Special for This Month (Feb. 2004) [Goodbye Dad]
This January 18th, my father-in-law, Myron McFarland,
80, passed away from cancer.
heart, to change the meaning in this
I've learned a lot through him, who was a typical American good citizen.
Also it was the first time for me to watch a person pass away, and I
was deeply impressed by the wonder and preciousness of a life. Please allow
me to share this private story with you in this page.
life, tangible thing}: body of living
to the top
Part 1 : American Paternal Love
In his later days, Myron said that he wished to be a forest ranger
living in a forest, as he did at his youth, if he could choose another life.
But actually he became a lucky and happy father, succeeding in the agricultural
business his grandpa had started after coming back from WW2, moving and
opening his new business, devoting his efforts for the local society, enjoying
traveling abroad and fishing with his loved wife and friends.
He'd always been a good support for his children and grandchildren
including in-laws like me, listening to each one's talk, sometimes questioning
relevantly, and inspiring them to find their ways by themselves. Many of
his funeral guests seemed to like his calm, cool and practical attitude always
without forgetting humor. 16 years ago, one of his sons chose his wife
as older and with physical difficulties besides being a foreigner, who
couldn't understand English almost at all. That was I, but Mr. and Mrs.
Myron welcomed her to their family with big smiles, trusting their son.
They looked like liberally living in an ideal American democracy, not allowing
prejudice and discrimination in their minds
Myron usually always smiled but just once I upset him, showing
blue veins on his forehead. It was almost ten years ago, Enola Gay happened
to be the topic of our conversation, and I said
"Was it necessary to drop the atomic bombs?"
I was going to continue to say
'I read that Gen. McArthur and Eisenhower knew Japan had no fighting
fuel any more at that time, and denied the necessity of the bombs there...'
But I closed my mouth feeling overawed by the sudden change of his face.
"If we didn't use the bombs, the Japanese would have fought until the
last person, also more thousands of U.S. soldiers could be killed. The
bombs saved both Japanese and American lives, and gave democracy to the
Japanese people, making the imperial militarism end"
Myron asserted trying to calm down from his anger.
I was shocked by the big difference between our thoughts according
to each other's status and knowledge. I also realized that a conversation
is hard to be hold when a thought is accompanied by strong emotion, even
for this open-minded gentle Myron.
WW2 happened just as he was starting out in life.
He joined it as his duty and patriotism, believing it was in the cause
of justice. He kept thinking he had to lose his life in Japan, if without
the bombs. So he had to hear my question as
'Did they massacre the people for the nation to take hegemony over the
global world later?'
and had to feel like mud had been thrown against his pure blossom.
The slogan of his troop was "Iron On The Target", and it could
continue to encourage his business even after the war to survive in the
free competitive society. But this slogan has been scary for me. Because
my real father was included in their target, and was sunk at sea although
not by Myron personally; then I lived my whole life as a child who had never
seen her father.
I got confused trying to understand that my bright, gentle and
manly father-in-law symbolizing America in my mind had been my parent's
enemy. It brought me a chance to think deeper about global relationships.
Persons who would never want to fight each other in their personal relations
have to fight to the death under nations: that is a war. I don't want to
have a grudge or an inferiority complex against winners, even if they are
lacking imagination for the pain of losers. Soldiers who won at a war also
went through the deadly experience.
If accusing persons about the past unfairness of their country, perhaps
it would make them uncomfortable or depressed.
As a person who knows the pain of war from having been born
in the middle of one, I don't want to repeat such history. It is very
important to be sure that what is claimed to be justice is good for the global
world or not. Real justice is made by building channels to let real
truth flow, not walls that allow only selected information or lighting
up only a single direction.
The culture of pushing forward seeking a light looks paternally
tough. While Japanese people were making a circle in each local area,
joining hands, Americans have set each target and challenged themseives
to expand outward. Traditional Japanese people tend to close their
mind to the outside, but Americans tend to open their hearts only to
their front, not to their back, where their footsteps are. The roots of such
tendencies of cultural directions might be very deep.
The ancestors of the McFarlands seemed to be Celtic. They lost
their rock castle in Loch Lomond, Scotland, and moved to Ireland. Then
escaping from that severe nature and the potato famine, they went over
Myron's great-grandfather was born and educated in the east,
changed various occupations, and finally bought a wild land in the central
valley of California to open farmland and create a town.
