For the most part, it was cold, windy, and rainy in Hawai'i the whole week we were there. Okay, I use the word "cold" in relative terms. For Hawai'i, it was cold. I felt kinda sorry for all those families who were there for Spring Break. For us, it was typical, but for those who were there looking for that tropical warmth, it wasn't quite ideal. Still, the warmth for me came in the comfort of family. Though the reason for our gathering wasn't a happy one, it did our hearts good to be together. The wind blew, the rain came down, especially in the heights of Wahiawa and in north shore Waialua where my family gathers. The sun was asleep on the job, but in the safety of family, there was warmth.
The twelve living siblings were all there. We who now live on the mainland couldn't bring our spouses and kids, but the most important part was that all of Mom's children were there. For one day, during her memorial service, there was sun. Then, on the day of her burial, the sun peeked out again. It just seemed right. I was touched by the many people who came to pay their respects and the multitude of beautiful Aloha attire made it seem more of a celebration than a time of mourning. It's one of the things I love most about Hawaiian memorials. Where else in the world will you see people wearing brightly colored floral prints and Aloha shirts to a funeral? Where else in the world will a grand-daughter dance a graceful farewell hula for her beloved grandmother? Where else in the world will the strings of ukuleles and steel guitars fill the air with sweet sounds of Aloha? It is some, but not all, of what makes Hawai'i home to me.
I am very aware of the sadness and the heavy hearts. I watched my sisters and nieces, who have been very close to my mother and provided for her daily care, and I hurt to see their pain. Yet when the time came to speak of the good things, the happy things, the funny "Tutu" (Grandma) stories, they were also the first to smile and laugh as they shared their experiences. Many of those retellings began with "Remember when Tutu did this or that...". There were a lot of "remember whens" and because of this, there were a good many smiles.
Oh the food. My gosh, the food. When I was home in February, I was in the middle of all that gall bladder hell. So I wasn't eating much, and pretty much living on soup and yogurt. But this time...well you'd think I was storing up. That or that I thought I might never eat again. We pretty much grazed from wake up to moi-moi (sleep). Too much of too many good things that you know you just can't get when you leave the islands. It's not easy when your brother-in-law, and pretty much everyone else in your family are amazing cooks. I thought about my doctor and how he was going to be very unhappy with me when I got back to Cali. That lasted a minute, and then my brother bought haupia malasadas
and suddenly I didn't have a doctor anymore.
I'll miss my mom and I'll always be grateful for the great gift she gave me. Things could have been so different in so many ways. I knew her for such a short time, but in that short time, I could not help but love her. The gift of hanai in Hawaiian culture is less understood than the usual Western practice of adoption. For me, to find the woman who gave me life and gave another couple the opportunity to raise me by simply handing me over, has been life-changing. There was no formality, no paperwork, no court. Just a baby given in love and trust. She never forgot me, she always hoped I would find her, in fact, she knew I would. When I did, I found an entire family who opened their arms and loved me as if I were always there. My days are never dark now and I'm not prone to the debilitating depression I used to suffer. I don't have those questions that used to haunt me. I know I was loved. I know I am loved. I have ohana. This is what my mother gave me.
"He lei poina 'ole ke keiki" A lei never forgotten is the beloved child - Mary Pukui.