Since Then

By Kazumi Shimodate

It's already been half a year since Haruko's funeral. Winter left and spring came, the peak of summer passed and now autumn is in the air. My eldest daughter Umi is in her second year at elementary school, my second daughter Solar is in her second year at nursery school, and my youngest daughter Hana turned one and has also entered nursery. From winter to spring every day seemed to be a continual cycle of colds and trips to the doctor.


Haruko's mother, who was staying with us and helping out, ending up going back to her home during the rainy season as her shoulders and back hurt so much, and since then it has just been the four of us and every morning and every evening has been mind-bogglingly busy. Solar and Hana create a riot running around the house playing at Tom and Jerry, though I don't know who is who.


At 8:30 we go to bed and the resident Tom and Jerry, right on cue, climb onto the bed to give a performance. Hana (who loves singing and has a repertory of seven songs) sings and Solar sits there as the sole but enthusiastic member of the audience giving a round of applause at the end of every single song. It is a scene that makes me smile but after it has lasted an hour, Umi and I have grown pretty tired of it, and in the half darkness we start to talk to each other saying things like if they don't sleep after being told off once more then I think we should just leave them!


When I wake up in the middle of the night the children are all around my body as if in a swirling whirlpool; Solar is between my knees, Hana is on my stomach, and Umi is sleeping there using my left arm as a pillow. Hana stills needs feeding milk twice during the night so she wakes crying and at those times I wish that I had breasts.


Even though I said we live as four, our life is still supported by many other people. My mother comes over every week with her delicious homemade cooking; Haruko's mother mends the holes in our clothes; my younger sister and Haruko's older sister both come from Tokyo once a month to hold my daughters. My elder brother and his wife are there to support us through rain and shine. There are helpers and babysitters who come round with all their heart; the volunteers who, treating them like their own grandchildren, help with taking the children to and from school; friends who regularly on the weekends keenly look after the children as if they were their own; my old friends who come from afar every now and then to talk with me; the friends who think that maybe I am tiring from bring up the children and losing it, and pay a surprise visit until the small hours along with a bottle of rice wine and some food; the troupe members who come over as quick as a flash to solve the computer problems that this technophobe often runs into; the colleagues who on hearing that I was thinking of going on a cooking course made arrangements for it to be held at my place; my colleagues from the Shakespeare and Dante circles who look after the health and eating habits of my children and I; the university colleagues who worried about the state of my life without any freedom; friends from far off places like the UK, Australia, Italy, India and Africa who sent me mail and letters of encouragement; all those who are thinking about Haruko and myself.


Now, I am living and at the same time feel very strongly that I have been brought to life by my children and by the goodwill and love of all around.



One evening, Umi and I were alone in the bathtub. She said to me Hey Dad, there are some friends at school who say things like Umi's Mum's dead' and I think that they just don't understand that she's still with me, and you know, I can't be bothered trying to explain it to them, but I'm confused. In those days Umi and I actually hated the phrase Mum's dead. That was on the one side a denial to accept Haruko's death, but even though people sent their condolences to the effect 'Haruko has died', through this denial I felt that Umi had surely come to believe it. It seemed to me that Umi was trying to ask me something like 'Is there another way to express what has happened to Mum other than Mum's dead'? When I tried explaining with things like 'Mum's still here but we just can't see her' and 'Her presence can only be felt by those who those who she truly loved', Umi said 'Oh yeah, I think it's a bit like that' and her eyes brightened up.


One holiday evening, Hana was complaining of an earache so I decided to take her out to see a friend who is a nose and ear specialist. In the darkness, just as I was about to climb aboard the car with Hana in my right arm, I got my foot caught in the gutter and fell forward. From the darkness behind I could hear Umi shouting 'Dad, are you OK?' and when Solar called 'Ha-chan (Hana)!' Hana's little voice popped up with 'Me OK!' My right arm, which had never let go of Hana, was cut up and blood was seeping from the wound and it seems like a miracle that Hana was unmarked. I screwed my face up with the pain running through my arm, and settling myself into the driver's seat Umi said to me 'Dad, it's good that nothing happened to Hana.' You know what this means, we can't see Mum but, It's because she can't be seen that she was able to support Hana like that. I was lost for words. I think this was because, straight after Haurko's death Umi had whispered to me 'I miss her beyond all comprehension', and since then she has been continually thinking about why did Mum die? trying to discover the answer for herself.


