things in life. I regret that I didn’t ever tell her how much she meant to me… Your books have brought me comfort, and escape during these last few months… thank you and I hope you find comfort in the memories you shared with Kunkio.

  15. Gianna June 6, 2009 4:59 pm

    To you and your family I am sorry for the loss of your stepmother. I know it is hard to lose someone so close to us. I lost my father when I was fourteen and I still have a hard time when his birthday comes around and on Father’s Day. He has been gone over thirty years and when I do feel down I just think about all the good times we had. All the memories that he left for me and then I smile and know that someday we will all be together again. God Bless you and your family.

  16. Kathryn Magendie June 7, 2009 9:48 am

    I am with you on never seeing someone again…I miss my brother with all I have to miss him with…it’s been since 1994 and it is still as a kick to the stomach that he is gone…those moments when I feel it acutely instead of some wound I manage to be used to, those hurts that you ignore and one day brush against them and the pain sears….never goes away. Ever. I don’t care about when people say “time heals” – it doesn’t heal, it only becomes less acute–and even then, there is the brushing up against it…..

    My thoughts are with you – and I know there’s nothing to say but I am sorry, but mostly that she is a beautiful woman and has left that hole that can’t ever be filled by another, but it is HERS and that is YOURS…..the grief is yours….its’ what you have left of her and brings it’s own weird kind of comfort when comfort is hard to come by. You have her beauty (inner, outer) as a part of you….it is their legacies they leave to us…scraps of things we keep like old photos in the drawer.

  17. Laura June 7, 2009 7:05 pm

    I’m so sorry for your loss,you are in my thoughts and prays.

  18. Jocelyn June 8, 2009 8:17 am

    Dear Danielle,

    Two weeks ago I lost my aunt, Francine Verge, to osteosarcoma. She was only 56 and we were incredibly close. Not a day went by that I didn’t see or talk to her. The cancer she had was incredibly vicious and it was difficult to watch her vanish before my eyes but I have to believe that she is in a better place and free from pain.

    Your post hit an emotional chord with me and I was comforted by your words. In a way, it helps to not feel so alone when dealing with the tremendous sadness that comes from losing someone you love. To know that other people have experienced this sadness and are surviving. I do believe that with such tragedy comes incredible strength. Maybe it is strength given to us from those who have passed? Our guardian angels.

    Thank you again for your beautiful words.


  19. Alfonz BARTA June 8, 2009 11:14 am

    I feel of your sentence structure: you loved Kuniko very, very much. I’m soooo sorry for your loss.

  20. Christin June 8, 2009 12:27 pm

    I am sorry for your loss, it’s never easy. Kuniko seems to be a wonderful person and you describe her so beautifully that I wish I could have met her.
    I lost my grandma in cancer when she was only 56 years old, and she was like a second mother to me. With the sorrow came big thoughts of life. And death. And love. I happened to get in touch with a medium (like Alison Dubois), and that really helped me through. I am convinced that life carries on after death and only to know that comforts me, and helps me live my life the very best I can.

    I know that you one day will see all your lost loved ones again. All of them.


  21. Donna Panzardo June 9, 2009 11:04 am

    thank you for sharing. She sounded like she was a wonderful person. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.

  22. Jessica June 11, 2009 12:23 pm

    I’m sorry to hear about your loss. I know it was hard to write about and I know she was a good person. From the picture, I know she was beautiful too. God bless you and your family, you are a very strong person and I know that you will get through this tragic time.

  23. Janice Veliz June 14, 2009 2:43 pm

    I think she would have loved and cherished your posting for her.

    Janice Veliz

  24. Juli June 15, 2009 10:49 am

    I’m sorry for your loss Ms Steel. This brought tears to my eyes.
    Coincidentally I lost my stepmother on May 6th. My dad and she had been married for over 30 years. She was one of the only people on this earth who loved me unconditionally- no matter what. Oh she let me know when I was wrong, when she disagreed, etc. But I always knew I could count on Ellen (as well as my Daddy) to be on my sad. I will miss her deeply. I thanked God when she finally passed as she had been suffering for a long while. But I am also counting my blessings that I was able to make it up to see her (Santa Rosa) an exact month before she passed. We got to say all of the things we needed and wanted to. I think one of the best gifts we can give those we love is the knowledge of how they positively impacted our lives- the things they may have taught us or given us.

    Thank you for sharing your heart.
    Much love and appreciation for you and what you give.

  25. Geraldine July 11, 2009 1:32 pm

    Sorry for your loss Danielle. I lost my Dad four years ago, he was 84, but oh how I wanted him with us forever! I’m so thankful for the loving memory and legacy he left behind. The pain does subside, but they are forever missed! You are a super strong lady,as you have evidenced with your will to keep going following sad events…..I also am a writer and artist, and art is truly the soul’s healing. Keep up your wonderful work, embrace life every day! Lots of love, Geraldine

  26. ope August 5, 2009 9:03 am

    huh, im so sorry for your loss.But you have said it all, one should spend every sec of his life doing the things that really matters.