Mother’s Day Cards

Mother's Day Cards

One of the hardest lessons about grieving that I learned when my brother died was that a memory could come out of nowhere and suddenly bring me to tears. In the first few months after my brother’s cancer diagnosis, I would see something or hear a song that reminded me of him and instantly I’d lose my breath, my throat would close, and tears would fill my eyes. Sometimes I ran to a ladies room to cry.

I would later learn that these episodes were anticipatory grieving. My brother’s bleak prognosis made me face the prospect of losing him. Although I’ll never know for sure, I sometimes think that bracing myself for my brother’s death lessened the blow for me when he passed away 14 months after his diagnosis.

The passing of my grandmother at the age of 94, three months shy of her 95th birthday, came with no warning. She was in the hospital after making it through surgery for a broken hip that resulted from a fall. She was in Honolulu, five hours away from me by plane, with loving family members, and I was sure I would see her soon to wish her a happy 95th birthday. But Grandma passed away after hospital staff tried to get her up and walking. She was too weak and in too much pain to start her physical therapy. Grandma worked hard her entire life and never sat still, and I think God told her it was finally time to rest.

This weekend I went to Target to find a Mother’s Day card for my mom, and the sight of Mother’s Day cards for grandmas triggered another out-of-nowhere moment. I stared at the word “grandma” on a card for what felt like a long time. A twinge of pain shot through me as I realized I didn’t need a grandma card anymore. Thoughts of Grandma ran through my head and my vision blurred with tears, but I was stronger this time, and I didn’t run to the ladies room to cry.

It’s ironic. I always thought of going to the store to buy cards for Mother’s Day as an errand, a to-do on my list, a chore. That’s not to say that I didn’t choose and send these cards with love. But now that I don’t have to buy cards for my grandma and my mother-in-law who passed away several years ago, I feel deprived.

Today I included two Mother’s Day cards in the box I sent my mom. Just because I can.

©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2018.


Dear Manhattan


View of Manhattan from Liberty Island. Copyright Writing Wahine, Living off Island 2018.

Dear Manhattan,

You and I hung out during my high school years. We lived together during my college years. Then I moved away. Since then, you and I have seen each other off and on. We always have a good time when I come back to see you. You bring excitement, glamour, nostalgia, and novelty to my life.

But, dear Manhattan, you’re also high maintenance. Walking on your sidewalks is like running with the bulls. Dawdle and you’ll get trampled. Pause to appreciate architecture or to read a street sign, and you’ll piss off the teeming masses behind you. Then they will sigh or huff loudly to voice their displeasure as they walk around you. Such an overabundance of important people with important places to be. Avoid tourist traps or commuting hours? Then walking is downgraded to an action-packed game of people dodging. You lose points if you brush against or bump into other players.

You’re loud. Construction and street repairs barely drown out the sound of intermittent sirens and the constant angry honking of cars.

There is a great price to pay to do anything with you. Lines. Long lines. For everything. And traffic. So. Much. Traffic. Heart-stopping rides in cabs, Ubers, and Lyfts driven by aggressive drivers who hate their jobs. Life is short, and high blood pressure is no joke. Jus sayin’.

And, dear Manhattan, you don’t keep the cleanest house. The smell of urine at random corners or subway entrances, the registry of hotels with reported bed bug infestations, subway car surfaces that have never met bleach. I could go on, but you and I go way back, and these things never used to bother me when I was younger.

I know, I know, you have no shortage of admirers and fans eager to spend time with you. You’re gorgeous and seductive. You don’t need online dating services. It’s not you. It’s me.

I’ve changed. I’ve been to the promised land where people walk to enjoy things… like the weather… and flowers… and being alive. Where people aren’t breathing down each other’s necks as they avert their gaze on packed subway cars. Where people have elbowroom and breathing room. Where people don’t pay good money for standing-only room.

So, dear Manhattan, the once love of my life, I think I have finally fallen out of love with you. Since you have permanent legal and physical custody of Columbia University, the Yankees, and many other things I love, we will always have a bond and we will always be part of each other’s lives. But I will definitely be seeing more of other cities. So please don’t troll me if you see photos of them on my social media accounts.

I’ll always love you.


 ©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2018.

Stop Calling School Shootings Surreal


Copyright Living off Island, Writing Wahine 2018.

Surreal: bizarre, unusual, freakish, unearthly, dreamlike.

When a school shooting happened at Columbine High School on April 20, 1999, 15 people died, including both shooters, and 24 others were wounded. This happened before the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in 2001. Columbine was the 9/11 of school safety.

When Sandy Hook happened on December 14, 2012, 20 six- and seven-year-olds died along with six adults. The event brought back our collective memory of Columbine and every other school shooting since then. Surely, many of us thought, the slaughter of young schoolchildren would inspire members of Congress to pass sensible gun control. We were wrong.

In the five years and one and a half months since Sandy Hook, there have been at least 239 school shootings nationwide. This includes the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on February 14, 2018. Of the 438 people shot in these events, 138 died. (New York Times, Jugal K. Patel, Feb. 15, 2018, based on statistics from the Gun Violence Archive.)

