Speaking By Heart


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My friend Shizu is on the far left, and next to her is two granddaughters, and then her daughter-in-law, and then her other granddaughter. The two granddaughters on either side of the daughter-in-law are twins. The granddaughter standing next to Shizu, is the youngest.

It has been a couple of days since I received the message via MeWe, that my very sweet friend passed away.  It was a big blow to my heart.  She had been fighting something like leukemia in months passed, and I had put out a prayer request for her.  She improved, went to rehab to gain strength, and then home.  That was the last communication I had IMG_4936for a while.  I moved and schedules were crazy for us.  But, I hadn’t heard anything negative about her health and so I just kept praying for her healing.  So when I received this message from her son, I was shocked to get this news.  It once again reminds me that I should never put off those “feelings” like I should make a phone call, send a message more often, or write an email.  I had sent messages, but they didn’t receive them because with everything going on, they weren’t staying in touch.  She passed away May 31st, and her son just sent me the message last week.

So, I know for me the process of healing begins with putting my thoughts on paper, so to speak.  I am in hopes that some of what I share will touch your hearts as well, and encourage you in friendship and act of staying connected.

Our relationship started with a sister school program that her home town high school started with the high school I was working at during this time.  I was coordinating home stays for a local program, and I was very excited about students having an opportunity to learn directly by interaction with Japanese students, and also by visiting Japan and learning about the culture for themselves.  So when the school was looking for a sister school, I approached our principal about getting involved.  He was in agreement of the idea and a relationship began.  When we took our first group of student to their school, I was the coordinator for the program and led the home stay in Japan.  My friend Shizu, was my host family. And so…begins a deep abiding relationship between Shizu and I.  I believe the first year we took students to Japan was in 1993.  We had accepted their students a few times prior to this trip.

However, Shizu spoke no English.  Although as is common, they can usually make themselves understood, but they don’t like using the English because they might say it wrong.  I relate.  I didn’t speak much Japanese, although, I had been studying on my own for about a year.  I spent many special meetings teaching the students basic Japanese language and culture.   I could speak basic polite statements and daily living conversation.  But to have a conversation, talk with our hearts, I was concerned and wished so much I knew more of the language.  But this taught me the most valuable experience of my life…we can communicate with our hearts whether we know the language or not.  Shizu and I communicated late into the night each night.  Do you know how we did it?  A dictionary!  She had hers, I had mine.  I about wore one brand new dictionary out the first time I was there, and later, while I stayed at her house various times, it got more of a workout.  We laughed, told jokes, learned about each others’ lives.  We became best friends.

The first stay was so awesome!  I cried all the way to America I think when we left.  I was asked at that time, to stay and teach English.  I would have loved to have done that, but this was not the time to do that with small children.  One of the students who went on the homestay felt the same about her experience on the trip.  I was to be the adult and comfort her.  We comforted each other through our tears of sadness that day on the plane as we left our friends behind.  We didn’t know if we would see each other again.

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Saw this lily and it made me think of her.

I was a part of her family.  I spent a lot of fun times with her son.  He actually came to the states and I arranged for a great time for him while he was here.  I got to meet her mother, her brother and son, and they had as many questions as she did.  I met her best friends.  But there again, the dictionary could speak what I was unable to speak.  We understood each other.  I stayed at her home several times.  My middle son came with me one year, and my youngest a few years later.  I took my brother one year also and he stayed with one of my exchange students during the homestay time.

Here are some special memories I have with Shizu.

