Twelve days before my twentieth birthday, and only a few days after arriving in Granada, I woke up in a hostel bed to a phone call from one of my best friends in Hawaii. Clutching the cell phone I'd just bought the day before, Daniel explained his early call, "Keli'i passed away yesterday." Thousands of miles from Hawaii, without a friend nearby, I lost one of my closest friends, and experienced death for the first time...all alone.
I'm nearly 30 years old, and have been lucky to have not seen the passing of many, if any, of my friends and family. I've always imagined the tragedy of loss, and how I would react, how my sister would react, or how my best friend would react. How would I deal with the loss of someone dear to me? Would I wear black? Would I laugh? Would I cry? Could I move on? A few weeks ago on May 23rd, my grandfather passed away after being suddenly stricken by pneumonia. He was 92. I was alone in an empty room, paint splattered all over my clothes, with my cell pegged to my ear as my father recounted his condition to me.
I took a portrait of my grandpa, Sueo Hida, this past Christmas, as I did of everyone in my family. Never at that moment did I think that would be my last interaction with him, and my last hug goodbye. I had forgotten about this picture, and unfortunately, the next time I would see it was two days ago, behind glass, in a Koa wood frame surrounded by a garland of white flowers, standing proudly, and beautifully before hundreds of friends at the Honolulu Christian Church. During his memorial service we sang, we shared our memories, and we laid my grandpa to rest.
Before the service my dad asked me to share a few words with everyone about my grandpa, but I didn't want to. You see, my grandfather was born in Kona, though he moved to Hiroshima at age 10, and lived there for 33 years before returning to Hawaii with his wife and three sons. Both my grandma and grandpa speak very little English, so communication was always difficult. The stories of their past, and the stories of their lives were buried in translation that I unfortunately would seldom hear. So what would I share with everyone? Nothing. Overwhelmed with emotions as others spoke so kindly of my grandpa I realized I needed to say something. I stood up, walked to the microphone, and broke down. Between cries and shallow breaths, I squeaked out broken phrases and lost memories of sukiyaki, fried eggs and shoyu, New Years ozoni, sparklers, and my grandpa's strength. It was one of the toughest speeches I'd ever given in my life. But what I realized was that even though I didn't know what my grandpa feared most as a Japanese soldier, or what his favorite color was, it was these memories of a magical childhood, and the smells of grandma's cooking that allowed me to love him forever. I had a lot to say, I could have kept going, but my tears got in the way and choked my voice.
Early yesterday morning my grandma wept as we placed my grandpa's ashes into the niche, her hand rubbing the koa box as she said her final goodbye. Yesterday we laid my grandpa to rest in Diamond Head Cemetery, only a few hundred yards from Kelii's grave. Yesterday I learned what love is.
Losing my grandpa has profoundly affected me, and opened up a door of curiosity on how we approach, value, and perceive death. How is death celebrated? Or mourned? Is it feared or accepted? How do these differ between cultures, regions, countries, or ethnicities? In short, I think I may be boldly declaring the direction of my next documentary project.
Thank you for reading, and I will miss you grandpa...