Today will be a Celebration of Life for my cousin Jan Naritomi-Hart. For my part I will be reading the following glimpse into our family history for friends in attendance today.
"Jan entered this life on January 3, 1951, She was born three months premature. A tiny little bundle who from the very start displayed a fighter’s spirit, determined and focused on not just surviving but grabbing all the gusto she could from life. She was a slight built, very skinny kid but despite her small frame was fearless and wanted to do everything her older sister Pati did. At an early age her father Walter had her bowling, golfing and playing tennis. Jan’s childhood years were also busy with Girl Scouts, piano and ballet lessons and Sundays spent at Pasadena Presbyterian church. Her family home in Altadena was a gathering place each January 1st for the traditional Japanese New year’s celebration feast known as “Oshogatsu”. Jan’s mother Rae would cook for days making all the traditional New years food and our large extended family and friends would always look forward to this wonderful way to begin each new year at their home. In later years Jan would help her mother recreate this celebration in their Monterey Park and San Marcos residences. Family and tradition meant a lot to Jan. Jan’s mom Rae hailed from a large family. Our grandparents came from Japan and settled in Texas making a home for themselves and their eight children at the Japanese Tea Gardens in San Antonio. Rae and her siblings spoke with southern drawls saying things like “Hi y’all” or “Sayonara y’all” which would always make us laugh and which we in turn would incorporate into our own conversations. We are a blended family bringing a mix of cultures and places into our lives. Our family get togethers could quite naturally include a platter of sushi with tamales and chili. That was clearly a part of who Jan was. In the years after the war the whole family moved to the west coast. People often asked Jan how is it that you are so close to your cousins and the answer was always because we grew up together sharing family experiences throughout our childhood. Our families often gathered throughout the year to celebrate birthdays and holidays with each other. Summers meant all the cousins would be together for wonderful beach trips to Corona del Mar. It was a wonderful childhood for all of us. We who were cousins in this big Texas Japanese family grew up feeling more like brothers and sisters. This was the childhood that we all shared with Jan and that is why even today, most of us in our 60’s feel an exceptionally close bond to each other.
Jan was a risk-taker and prided herself on being independent and unconventional. One of the stories she would often tell people is that her parents gave her a trip to Hawaii for her high school graduation and she never came back to the mainland. That was partially true. She made the islands her home for nearly twenty years before returning to southern California to take care of her mother after her father had passed away. Jan fell in love with Hawaii from the moment she first arrived. It called to her free spirit and it was there that she was able to establish her own identity and independence. It suited her because the Aloha spirit was exactly what was in Jan’s giving and loving heart. Years later after moving back to the mainland Jan often lamented that her real home was always in Hawaii.
She was a devoted daughter to her mother Rae, caring for her with true devotion and love til the end of Rae’s life. In the years to follow she had many personal ups and downs but through it all it was that fighters spirit, that determination and will to survive which served her well when she faced so many hard challenges. It was also her great compassion and caring for others that led her to do such devoted work for the cancer community she had grown to love and consider as part of her extended family.
At this time I would like to read you something that my daughter Aria has asked me to share.
On Mother's Day of 2009, I received an email from my Aunty Jan. She sent me a funny message about lessons learned from mothers, an apologetic note for all the motherly errors and comments she might have made in the past, and a closing that simply read:
"Life is good, laughter is great, memories are forever."
I am grateful today for that email which, like many others, carries a time stamp and a signature and an indelible message from my tireless aunt who, like most of my mother's cousins, is female, beautiful, funny, strong, relentless, unforgettable, and something of a mother to me.
Jan was a mythical figure in my childhood because she had waist-length, shiny black hair and she lived in a far-away place. To me, she represented independence, beauty, wilderness and pu pu platters, AKA, all of the best things in life. Some of my first memories are of being the flower girl at her wedding. Last summer, almost 30 years later, she helped arrange the flowers at my own wedding. I don't have the time or space to enumerate all of the events in my life at which she was present in between those two wedding days, because she was there for almost all of them.
My Italian American father, was probably Japanese in another life - he aspires to what he believes is a Buddhist ideal of reducing one's personal possessions to the number seven. There is value in letting go, he would say,and Jan would agree. She was the kind of free spirit who let go of negative thoughts with astounding and admirable ease. But if you know Jan, you also know that she held onto things. She kept newspaper clippings, photos, scraps, bottle caps, remnants of her life and my life and yours, assuring us all that those things would be safeguarded until the day came that we would need them again. I am not as good at holding on, nor am I as good at letting go. It is with sadness that I say goodbye to this vibrant friend, advocate, daughter, sister, cousin and aunt who held on for so long and then let go so suddenly, all with such strength, such humor and such grace. I hope we honor her today in our humble attempt to let her go now with equal grace, and to hold onto her memory with similar strength. And so I hope you join me in saying "Aloha" to Jan now - Hello and Goodbye, We let you go now and will hold onto you forever.
May you reach the land beyond your dreams, where there is peace and joy eternal.”