You Can.

“Deep in your wounds are seeds, waiting to grow beautiful flowers.” -Niti Majethia

A few weeks ago I was knee-deep into my shifts at the annual Hanamatsuri festival at our temple. There are two festivals a year, and members are expected to work shifts based on what organizations you are involved in. Basketball, you’ve got shifts for each kid. Girl Scouts, another shift. Dharma school, shift x 3. I get like a zillion shifts to do, and there is no 50% off discount for being a widowed single mom whose husband isn’t picking up any of the slack. In prior years, I’ve gone into the festivals feeling pretty bitter about this. It’s like one more reminder that nobody understands what it is like to be an only parent.

On the last day in the last hour of the festival, as I was working the goldfish booth with ping pong balls flying everywhere and every ounce of my energy depleted, a mom whom I kind of knew was giving my youngest the disapproving stink eye as he was acting up. I felt on the verge of a meltdown. I felt helpless that I had to finish the shift and had nobody to send the little one home with while this woman had her husband to share life’s duties with but still felt she could pass judgement. This has been a bitter pill to swallow, even as time and experience have helped me navigate the difficult feelings. Most people I encounter truly don’t know what it is like, and I’ve had to learn to swallow that reality.

This year, I really wanted to feel less bitter about my zillion festival shifts, so I hyped myself up about wanting to be there. I get to do this, I told myself. Find your people, I said. Remember why you’re here! On and on with the pep talks. And mostly, it worked, and in particular, one encounter was a little bit of magic tucked into the chaos.

I was at the bake sale booth selling brownies and cookies alongside some of the best older ladies from our temple. It’s my favorite shift to work. These are the people who I admire. Also—insider tip—you get first dibs on buying the sweets that come in if you work it. A woman approached our stand with her young daughter and picked out items to purchase. She handed me her order to tally. I noticed her eyes lingering on my face as she smiled . It seemed like I should have recognized her.

“Mrs. Shimogawa?” she said, the smile widening. “Yeah, it is you. I wasn’t sure.”

I can place people in the timeline of my life by how they address me. There’s my maiden name era. The Mrs. Shimogawa era, when my husband was still alive, and then the Ms. Shimogawa after.

I smiled back, not recognizing her but staying in professional, bake sale worker mode. “Yes,” I confirmed, acknowledging my identity. I’ve been teaching for almost 20 years. I’m way past the point of remembering everyone’s names and I get frequently spotted in the wild. You learn how to fake niceties.

“I was in your husband’s class,” she clarified. “I loved his class. He was a great teacher.”

Ah, that’s how she knew me. My heart swelled. (And what a relief…it wasn’t my memory slip after all.)

“Thank you so much for sharing that with me,” I told her. “It means a lot.”

It’s very special when other people remember him out loud, especially when I’m not expecting it. It means I’m not crazy, and yes, he was real. I didn’t dream up that previous life. His legacy lives on, and not just in my head.

Today, Kenneth has been gone for 7 years. The-days-are-long-the-years-are-short kind of seven years. We were married for 7 years, together for 9. It feels surreal. Seven years in, seven years out. Two of my children have no memories of him. My oldest has faded memories he isn’t quite sure are from his recollection or cobbled together stories he’s heard repeatedly told to him over the years.

The thing is, after this much time, you run out of material. You can only hear a story so many times before the appeal wears off. These kids are barely interested, because they’re my stories, not theirs. My memories, not theirs. My life with him, not theirs.

Seven years is enough time for wounds to scab up and fall off. Seven years is that jagged, faded scar on your heart that only you know is there, evidence of a battle that time has buried beneath layers of new growth. It’s enough time for your life to jet off into numerous zig-zagged trajectories that were previously inconceivable. It’s looking at that former version of yourself like somebody who you used to know in high school, a person you may have been friends with once upon a time but now you don’t really know at all. Too much time has passed. You’re different people.

In the weeks approaching today, I sensed the day was coming deep inside of my bones. To me, that was a good sign. At least I still care. As time ticks by, you fear that it no longer will matter to you, because if it doesn’t matter, maybe it wasn’t real. Seven years out, I discovered it still mattered. I found myself driving and suddenly overcome with emotion because of a particular song or a thought that popped into my mind. I was out on a run and shook loose memories of Kenneth, feeling sadness creep up on me. It still happens, even seven years out. Not as much. But it’s there. Little reminders that it still matters, even if only to me.

Maya Angelou said, “And when great souls die, after a period peace blooms, slowly and always irregularly. Spaces fill with a kind of soothing electric vibration. Our senses, restored, never to be the same, whisper to us. They existed. We can be. Be and be better. For they existed.”