School shootings happen so regularly now that they’re not surreal anymore. What is surreal is that they continue to happen because Congress will not enact sensible gun control. It’s surreal that lobbyists for gun manufacturers control the national debate about assault weapons and measures to keep mentally ill people from purchasing weapons. It’s surreal that we let them paralyze us with their mantra – “That wouldn’t have prevented this tragedy and that won’t solve the problem.”

Frequent school shootings have become a reality for our country, a horror to which we are in danger of growing numb. Go to and scroll through the pages of school shootings nationwide in the first month and a half of 2018. Parents send their kids to school and keep their fingers crossed that they’ll come home alive at the end of the day. We cry, send thoughts, offer prayers, and then wait for the next school shooting. This is beyond surreal. It’s a nightmare.

©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2018.

Love and Waimea Canyon


Love at Waimea Canyon

Copyright Living off Island, Writing Wahine 2018.

When I last visited Waimea Canyon on the island of Kaua’i, I saw a red padlock left on the guardrail at the viewing deck. Thinking back to the love locks left on the bridges of Paris, I immediately thought, “How romantic.” The lock’s infinity symbol and two hearts told me all I needed to know. Lovers placed the lock there to declare a love they hope will last forever.

This lone lock, with its shiny red color set against the dramatic backdrop of Waimea Canyon, left me wondering about the couple whose love it symbolized. Who are they? Where are they from? Is their relationship still strong? Are they still in love?

Meeting. Dating. Falling in love. Wedding planning. Honeymooning. The honeymoon phase. No matter the ups and downs, these are the easy stages of a relationship. The curve balls come later. Colicky babies. Ornery teens. Health issues. Emotional baggage. Financial surprises. Tragedies. Losses.

Waimea Canyon was created over millions of years. Millions. Our lives on this planet last a mere blip of time. While we’re going through rough patches in our relationships, we forget that pain and struggle won’t last forever. Love does, though. So be like this bright red lock and hang on. Create a love that lasts forever.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2018.

Lila’s Hō’ailona (Sign, Symbol, Omen)


Lila’s Hō’ailona. Copyright Living off Island, Writing Wahine 2018.


Lila’s Hō’ailona. Copyright Living off Island, Writing Wahine 2018.

Last week I went home to Honolulu for my maternal grandmother’s funeral. Grandma, who I called Lila, lived to the age of 94, three months short of her 95th birthday. Lila’s funeral and burial took place in Kaneohe at the foot of the misty Ko’olau Mountains that have been magical for me since I was a child. It was a typical Hawaiian winter day with cloudy skies, intermittent rain, and temperatures in the low 70’s.

Just the day before, I learned that I was to deliver the eulogy. I didn’t have the time nor the concentration to prepare a speech. Knowing I would wing it, I prayed for the grace to be coherent.

My mom and her two brothers sat to the left of Lila’s casket. I sat in the first pew to the right of the casket with Mom’s two closest cousins. Mom’s cousins are like sisters to her, and I grew up calling them aunties. We periodically stood to greet friends and family, but our gaze always returned to Lila’s casket.

Suddenly one my aunts pointed to the flowers beside the podium and said, “She’s here!” I was startled, and I wasn’t prepared to see Lila’s ghost, but I looked. I saw only flowers. “See the butterfly on the flower?” my aunt asked.

There it was, a monarch butterfly sitting on an orchid. Unlike the usual orange and black monarch, this butterfly was white. When people brought the milkweed plant to Hawai’i in the 1850’s, the plants carried eggs of the monarch butterfly. The white genetic mutation of the monarch was discovered on the island of O’ahu in the 1960’s. Less than ten percent of monarch butterflies in Hawai’i are white.

My aunty walked toward the podium and took a picture of the butterfly. I did the same. A few people asked what we were doing and then followed suit. The butterfly never moved.

The butterfly stayed on the orchid as the priest began the funeral service, and it sat there for so long that I leaned over to my aunty and asked, “Are you sure that’s not a fake butterfly?” “No,” my aunty said, “It’s moving.” I didn’t see any movement, which only confirmed for me that it was a fake butterfly.

When the priest finished the religious part of the funeral, a singer performed a few songs. The butterfly seemed content to sit through the music, so I turned my attention to the singer and got distracted. A short while later, I looked back at the orchid. The butterfly was gone. “I guess it wasn’t fake after all,” I thought to myself.

Then something told me to look up. The butterfly was flitting near the ceiling. I smiled and watched it as the singer finished her last song. When the butterfly disappeared through a high window, I thought Lila was saying goodbye. My heart called out, “No, don’t go.”

The music stopped, and I stood up hesitantly to deliver the eulogy I had not prepared. I spoke from my heart and told everyone about the grandma I knew as dignified, self-reliant, brave, kind, forgiving, hard working, and generous. I told them I had a yellow plumeria in my hair because Lila picked yellow plumerias from the tree in the front yard when I needed to make a lei at school. I reminded my family to remember who we were: children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren of this humble and remarkable woman. I thanked Lila for loving me and our family so well.