Perhaps the majority of Americans' ancestors must have emerged
from similar ordeals; and won their economic richness. Europeans and Japanese
people often say that America doesn't have their tradition, but seeking an
ideal world, pioneering and always looking for a change: the intangible spirit
is their tradition since even before coming over to America. Their culture
always looking to advancing has been handed down from generation to generation
no matter what the races are. Although Myron wasn't optimistic for the future
of that way in the evening of his life.
The global society is chaos with groups facing varied directions.
Can't we communicate feeling each other nicely, holding exclusive complexity
as it is? When the paternal American culture leads the world, isn't maternal
love also needed? To link people and societies, beyond the directions and
America has led the woman's liberation movement, too. But it makes a
more and more manlike society. Maternal liberation must save the world for
harmony. It's liberation of each maternal heart of all individuals: not
only women, being receptive of exclusive ideas and things to see from the
other side and to get the total vision, reopening their natural feelings,
not only depending on simple measurements of money and numerals. For instance,
it feels cooking and cleaning are like methods to endlessly bring curiosity,
creations and joy, instead of regarding them as duty or time and labor for
money. These hearts can link people bridging varied ways of living, I believe.
When I started to build Earth Language, I tried hard to be logical
for it. But recently I'm more concentrating to what I feel naturally. Not
only referring to knowledge from books, but also learning through Myron's
lively paternity, I've improved my ideas like the above.
Part2 The way of Death
Myron traveled to Alaska last September in the middle of
cancer therapy. The last time for him to see great nature was when
his family took him on a short walk with his wheelchair to Asilomar Beach
in Monterey at Christmas time of 2003. Early this year, hearing that
his condition had become terminal, it became too difficult to eat so he began
to prepare for death, getting assistance from a hospice. His children
and their spouses heard that he became too weak to stand any more and gathered
to see him from all directions.
When we saw him, Myron looked much skinnier, his baldhead covered
by a cap. But he was unexpectedly rosy in his face, putting in only a T-shirt
and a sheet on his bed in the warm room. “You look cute with rosy
cheeks” I said to him with a hug. He immediately replied, “You
look cute, too.” He seemed not to lose his wit yet. Mom-in-law showed
the hospice manual about the way of death to each of us. According to it,
Myron could have a week more, we felt.
My husband asked Myron if he had a dream recently, and Mom answered
for him, winking at me saying, “Pardon me,” “Again he
had the nightmare of killing a Jap.” Even happy Myron seemed to have
had a 60 year nightmare that is known among his family, except me. Myron
told me the detail, “A night in the Philippines, in a trench, when
I was putting bullets in a rifle, a Japanese soldier attacked me with a bayonet
from above. Their bayonets were long like spears, and ours were short like
knives. I couldn’t win with that way, and I got my pistol from my
waist, and shot him.” He changed the WW2 era word into properly “Japanese
My husband changed the topic from that dark time into Myron’s
childhood story. Myron had always been a good storyteller, and he told his
old story taking time. He seemed to have difficulty to speak because of
his mouth pain. Sis-in-law got the idea to put little pieces of ice in his
mouth, and Brother-in-law bought an ice shaver for it. Myron liked that way.
Usually this kind of time in Japan must be wettish and noiseless, but not
in this family. They laughed out loud a lot on the side of sleeping Dad,
telling about memories of their old days, and making jokes.
Next morning, surprisingly Myron was looking at the day’s
newspaper. “Can you read without glasses?” I asked, I knew he
could do a half year ago though. “Yes, I can” He mischievously
smiled. He might have two weeks more, since having the will to read newspaper,
… carelessly I thought. Now I imagine he was pretending it among
his children as his old daily life. I was often putting his foot between
my hands, trying to send earthen Chi-energy from my palm to his arch, standing
in the way learnt from Forest. At the same time,
I felt his temperature and pulse. Those were a little warmer and faster than
me, but the rhythm of the pulse was steadily constant. The family decided
to watch him in relay for a while.
While putting 1/3 teaspoon of shaved ice in his mouth each time
he needed it, I remembered that I also couldn’t speak without wetting
my mouth when I got deadly high fever last year with no saliva at all. Later
it must be hard even only to ask for ice vocally for him. Then I instantly
made a sign to ask for ice, just changing the shape of his hand on his chest,
simplified from ice-sign in Earth Language. “When you do this,
ice will come into your mouth, okay?” I told him, and Myron smiled.