  • I loved a chocolate bread that her bakery in her town made.  Each time I came, she had already made the purchase so I could have it for breakfast.
  • l loved Japanese watermelon so it was always in the fridge when I came.
  • I love Okonomiyaki, which is like a pancake batter that you add cabbage, sometimes egg, and then shrimp was what we used, and a fish base to the batter, mixed and then put it on a griddle like you would a pancake.  In Japan, there are many different shops and they make them in various ways.  There was one particular shop that she liked and took me there, and it quickly became my favorite.  Every time I visited, we managed to get into that shop to eat.
  • She included us when we came at Christmas in the giving of money, which is a tradition for kids to receive at Christmas.
  • She knew things I liked, and we shopped for those things.  I had some clothes she purchased for me and I wore them all out, except one blouse.  I love their clothes because they are very feminine and styles we don’t see here in the U.S.
  • She was concerned for me, when a student was short on money while in Japan, and I helped the student, so she gave me a gift of money so I wouldn’t be short for the trip.  She wouldn’t have known except she was involved closely in the program and found it out.
  • She had a great voice and I loved listening to her sing at karaoke.  I loved going when I was there.
  • We would talk on the phone and be patient with me as we figured out what she was saying.
  • She wrote me letters in Japanese so I could practice my Japanese.
  • She shared her struggles in life with me.  I loved that since that isn’t really their culture to do that.
  • She would teach me to cook,  Didn’t even get upset with me, when for a dinner that included tempura shrimp, I thought she said don’t leave the tails on, and she really meant leave them on.  She did laugh that time as she put them on the plate for guests who were coming for dinner.  It was a great story over dinner that night for her too.
  • I brought her some Caffe DeVita the first year and we had a mocha together.  She asked for it each DSC_0259-1
    time I came.
  • She was such a lady, and very gracious.  Her hospitality was above and beyond.

She wanted to come to America, but was afraid.  At my suggestion,  she invited two other ladies to come with her.  I picked these excited ladies up from the airport.  I had the joy of my life sharing American life with her.  Taking them around see so many things they had only seen in pictures.  Trying different food.  Shopping and more shopping.  My dad was even the van driver for some of the excursions!  He had a good time and they certainly enjoyed him!  I loved paying back with the love and experiences now that it was I who had the ability to share with them.

One night, when I was in Japan on the first stay, she asked me what I felt to be a very deep question and she was nervous to ask.  Her question?  “If something happened in the world and there was another war, and they told us we couldn’t be in touch with each other, would you try to reach me anyway, or would you not have any contact?”  Wow!!!  There was so much behind that question.  There were two other ladies visiting that night, and they eagerly waited for my answer.  I think you know my answer.  I told her, “That I would do whatever I could to find her and continue to be in touch with her.  Her friendship meant that much to me.”

IMG_4953We made a new history during the time I was there.  We loved deeply, took risks, and our lives were better for it.  We both found that we could communicate with our hearts and understand each other.  We were so much the same.  A good lesson to learn and remember.

I know many of you have had the experience of loss in your life.  What did or do you do to work through the process of grief?  I find honoring them to be the best way for me to continue going through.  What is your experience?

There were tears in the shower that morning I got the news, and there have been tears since.  I believe there will be more tears as I work through this time.  I will keep that little light burning for now.  But one thing I know.  I will never forget, my kids will never forget, and she will be forever…my best friend.

Walking the journey with you…

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5 thoughts on “Speaking By Heart

  1. Your post touched my heart. Your friend will always stay in your memory. Thank you for sharing your very personal feeiings.

  2. Well I cried from this journey.When I am grieving I think nothing but the best of the person or as of late my Spike. At first the tears came every day now they come randomly or out of the blue or if something is said or a thought comes to mind. I am deeply hurt and sad due to the circumstance he left this earth. Joann I am so sorry. To me it sounds like both of you were so blessed to have become so close. That is something to treasure as I’m sure you know it doesn’t happen all that often. Love,Karen

    1. You are so right. We have experiences that hit us like a tuning fork…we never know when a memory is triggered in us and it takes us back. But as you also know, letting those tears come is the best way to work through it. We were truly blessed to know each other and had such a great and understanding friendship. I can look at her light that I have shining all day by her vase, and tears come. It is a process and it’s good to let others know that we all process it differently. I have those times with my folks too. Just out of the blue, it will hit me. But every day I get up, I am thankful I have been given one more day. Thanks Karen for sharing. You are always in my prayers.

  3. I honestly can’t imagine what you’re going through, JoAnn. I’ve never shared a friendship like that with another woman. It sounds like the Lord gave y’all a special bond. I know your heart will always be empty in that place Shizu resided. I pray for the Lord to give you deep comfort and peace that only He can give. Tears are His gift to us who are left behind, and He bottles them all. Love and hugs, my sweet friend.

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