This is the truest thing I can tell you about losing someone, at least in my experience. You can be better because they were.

I have to say, as I wrote this, I’m not sure I was feeling better at anything. I was still reeling from another chaotic morning where food got spilled in my car and once again, I’m doing drop offs and pick ups alone for SEVEN FREAKING YEARS. My kids are still young, even seven years later. I’m tired. Sometimes I feel like I’m 80-years-old. I watch other people going on weekends away with their partners and sharing kid duties and not having to do this alone and I feel the bitterness creeping back in and I want to cry. It has been a grueling marathon. My consolation prize is that I am still here and mostly happy, and I’m self-aware enough to know that I don’t want to live with bitterness, so there’s that. I keep fighting the good fight against myself.

I binged Beef on Netflix recently. Someone asked if it was really just a road rage show. No, not exactly. I think it’s a show about the unhappiness inside each of us, no matter how much money we have, what our circumstances are. There is a universal truth that all human beings by virtue of being alive will have to suffer in their own ways. Suffering is inescapable. Our choices and mindset are the tools we have to cope with reality. I thought it was lovely that they included diverse representation. We’re all in this human experience together.

I think I realized, maybe not fast enough, that I have to create my happiness, in my own way, no matter where I am and whatever happens. It’s my responsibility. Seven years out, I can say I am mostly happy, or at least trending high in happiness returns. I’ve learned that happiness comes in places where you least expect it. It has to transcend your expectations. Happiness can not be placed in a box; it will not stay in one place for too long. It is something you create out of what you have in front of you. It is not the same for every person. It is not promised or owed to you. Happiness is your journey. Your experience. It is a shape-shifting ebb and flow.

I’ve been sitting at a lot of softball games lately. I drive my daughter to a softball coach once a week and bought her a net and tee to practice in the backyard. We’ve made many trips to the batting cages. She plays two games a week and also has regular practices. It has been a whole thing this season.

One of the moms in the stands always tells the girls, “You can” when they are at bat. It sounded kind of hokey at first, but then the other day I went for a run but didn’t really want to, and I heard myself saying, “You can” to coax myself out of lethargy.

Her words have stuck. You can.

I watch my daughter at bat and inevitably become riddled with nerves. As her mother, I want the best for her, but in the end, it’s my daughter’s turn to bat. It’s her game. Sometimes she swings and misses, and my dad yells out, “Wait for it!”. Sometimes she doesn’t swing at good pitches, and my dad yells, “Now you’ve seen it. Give it a ride!” Sometimes the umpire makes bad calls. Sometimes you’ve got two strikes and three balls and the pressure is on. Sometimes a great hit goes right into second base’s mitt. Sometimes you knock it out of the park. It’s truly an analogy for life. Wait for your pitch. Stay in the game. Do your best. Put in the practice. Enjoy the wins. Learn from the losses. You can.

That’s probably what Kenneth taught me the most. To stay in the game. To get better at the game. To enjoy the game. To swing the proverbial bat and not get caught looking.

I feel like seven years out I want to tell you the truth: it’s not all unicorns and rainbows. I deal with a lot of stress. I go to bed exhausted. I’m still single. My daughter was called dad-less on the playground the other day. I feel like I’m ruining everything half of the time. But there are more highs that eclipse the lows. More good than bad. More joy than sorrow. I have a deep understanding that the dust will inevitably settle no matter what happens. That’s happiness, I think. The average of all of our days. How we got through our bad days and make space for the good ones.

2,555 days of life without Kenneth.

It will never feel normal.

He was truly one-of-a-kind. There is nobody else in this world who could rant about nuclear energy and fracking and care so deeply about everyone else…at least nobody I have encountered. I miss the current events he would text me, his obsession with investment, juicing, doing union stuff together, carpooling, listening to music, trips to Souplantation, sharing a wall between our classrooms, our games of chess, Costco trips, taking the kids to Legoland, traveling, camping, the Netflix recommendations, dreaming together, his giant heart, and even the socks on the floor. He was my biggest cheerleader and my #1 fan. “I loved you your whole life and I’ll miss you for the rest of mine.”


  1. Sending you a giant hug on this day even though we’ve never met. It was five years in January for me – and there are moments when I’m not even sure I’m the same person anymore? – and both joy and sorrow are still here. But like a pesky weed, the joy wins out, mostly.
    I’m sure I’m not the only person who has felt that your blog has been a balm for the weariness that is grief and loss. Hang in there – and thanks for sharing some of your journey with all of us.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s