Families experience losses all the time, but the impact of losing a family’s matriarch is different.
My dad's oldest sister, my Aunt Haru, passed away a few weeks after being rushed to the hospital with an aneurysm. She was home with family as she drew her last breath, which I can only think was how she wanted things to be.
So many people gathered to celebrate her life today, just a small testament to her influence and impact on everyone around her. The day was moving, and participants reflected on her playfulness, dedication, sacrifice, and faith. And her smile.
Aunt Haru being gone resonates throughout the family. The easiest thing for me to tell someone is that she was 101 years old, and that she was both sharp and witty when I last saw her at mochitsuki. But that's a simple summary; there are several seemingly small things which will remind me of her.
I'll think of Aunt Haru whenever I'm in Las Vegas, as I will be later this week. Family members meet there a couple times a year (usually one of those would be near her birthday in January) and Aunt Haru was always eager to go.
She would love to sit at the penny slot machines. One time several of us gathered around as she sat at a dollar machine. We each pitched in $20, and she started playing. Of course, the balance on the machine went up and down (and down), but eventually it started going back up. When she had amassed an impressive amount of winnings, she cashed out, sure that all of us being there brought her luck.
I'll think of Aunt Haru whenever I see a poinsettia plant. She and Uncle Harold lived for a long time in their Long Beach house, and whenever we were there for New Year's Day, I used to make a point of going to the back of the house to take a look at the poinsettia shrub, which was huge.
We weren't the only ones there on New Year's Day. The house was small, but people would pack in to eat the many variety of dishes that Auntie would spend days cooking. Both the living room and dining room were crowded, and people would be filing in and out all day long.
When describing how to get to the Kobata home, one step was to turn right at the white picket fence. We all knew we'd be in trouble if that fence were ever taken down.
I'll think of Aunt Haru whenever I have miso soup. Hers was what I would call (fearing being labeled a hipster) sublime. It had the very distinct taste of miso, but at the same time was very light. I haven't been making miso soup for nearly as long as she did, and I've yet to come close.
Auntie was also known for her ozoni. She would make so many bowls, and wouldn't blink if a really young person believed he needed over six mochi's worth of luck for the coming year.
I'll think of Aunt Haru when we play New Year's Day games. She seemed to especially enjoy Rummikub and Speed Scrabble. And she didn't just play, she was competitive and quite good. She neither asked for nor received special treatment while playing. I can still hear her saying, “¡Ay, caramba!”
I'll think of Aunt Haru whenever I see a group of grandchildren (and great-grandchildren) swarming around a grandparent. She had seven grandchildren and sixteen great-grandchildren, and as much as they loved her, she loved them more. She was modest to the point where she wouldn't boast about their accomplishments (which are many), but you could feel her pride when she talked about them.
Even though it seems like a strange word to use here, she was very gracious with her grandchildren. Aunt Haru never failed to make time for them, and indulged them. I'm guessing it wasn't her idea to wear a tiara for her birthday parties, but I do think she was tickled pink to do so.
I'll think of Aunt Haru whenever I have fried chicken. The fried chicken at Knott's Berry Farm was the meal she always wanted for her birthday, including her 100th.
Her birthday parties at Knott's were so well known that one stranger looked forward to seeing the big balloons marking her age. He didn't see them one year and was sad thinking she had passed away. But that was the year of her 100th birthday in the banquet hall. He sounded relieved that she was there the next year.
I'll think of Aunt Haru whenever I see adult sisters enjoying each other's company. She was very close to her sisters, even to the point that they were their own bowling team, and did quite well.
Whenever Aunt Haru visited Aunt Toshi, I would hear stories that they would stay up all hours talking and giggling.
I'll think of Aunt Haru whenever I see someone living their life with grace and integrity. She did so many things for people which would go by unnoticed if you didn't pay attention, and she was content being the only one who knew. She accepted things from other people with such grace that you felt it was the most important thing for her.
Aunt Haru was quiet but firm in making sure the right thing was done. She effortlessly moved between the different worlds in her life (family, work, friends, etc.), adjusting to her role in each, but always with integrity. It would be hard to find a better role model in one's life.
Almost everywhere I look, I'll think of Aunt Haru.