Umi has this strange adult-like side to her, but at times when I feel she is really a school kid, I am relieved. For example, when she is angry and turns upon me with 'It's not fair that Mum's dead. I'm fed up!', and when she clings to me and says sadly 'I want to meet Mummy' I feel relieved. The one thing I want my children to do is express themselves: not to hide their feelings but when they are lonely be lonely, when they are sad be sad, when they are in pain show that pain.


Umi and Solar and Hana only have one mother, and I want to continue creating an environment where we, in our family of four, can talk about her as if she were still alive and never grow tired of it.



I have also thought very hard about that pointless question of why did Haruko die? One evening I was satisfied that I had finally come up with a logical answer and went to sleep, but upon waking that tower of reason was swept away without trace by the simple wave of feeling that said 'Aaah, I guess Haruko isn't here. It wasn't a dream', and the only thing left to discover on the sandy shore was the salty bubbles of the water.


Even when I'm tired, the most joyous times I have are with my children. Despite this there are times when I want to talk to Haruko by myself in my memories. However, nowadays, even that is almost impossible. At those times I go to the Haruko Movie Theatre. The back of my eyelids can transform into the big screen and if I close my eyes I find myself in that most convenient of cinemas. And if I imagine music flowing like water, a breeze bringing with it a refreshing and gentle bouquet, then I can see projected upon the screen a comical Haruko, a laughing Haruko, a facetious Haruko, a shy Haruko, for some reason each a little odd, then without thinking about it I see a smiling Haruko.


Since I started reading Dante's 'Divine Comedy' 30 years have past but through mourning for Haruko I have come to understand one thing. That is Dante's ideas behind wanting to be reunited with the dead Beatrice. The death of a loved one means that you won't meet them again in this world. As much as you want to meet them, you can't and nothing can be done about it. His strong thoughts about wanting to meet her again allowed Dante to create his visions of the next world in the shape of hell, purgatory and paradise. People's thoughts are truly fearful things. A splendidly humanistic Dante is in there.


The first time I first saw 'Hamlet' on the stage was at London's National Theatre. I guess that was 30 years ago. Our 'Hamlet', which has been in the making for over five years now, has started to take shape through our intense rehearsing this summer, but the thing that I came to understand through mourning for Haruko is the calling from Hamlet's heart for his recently deceased father. It is a fact that humans are born and will die; it is a fact that one should live out one's life to the fullest extent until the unknown moment of one's death comes; these are thoughts which pour from this the greatest play ever.


Lately I have come to think that life isn't about length but about its contents. The things that are important are probably how you liked and how you loved. How happy you were, how much pain you felt, how sad you were. The more you love the deeper the pain is. But I think being frightened of the pain to the extent that you do not love is even lonelier.


Haruko photographed Tanzania whilst suffering from malaria; Haruko flew in the skies of Somalia onboard an army plane with the United Nations forces; Haruko nursed with all her heart our second daughter when she had leukaemia. Haruko was a woman who really suited the excitement of the word adventure. I don't think I was the only one who felt an intrepid ability to be able to do anything when she was around. I certainly wanted to go on more adventures in the world with Haruko.


My Greek Classics teacher taught me that the origin of the word 'adventure' is 'to accept without cause a problem that comes one's way'. One can take this to mean that as far as Haruko's soul was concerned, death was an adventure taking her back home to some nostalgic world that she was once part of before her birth, and for our three daughters and I, death is life's adventure. Firstly, we have to accept Haruko's death, then as a family get over the sadness, and then once at the other side, some kind of new dream will definitely make itself visible.


Finally, I would like to wrap up this piece with a short poem by my mother, herself an active poet.



'Three young children together with their father silently gaze upon their departed mother.'


'In the parental room without their mother, three youngsters in deep sleep around their father.'


'The lit cherry blossoms feel compassion and, as if losing their way, they fall below the light.'


'Just like taking the swiftly separating flowers in both hands, leaving behind their young ones, people die.'


Shimodate Mieko

Taken from the July edition of 'The Short Poet (Tankajin)' magazine