My Grandmother had kind eyes. Deep pools of wonder and comfort, they always offered a kingdom of solace. The last time my Gram’s eyes were kind to me was late 2019. After a morning of people watching at a cafe, I did my normal drive up to her house, passing Zippy’s, then Wilson Elementary and cruising up the winding, peaceful road that leads to my Gram. It seemed like any other day, I would enter, Mele (a large Goldendoodle) would jump up with joy, I’d say hi to my Gram and Aunty, then sit on the couch and listen to the former’s stories; and it was any other day until it wasn’t. Shortly after I arrived, Gram started to have shortness of breath, common in folks with heart issues. I had no idea what to do as I was accustomed to seeing her in the hospital after these incidents took place. My Aunty sprang into action, calling the hospice nurse, as I retrieved the plethora of medications that was needed. As the nurse gave us instructions on how to administer these meds, I looked down at the long list and scanned what each of them were for; headaches, heart, nausea, anxiety; I never wanted my Gram to feel any of these let alone them erupting at the same time. My Aunty gave her meds in 15 minute increments and in between waiting unbearably until she felt better. It felt like decades. holding on in anticipation to find out if she could breathe normally again. As I laid my hand on her arm and looked into her eyes there was that kindness I was so used to, behind it was fear but Gram would never protrude that. She kept smiling at me, even though I knew how scared she was. Her kind eyes providing comfort even while she was in pain.
Marian Masae Ishii, a vessel for positivity and light. People wanted to be around her, especially her grandchildren, knowing that it’d result in a story, a new moment to share with the family, another card trick perhaps, anything that was distinctly HER. It’s strange when you say goodbye to loved ones and only then do you say hello to a bunch of things you never realized or at the very least didn’t pay attention to.
My sister Lindsay’s undeniable positivity about life and her ability to not sweat the small stuff were indicative traits of my Gram’s. The ability they shared of people naturally wanting to be around them is really unique because honestly I don’t want to be around most people and being around them was and is always a delight for me. My cousin Jamie’s love for fruit, and her undying commitment to never stop learning. Now this love for fruit may seem trivial but it was a big part of my Gram’s life. She always had fruit in her house, ALWAYS. My cousin is smart, passionate and curious just like my Gram. Looking in every nook for something undiscovered, something that will enlighten her mind. My cousin Jeremy, is the closest thing to my Gram I will ever know. Naturally silly, always ready to laugh or make someone laugh. Those two spent more time together than anyone. He has the best stories about my Gram, where she showed her true, frivolous self. They often riffed off each other in conversation, making for some of the most memorable interactions. The love Jeremy has for my Gram is unmatched and untouched. My cousin Shane aka “Laulau Head” is the physical embodiment of my Gram’s love for sports, especially University of Hawai’i sports. If you are a UH football fan, you’ve seen him at the games or maybe even on TV donning his famous laulau hat. His passion for UH football is other worldly, goes beyond love or adoration, there is no word to accurately describe it. How did all of this start? When he was 7, my Gram took him to football games at Aloha Stadium, catching the express shuttle bus from Kahala Mall, finally she found a sports equal. Shane and Gram shared many special sports moments together, a truly unique bond that none of us will ever fully understand. Even my youngest cousin Lukas, so far away from us all these years had my Gram’s essence in some way. A quiet, shy kid who doesn’t say more than he needs to but when he does he makes it count. His eyes are kind just like my Gram’s, and there’s always something special lingering behind. Gram found her way into each of her grandchildren one way or another.
The matriarch of our family didn’t need to do much to inspire her family. She was electric in the most demure way possible, people always came to her, not the other way around. This was evident as we waited for her for to crossover for almost a week, we all came to her bedside to tell her how much we loved her hoping she could hear us. Distant family members came to see her, ones we rarely see but know upon first sight, sharing stories of her life. It was strange to say hello to these people again amidst a dreadful goodbye. When the day finally came, we watched as she was wheeled out to the van, as Jeremy desperately yearned for a last kiss and gently graced her forehead, a last kiss from all of us. As the van drove away, there was a blanket of unknown that enveloped me. What do we do? Our beloved figure was gone and all of the attention that I had amassed for her now had no direction, no replacement.
But there was hardly time for me to figure this out, COVID was on our heels and that became more important than grief. My out-of-town aunties left, all of the local families went their separate ways, and life continued as we said hello to a pandemic. There is no handbook on how to grieve during a pandemic. With nothing else to do, I diligently counted each month my Gram was gone, thought of her every single day and continue to. I replayed her final days a lot this year, all of the tears shed and laughter laughed as we all reminisced. It felt like the making of the longest memory, each day adding more and more unique moments that would live on forever. As we watched my Gram wither, my niece and my cousin’s son were thriving, the former was one and a half, trying her best to learn how to walk and by my Gram’s end she could proudly stand on her own two feet; the latter was a year older, learning new words everyday and growing into a silly and smart young boy on his way to preschool. These two little humans offered a lot of hope during this time, and in some way brought them closer together in ways they will never understand. Like most of the world, I haven’t spent quality time with my family in almost a year. We silently grieved on our own but little messages here and there about Gram help us to remain close as we experienced that long week together. There is nothing that brings family closer together than death.
A whole year has passed since she left, another trip around the sun that didn’t turn out how it should’ve. What would’ve been an ideal 2020? Being able to grieve normally with my family, especially my cousins, being able to visit my Gram’s house in order to overcome the anxiety of knowing she wouldn’t be there; these would’ve been ideal. But distance truly does work its magic, it made me cherish all my relationships that much more. I was afraid of how our lives would go on after our goodbye but what I’ve learned is you say hello to much more. You say hello to grief, to new connections with people who’ve shared the same experiences, a deeper understanding of loss, and fresher ways of communicating. I often see my Gram’s kind eyes in my mind because they still offer comfort even if not directly in front of mine, and y’all know we needed some this year. Every day I wake up and see my Gram in everything and that has been her greatest gift.