The Price of Grieving in Paradise

We mostly go home for funerals.

It feels fitting, of course, because funerals have always been where we saw the whole family. And when you come from an enormous, aging ʻohana, there are a lot of them. For the most part, funerals were celebratory family reunions, tear-streaked laughter and warm embraces tempering the enormity of another beloved’s passing. And once my cousin’s flower shop began supplying wreaths and arrangements for the services, memorial services were truly times for us to draw close together.

I’ve missed a lot since I’ve been gone. Funerals, weddings, graduations. People. It took years for the opportunities my mother expected us to have on the continent to manifest and for a long time we were just as broke as we ever were back home. Dropping hundreds (or thousands) of dollars to visit isn’t an option when you’re scrambling to keep the lights turned on. There were a couple of times we did make it home, electric company be damned, but when you compare how many times I’ve been back home with the number of years I’ve been away from it, well. It’s no wonder I’ve been so devastatingly homesick.

I may not be worried about the electric company these days but still, it’s taken us five years to be able to make all the necessary arrangements for Mom’s final rest. When Mom first died I absolutely was worried about the electricity, as well as the mortgage company, medical bills, groceries, and everything else that goes along with raising a family during a recession. With how dire everything seemed in 2010 when Mom was first diagnosed, it actually feels a little miraculous that we’re able to take her home at all.

And now, here we are. The decisions we’ve agonized in the year since we last went back home to tour the cemetery and select her niche have led us to a moment not unlike the opening of hands to let a captured bird fly free.  There is nothing left for me to do, really, other than pack as if for some kind of idyllic tropical vacation. We’re even staying at a non-cockroach hotel this time, because it’s a stretch but yeah we actually can afford these things and doesn’t that just blow your mind?

(It blows our minds every single time we think about it.)

My sister and I were home in April, for another funeral of course. This time it was to say goodbye to our first cousin who we hadn’t seen in over twenty years but loved with the whole-hearted love that comes when someone knows so intimately the best parts of your highly excellent childhood. That trip wasn’t even a super big deal for us, financially speaking. I mean, I couldn’t afford to take the whole family so it was just me on a long weekend with my sister, but I for sure didn’t have to choose between feeding my children and wrapping my cousins in an armful of comfort straight from our hanabada days.

Mama didn’t live long enough to see us here, able to take her home and afford an urn made of koa. Able to make plans to see our cousins so we can start seeing them when it isn’t a funeral. Able to go talk about going home once every single year can you even believe it?

I can’t, to be honest. It hardly seemed possible to get Mom back home at all just a few years ago. Yet here I am just the same.

There is a price for leaving home; everybody knows you can never truly go back. And while I am going home, while I am elated to see family I haven’t seen since a different funeral more than twelve years ago, I am also a little sad. It shouldn’t be this hard, this expensive, just to sit in consolation with those who helped make us who we are. It should really be easier to say goodbye, even if we’re doing that in paradise. And yeah, we for sure know how lucky we are to have been raised in Hawai’i but still. To us, it’s just home and this is just my mother’s funeral. That seems like a high price to pay in and of itself.