Sunday, May 12, 2013

Tetsu's mother

Today is already Mother's Day in Japan so I thought I'd tell you a bit about Tetsu's mother.

Obaachan (Grandma) will be 89 this year.  She lives alone in a small two room apartment subsidized by the government.  She has helpers come in a couple of times a week to shop or clean and she has obento, a sort of meals-on-wheels, brought to her daily.

Tetsu has an older brother and an older sister.  The older brother lives in another part of Japan.  Tetsu's older sister lives not far from his mother.  The three children take care of Obaachan in different ways.  Tetsu's brother sends money occasionally, Tetsu's sister brings groceries occasionally, Tetsu and I sit and chat occasionally.  I think Obaachan appreciates the sitting and chatting the most.

One year I made it a point to take Obaachan out and ask her questions about her life... things that Tetsu didn't seem to know about and wasn't interested enough to ask.  I was afraid that her stories would pass away with her some day and she thought it very funny that I would be interested in her younger days.  To most things, she said she didn't remember, but I got a few morsels out of her...  For some reason, though I passed on my "interviews" to Leiya on my old computer, they are in an e-mail form that I can't see on this computer... I'll have to straighten that out one of these days.

Obaachan was the eldest of 4 daughters of a fairly wealthy family in a southern prefecture.  But she was a rambunctious young lady and was considered unruly by her father.  She laughingly told me that she once permed her hair and when her father saw her he cut it all off so that she couldn't leave the house for months.  Of the 4 daughters, Obaachan gave her father the most headaches... so much that when he secretly arranged a marriage for her to some older man she'd never met, she left town that night and escaped to Tokyo and then to China where an aunt took her in.


In China she worked as a part time nurse and at some point met Tetsu's father who was in the Japanese military.  But Obaachan was seriously injured during one of the bombings and spent nearly a year in a body cast which has resulted in her being disfigured and disabled.  Since then she has always walked with a pronounced limp and is very embarrassed to be seen in public.  Though she married and had three children, Tetsu says she would never attend public events such as PTA meetings or school gatherings.  She preferred to leave all social engagements to Tetsu's father.

I came into Obaachan's life just after Tetsu's father's company went bankrupt and a month or too after he passed away.  Tetsu's childhood had been somewhat affluent but suddenly Obaachan was left with debts and subsidized living.  Tetsu eldest brother had worked with his father so when the company went under, he left the area to begin a new life in another prefecture... And being the oldest son, Obaachan considered herself abandoned.  Tetsu came home to live with his mother and find a job in the town; I turned up in the same town and met Tetsu and after a couple of years we decided to get married. 

According to Tetsu, he and his mother had resigned themselves to his never getting married.  No inheritance and debts to boot.  Although Tetsu's mother has never said so outright, everyone was relieved that Tetsu had found himself a bride despite the fact that she was a foreigner.  But I have heard Tetsu and Obaachan saying that Tetsu's father would have LOVED me and been so happy to have me as a daughter-in-law.  Maybe a round about way of Tetsu's mother saying that she approves of me as a daughter-in-law too.

Going from affluent to subsidized housing has been a blow to Obaachan and along with being disabled she has turned very bitter and angry at most people.  She has completely cut herself from her sisters not even knowing if they are still alive or not.  She refuses to go out.  She spews anger at the people trying to help her.  She enjoys hearing about Takumi and Leiya but she has few good words for some of her other grandchildren.  She can hardly walk, she can hardly see and she is lonely.  But she is very quick of mind.

Tetsu claims that Obaachan is more cheerful (well, not as glum) when I go with him to visit, but I am sorry to say that even my level of cheerfulness takes a beating after a visit.  So Tetsu and I go to Obaachan's apartment weekly bringing her sweets or market vegetables. 


Most days Obaachan listens to the TV and spends her time organizing her medications.  She is unhappy, or maybe happy, about taking 11 types of medication.


Obaachan, Tetsu's mother, my mother-in-law.  I choose to love her and I try to appreciate her for being a strong branch in my husband and children's family tree.

11 comments:

Nancy J said...

Tanya, a few words for your loved Obaachan,..." wear your disability with pride, others will not see this, but your smiling face, wrinkles that are a testimony to many years of hard work, frailty that comes with the deserved benefit of an older age.You are much loved, and Tanya has kindly written some words for us. I send to you greetings for Mother's Day from New Zealand,with respect and kindness to another"
Tanya, hope you enjoy your Mum's Day too. From Jean

Karen - Quilts...etc. said...

she has gone through a lot hasn't she - it is nice that you took time to find out about her life - I'm sure she is grateful even if she doesn't say it.

Cindy Nielsen said...

Your mother in law's story is great. She was amazing in her day. She is not unusual in her unhappiness in many respects. They say growing old is not for the faint of heart.

wendyytb said...

You are such a kind daughter-in-law! There are not many that would be as patient and understanding.

BrendaLou said...

Honoring your husband's mother is a good thing!

Frances said...

Such a loving tribute to your mother-in-law. I am glad she has you and your family as a ray of sunshine in her life. And a happy Mother's Day to you also.

Ida said...

As Nancy Jane I would like to send my greetings to your mother-in-law. Obviously I don't know her but somehow I can relate to her and her story a and I admire her strength through difficult times. Keep loving her, keep on talking with her, keep on listening to her.
Ida

Jan said...

She has lived an interesting life and raised a fine son who from what I can tell is not a bitter type. I guess that is good enough. I also do my best to be a friend to my MIL and to treat her with patience and kindness. Sometimes it isn't easy.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing. I think that you have given me some insight to my own mother, who just passed at the age of 89.
cindy

Anonymous said...

This is lovely, Tanya.
Life is complicated, isn't it?
Best regards from Gail in Wa State

Ann said...

Thanks for sharing this insight in your family's life.
After reading this story I can only think that Oobachan has lived a special life where she had to cope with a lot of things so ... it doesn't need to surprise that she becomes bitter (although this isn't pleasant for all the people around her).