Thirteen days ago, we boarded an early morning flight to Las Vegas. Sounds like a fun way to spend a Friday and Saturday night, right? The glitz and glamour of Las Vegas: five-star restaurants, A-list nightclubs, first class casinos, that all sounds like a decadent way to pass the time with loved ones. But no, our trip to Las Vegas was all about family. We travelled there to support our hula ‘ohana who had lost a family member. And we planned to take time out to visit our dear friend and Uncle who were in the hospital. Needless to say, I didn’t pack the red stilettos and body con dress.
We arrived before 9am on Friday and were greeted at the airport by our Aunty. She brought us to the house to pick up our Uncle who had just been released from the hospital. His health has been shaky for a few months and he was admitted to the hospital for MRIs and other tests. Uncle felt frustrated about being in the hospital again but the doctors feared that he had been experiencing strokes because he was passing out at work and falling down while on duty. He is getting up in age and definitely needs to slow down but trying to tell a Grand Master in martial arts is not an easy feat. This time, it seemed that slowing down was no longer an option, Uncle understood and had accepting it as his new reality.
Because we arrived so early, Uncle was sleeping when we walked in the house. It took some time for him to completely wake up and his speech was slurred. When we offered to take him and Aunty to their favorite casino for a buffet breakfast, that woke him up! We all piled into the van and drove to Arizona Charlie’s, a local casino. The breakfast buffet was simple but Uncle got his fill and more. We caught up on our lives to date and shared plans for Christmas. I was happy to share that Kanoe and I visited with Uncle Joe in Seattle and that he sent his love to them. It is always nice to have time alone with the elders in the family. They always share so many stories of training and tournaments in the past, we have to hold on to the values that they founded our martial arts schools upon. Dojos aren’t supposed to be money machines. We have a duty to teach our art to students and hopefully grow students who will continue to pass along the knowledge. Tournaments and belt ranks are fun and somewhat flashy but we need to hold fast to our core values. The martial arts are about Respect, Humility, Discipline, Leadership, Confidence, Self-Defense and Family. Family is our foundation. We are obliged to support our family in everything we teach.
And family was the main reason why we arrived so early. After breakfast, we brought Uncle with us to the hospital so we could visit our dear friend and her husband. She had been in the hospital since November because she needed to have a heart valve replaced. The surgery went well but there were unexpected complications. We wanted to visit her to show her that we love her and to see if there was anything we could do to support her husband, who is a lifelong friend of Butch’s. It was such a nice visit, her husband’s daughter was there and Uncle stayed with us while we chatted. She looked beautiful, the nurses had just washed her long, gorgeous black hair and she was sitting up in the hospital bed listening to music and chatting. The men, except for Uncle, went for a walk to bond. Apparently, that is code for going outside to smoke a cigarette. We stayed in the room to talk. Uncle shared that he had just gotten out of the hospital and that he just knew that she was going to going home soon. Our friend’s daughter cracked jokes as she attentively tended to her needs – water, suction, all the little details and needs that pop up when one is recovering from surgery and a long hospital stay. The nurses came in to check on medications, fluids, etc. The doctor came in to make an adjustment to one medication and follow-up on tests that were being scheduled. Everything seemed to be in order and we left to check into our hotel after a couple of hours.
That night, we just had a big dinner and hung out near the hotel. The funeral was the next morning across town. We definitely didn’t have a “what happens in Vegas” kind of Friday night that evening.
Saturday morning we grabbed a cab to the LDS church across town. We made it just in time for to see Uncle S before they closed the casket before the memorial. His students had travelled from Florida, Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado, all over the country to say their good-byes. A few of my hula sisters from California travelled to the memorial because we had learned Maori songs and hula from Uncle S over the last twenty years or so. We also wanted to support our Kumu Hula, his older brother, who was devastated by the loss. The memorial was beautiful, filled with music and singing and testimony. The family is blessed with God-given talent for music, especially singing and their dedication to their Church was evident throughout the memorial. We went to the cemetery for a final good-bye and a few songs. It was a lovely memorial for a very special man.
A week later, my niece/second cousin (as if Filipinos care about second or third cousin categories) married her longtime boyfriend. They have a beautiful daughter together and they are truly dedicated to one another and their family. I couldn’t attend the wedding but I felt comforted by the idea that life goes on, despite the loss that we had recently experienced. Marriage and babies show us that life is indeed to be lived all in, every moment of every day.
And today, as we putted around the house this morning, we received a message from our friend in Vegas. He said he had appreciated our visit when we were in town and that his wife had passed on to her next life that morning. I called out to Butch, who was just sitting down to have breakfast. I asked him if he had his phone. He walked toward me and could tell I was about to share some shocking news. I read the message to him as the tears welled up in my eyes and my voice cracked with each word. I broke down and sobbed in his arms, it was not the sort of news I expected to hear about her. He quickly called our friend and received a cliff note version of what had transpired. She had passed away just a few hours before and we were all reeling from the shock.
I didn’t have a purpose for writing any of this down. There are no breakthrough words of comfort that I have to share. My heart is aching for her, for her husband and for her family. She and I were talking in the hospital about how important it is for all of us to be committed to a healthy lifestyle. She said to me, “Sis, after my husband being in the hospital for heart surgery last year, I never thought I would be here one year later. This is no bullshit. We have to be healthy and take care of ourselves. Take care of your man. You stay healthy. Take care of your beautiful daughter because this hospital shit is no joke.” She and her husband had a fierce love that no one could refute. All she wanted was to be home with him. We talked about how she would be home soon to recover and how great it would be for her to sleep in her own bed. How much easier her recovery would be when she was surrounded by her own stuff and nurses and doctors weren’t coming in every hour to poke her and prod her and wake her up. She just wanted to go home and be surrounded by her family, that became her goal. We all need to think about what we really need to be happy and healthy. The foundation of it all has to be family and at the core of the family it must be love. Rest in Love, Sweet Pam. We know you’re up in heaven watching over all of us.