I want to thank all of you for your incredibly kind letters of condolence about my stepmother Kuniko. You touched my heart so much with your kind words. She was such a wonderful gently person, and she is sorely missed.
I’m a great believer in trying to find something hopeful in every situation, but I have to admit, this has been a pretty awful month. I guess it happens that way sometimes, and sad events come at you in a bunch. I am very lucky and blessed to have wonderful children and good friends, work I love, and kind and supportive readers, but there are times for all of us when things look a bit bleak. It’s been that kind of month for us.
It was a great sadness to lose my stepmother, and within days of it, a dear friend lost her 17 year old son, her only child, to cancer. My heart ached for her.
And one can’t say it in the same breath, but one of my daughters loves her little dog Mia and has taken such good car of her. The dog had a back problem recently, and came to stay with me. I was about to take the dog back to her, when time just ran out for her. And the dog died, and I had the sad task of going to Los Angeles to tell my daughter she had lost her dog. If you’re not a dog lover, it will seem silly to you. But for me, the greatest sadness was to see my child so sad, and be the bearer of such sad news. I couldn’t tell her on the phone, when I couldn’t put my arms around her to console her, so I went to see her. It was very sad news for her. But the dog had a good life and lived a long time. It’s hard to lose beloved pets—and infinitely more so to see your child so sad, right on the heels of losing her grandmother.
I came back to San Francisco to begin sorting through my stepmother’s things and put them away, and barely got home when we got devastating news again. As many of you know, I lost a son eleven years ago, at nineteen. He suffered from bi polar disease (manic depression) all his life, and had some great times and some bad ones. He put up a heroic fight to live a good life in spite of it, with all our support, but in spite of that, he committed suicide. (Sorry for this sad tale. I promise to write something much more upbeat next time!!). He had a best friend for his entire life, an absolutely wonderful boy who turned into a great young man. Handsome, talented, brilliant, loving, thoughtful. We have stayed close to him for all these years. He never missed calling me for mother’s day, my birthday, or just to say hello and come to visit. And the bad news we got recently was that with no warning, suffering from depression, he committed suicide. It was the loss of an absolutely extraordinarily wonderful young man. He had just turned 31 five days before. His death hit us like a bomb. It seems like my kids are flying home for a funeral every week these days, or this month anyway.
The funeral, as you can imagine, was brutally hard for everyone. His family is devastated, his friends are equally so, and for me and my family it is the loss of a boy we loved, and a painful déjà vu of the loss of my son. All their classmates were there. He spoke at my son’s funeral, and did it remarkably for one so young. I did the same at a gathering at his parents’ home, and I didn’t do it nearly as well, but my heart was totally in it.
All one can do at times like this is cling to what one believes in, and one’s family and friends. As I said in my speech about him, sometimes the story is shorter than we want. And as excruciatingly painful as it is to lose someone so young, or anyone you love, you just have to know that you’ll get through it. In the end, we grow stronger from the pain, close to those we love, and it reminds us of how infinitely precious life is.
A number of thoughts come to mind about it. Someone said to me once that if we are suffering, rather than thinking of ourselves, we need to help someone else. When I was most miserable after my son’s death, I started both foundations, and went to work on the streets with the homeless. Their problems were much greater than mine. And as a result, over the years, thousands of people have been helped.
Another thing I remembered was that when my son died, our family doctor handed me a dreidel, the little top that children play with a Hanukah. He told me that the Hebrew letters on it say “A great miracle happened here”, he said that I may not think so then (and I sure didn’t having just lost my son), but I would see in time that it was true. And it has been. Big and small miracles have come to us, blessings and opportunities and acts of kindness. And the miracle was his life and having loved him—just as the miracle was the boy who died recently. I said it in my speech about him. A great miracle happened here, and the miracle was having the good fortune to have known him. And our love for people doesn’t end. And if we can do it, they live on in our hearts, and in the good deeds we do in their memory, and in their name. But there is no question, losing someone you love is tough. Very, very, very tough. And it’s a hard way for us to grow.
So it has been a very hard month, and our spirits are pretty much in the dust. But it’s good to remember that we live on, we recover, we take those we have lost with us. Whatever our beliefs, there is something to hang onto and to hope for and to believe. The sun comes out again, we laugh and smile again, no matter how terrible the pain or how great the loss, the pain doesn’t last forever, and the loss becomes something you can live with. There’s just no other choice. We do all we can to honor them, we take them with use in our hearts, and we go on, hopefully to live good lives.
I was interviewed on a radio show the other day, and the interviewer asked me an odd question. He said that since I appear to have been ‘comfortable’ all my life, how could I relate to people and their problems. First of all, I grew up very comfortably materialistically, but that doesn’t guarantee happiness. And I am comfortable again through my own hard work. But between the two there was a time of struggle, I have never sat around eating bonbons. I work very hard, and there was a time when I could barely pay the rent and put food on the table. No one is exempt from the challenges of life, in one way or another. But whatever the circumstances, rich or poor, no one is exempt from real life. Whether you live in a tent or a castle, people get sick, the people we love die, or leave us, and tragedies happen at every social level. Child abuse and domestic violence, alcoholism or substance abuse or physical or mental illness occurs among the rich and the poor. Among the wealthy people, they’re just more hidden. But all people face the same things, and money can’t keep our children alive or safe from harm, or our partners from leaving us, or insulate us from life’s shocks and failures. We all suffer the same problems and fear the same things at every level. No one is exempt in this lifetime. And life is about what happens when you get broadside and how you face the challenge.
My family and I are broadsided now by the death of this wonderful young man whom we have known all his life. We are very sad. But we are also grateful to have known him.
There is a sweet saying I found among Kuniko’s things “in each loss there is a gain. As in every gain there is a loss. And with each ending comes a new beginning.” Let’s hold each other tight and wait for the new beginning. It will come, just as spring comes after winter. And as Alexandre Dumas said, “Wait and Hope”. Even in the dark of winter, I still believe in life, love, and hope, and I know that spring will come again. I send you all my love, and I promise you happier news soon.