Afternoon, Myron’s 30 year fishing friend came with his
photos of their fishing trip. Myron took morphine to kill pain, and applied
special cream on his lips by himself, and sometimes getting ice from me,
enjoyed their retrospective conversation, seeing the photos. In the middle
of Myron’s speaking, we sometimes wondered if he fell in sleep. But
after a long pause, he continued. His pronunciation was a little more unclear
than yesterday. After the event, his nurse’s aid came to clean his
body and changed his shirt and his facing direction to protect from rashes.
I was going a little away, thinking he wanted to have a rest,
but he asked me for ice again vocally, forgetting the sign. I guess sign/language
kinds of things can’t work well until customized. I wished we could
use it earlier. Myron opened his mouth three times continuously for ice
just like a chick waiting for feed from its parent bird. Then he said to
me, “Thank you. You’ve been so nice to me.” I wished immediately
to say, “YOU’ve been so nice to me.” But I lost my voice
from almost crying, feeling too grateful for his choice of word, “nice,”
instead of ‘kind’ or ‘gentle,’ even though I’ve
never told the story about 1) to him. After a little while, he coughed, and
I gently rubbed his back. He seemed to like it, and I continued it until
he made the breathing sound of sleep. I never imagined that would become his
last communication in this world.
My husband and I returned from the hotel early the next morning,
and heard that Myron had not awoken at all. I wrapped his foot in my hands
again, and it felt very warm and the pulse was faster. The interval
of his breath was longer; also the skin lost the lively color. The nurse
came, and we learnt how to care for him under the unconscious condition
from her. She said she wasn’t sure how long Myron could live, but
he might be able to hear sounds, even without any answer. Hearing this,
the family members were indeed in English literary culture; they spoke to
him how much they loved him one after another.
The breathing interval gradually became irregular, and sometimes
his breathing sound stopped for six/seven seconds before noon; his fingers
turned purplish. His face didn’t look so hard, but less oxygen was
clear. I was gently rubbing his fingers and hands. Then he voicelessly moved
his mouth as o-u-o-u. While I was continuing rubbing, he did it three times.
He might have been trying to say, “Thanks, see you later!” to
his wife and family.
While I was starting to work in the kitchen for the family, the
others turned his body on the other side together. Then I was called too,
asking me to check his pulse in my way. I tried to find its warmth but it
had no pulse. I looked at Myron’s face to find no breath. It was 12.30
p.m. I couldn’t believe it, and kept holding his foot. The warmness
was vanishing quickly. Someone tried to close his mouth, but it naturally
It was the same body as minutes ago, and yet looked completely
different by breathing or not. As the body temperature got down, it became
not like a living creature, but like an elaborate statue made of the material
from other world. The color changed into deep but sullen yellowish like
an old vegetable candle, and didn’t look like the blood was still
under it. Its face looked emancipated from all emotions and thoughts; and
was in heavenly calmness and peace. While others were in tears giving the
body farewell words, I just couldn’t move away from its feet, being
fascinated by the beauty of its face.
When a baby was born, it surprisingly looked like an ugly red
chunk, but the face transfigured so quickly by each breath into something
lively and lovely, filling up with growing energy and emotions. My eyes
were glued to it too in the wonder of life. Now the dead body impressed
me to glue my eyes to it. The peaceful expression of the face might be for
seeing off its spirit into eternity. I wondered if anybody could be like
this, purified by death. The image eased me; also I felt more precious for
daily lives with various feelings in this world.
However American culture didn’t make me stay with the body
too long, as Japanese custom keeping vigil the whole night over. Cared
for by the hospice, no postmortem examination needed; and morticians took
the body away in a moment for preservation process and making it up for
the funeral. The time with death was too short for me. Most of the family
didn’t even see the body off, not to remember Myron as the dead body.
The culture that hates to see negative things, Myron, you
handed this down too to your family, didn’t you? But is a natural
death a negative thing? If you are truly positive, why do you regard something
as negative? The blue sky spread out of the window in the empty room. “Goodbye
Dad, from now on whenever I’d like to communicate with you, you’ll
Written by Yoshiko McFarland (Feb. 1st, '04)