I returned to my seat wondering if my talk made any sense and hoping I hadn’t been a complete mess. My eyes drifted back up to the ceiling. The butterfly reappeared through the window and flitted briefly before it left again. It didn’t reappear for the rest of the day.

©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2018.



Got Kuleana?

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“Kuleana,” written and directed by Brian Kohne

I can’t wait to see the movie “Kuleana.” Written and directed by Brian Kohne, this movie has a message about its title, which means “responsibility”: Kuleana is a privilege, not a burden.

If you study Hawaiian history and Hawaiiana, you’ve probably heard the term, “Hawaiian Renaissance.” The term refers to the 1970’s when cultural practitioners, political activists, and kūpuna (elders) brought about a resurgence of Hawaiian culture – Ōlelo Hawai’i (Hawaiian language), hula, mele (music), traditional customs and practices, and political organization. Today there are hula hālau (schools) and dancers all over the world; Hawaiian musicians go on world tours regularly; people from around the world travel to Hawai’i to study with artists and cultural practitioners; schools include online teaching; the Hōkūle’a has completed a worldwide voyage; and Hawaiians exercise their political power with growing efficacy.

I would love to see another Hawaiian renaissance of sorts, one that inspires younger generations who cut their teeth on all things visual and digital, and movies like “Kuleana” could play a huge part in this. When you weave the past, present day, and the future together in storytelling, all kinds of light bulbs might turn on.

Set in 1971, “Kuleana” is the story about a Vietnam vet who returns home to Mau’i to protect his family, defend their land, and clear his father’s name. The movie features a cast of actors from Hawai’i, including Moronai Kanekoa, who I had the pleasure of watching in the one-man play, “The Legend of Ko’olau.” The movie won several film awards in 2017, and Willie K wrote the original score. Nuff said?

Hurry, Brian Kohne, bring your movie to northern California! We’ll get the popcorn ready.

©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2018.


New Year, New Reality, Old Hope


On Saturday January 13, 2018, my brother called me from the bathroom of his home outside Hilo on the Island of Hawai’i (the Big Island). An emergency alert warning of an imminent missile attack had appeared on his cellphone. The warning said this was not a drill and to seek shelter. The local TV station also aired the warning.

My brain struggled to absorb the information as I listened to him say that he called our parents who lived a few miles away and told them to hunker down in their bathroom. I wondered why my brother, who is not a funny guy, chose to dive into the world of pranks with such an elaborate ruse, but I played along. “So, what, the North Korean dude is gonna nuke you?” I said with just a hint of sarcasm. Instead of laughing, my brother replied, “I think so.”

“Let me get online and I’ll call you back,” I said, determined to figure out what the hell was going on. The emergency missile alert was now staring back at me from the screen of my cellphone in northern California. So this was what a missile alert looked like. All caps, but no exclamation points.

I turned on CNN. Regular programming. Nothing made sense. I ran to the backdoor and called for my husband. He was listening to a local Big Island radio station (KAPA) as he did yard work. He heard the missile alert, but when the station returned to music, he assumed it was a mistake.

We looked up to see the CNN talking head had a banner below him that said the missile alert was an error. There was no missile headed to the state where all but few of my family lived. I called my brother back, but it was only after I texted him a screenshot of the CNN broadcast that he felt sure enough to emerge from his bathroom. His text reply, “ty,” told me he could finally breathe.

My mom, 77 years young, had already heard about the false alarm and chuckled when I called her. I was relieved that she could laugh and that she and my 79-year-old dad didn’t stroke out or have heart attacks during the alarm. My mom said she packed a bag when she saw the alert on her TV. I’m not sure what to think about that.

It seemed like most of the country spent the next day processing what happened the morning of January 13th. An employee of the Hawai’i Emergency Management Agency had simply neglected to press the “drill” button during a standard shift-change exercise. Although the agency notice recalling the alert reached Facebook and Twitter, another glitch in the system delayed (for 38 minutes) the notice to cellphones. The agency has already instituted a two-person sign-off before the alarm is sent again.

The movie (in my head) plot did not occur – the Russians did not hack into our systems to get our country to fire back at North Korea under the mistaken presumption that North Korea had fired a missile at Hawai’i. But the damage has been revealed. What happened on January 13th made me think back to my school days in Hawai’i when monthly air raid sirens sounded and we all got under our desks. January 13th brought me back to the days of the Cold War when terms like “balance of power” and “detente” appeared in daily newspapers. Instead of the USA and the USSR, the players are now the USA and North Korea, with Russia looming in the background poised to act as puppeteer. And with no love lost between our country and nations around the world, North Korea might not be the only nation that could be goaded into starting a nuclear war with us.

January 13th happened. The scare was real. But I can’t live like the threat of nuclear annihilation is imminent. I’m not stupid, and I’m not choosing to bury my head in the sand. You see in the world and others what is inside yourself. I see a sane world where goodness prevails, so I have hope.


©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2018.