In seven hours I will be on the airplane leaving for the United States. In the hall are my two suitcases, one filled with books, the other with as much of Japan as I could fit in. I sit here alone, leaning on the large oak desk in your room. Books and papers lie scattered about as if you had just stepped away for a moment. Next to the desk stands the large bookcase. Through the glass doors of its middle section, the s ection where sit your most treasured belongings, I see your fountain pen and silver watch... stopped that afternoon.
It is now more than two months since that day. The time has passed quickly, leaving me nothing but the memory of you, my father. Your face appears again and again; your voice echoes through my mind. My hand still feels your final short squeeze.
It was not just appendicitis, after all. I remember receiving that phone call in May. You had had an appendectomy and I decided to come back to be with you. When I saw you in the hospital, I was shocked, so utterly different were you from the big, round-faced man of only six months ago. Having lost more than 30 pounds, you looked pathetically small. Your hair, always so well groomed, was over-grown and tousled; the watch you liked to wear so tightly was loose on your wrist. You lay on the bed, still in pain, but the doctor told us that the surgery had gone well.
How well? Why was the tumor still there, next to the 16-inch scar on your abdomen? But the doctor assured us that it was not malignant. Until the day before you died, I believed that you would soon be well -- but on that day I was told that the tumor was cancerous.
Father, you were supposed to be here today talking and laughing with me. Without you, our house is too quiet and too large. The guests have all gone, and with them the reminiscing. You are swallowed back into silence. The forty-nine days of the funeral rites are like a dream, and the last two days before your death, a nightmare.
I remember, too vividly, the end. The doctor said that unconsciousness comes when blood pressure drops below 60, but you remained conscious somehow even when it went below 35. You repeatedly asked us to help you sit up. Was it because you knew that you were falling into a deep sleep? When you could no longer sit, you signaled with your hand that you had two things to tell us. I gave you a pen, the fountain pen that you always used, and held a notebook for you. You opened your eyes wide, but your sight was already gone; still, you continued to write, summoning all your will.
I knew that writing was important to you, as it has always been to great philosophers. "To think is to be able to write down your thoughts clearly," you always said, and even in the hospital whenever you were feeling better, you wrote. But, Father, not then. You could no longer see, nor could you move your hand easily. Life seemed too cruel as I watched you try to write. As you moved the pen across the paper, I said the words that I thought you meant, but each time you only shook your head, no. How many hours did we spend together until you finally put your hand down? What was it that you wanted us to know? What were you thinking? I grasped your left hand, and you squeezed mine slightly, still holding the pen in your right hand.
Unconsciousness finally came to you. The beep of the monitor, echoing queerly through the room, was the only proof of your life. But only because of this machine was your heart still beating, the nurse told my mother. She asked if we wished to have the machine turned off. Everyone in the room - my mother, my two brothers, several friends of ours, and I -- knew by your breathing how hard a time you were having. We all kept silent when my mother gave a slight nod to the nurse.
Afterwards, I recalled something you had written one night a few weeks previously. No one had told you that you were dying nor did we ever mention "death". Yet you wrote about it, about beine at oeace with death.
"When a person is dying, he is putting all his energy, all his existence, into the fight against 'death'. At this time, he is all alone in his world; any sound from outside is just a clamor. And because of the noise, he cannot meet a quiet and peaceful death. So when I am dying, you will all have to be silent. Do not even say 'Dad' to me."
I looked at the people around you and signaled each to be quiet, the nurse not to call you. Finally, about to cry, I told myself to keep silent. This was the most difficult task of my life, but the only thing, the last thing that I could do for you.
* * *
Whenever we Japanese experience death, we follow two considerations: a patient and his or her children should not know that he or she is dying, and being present at a loved one's death is preferable to being absent.
Father, I did not know that you were dying, and you were never told about it either. Would you have been scared of death if you had known the truth? Could the fear of death have made vou despair, made vou insane, and therefore shortened your life, as people believe it would? But Father, didn't you want to know how much time was left for you? Wouldn't the time have been more meaningful if we had had a chance to talk about your death together?
I was there. I saw you becoming weaker and weaker each minute, and I saw the moment you, my father, moved for the very last time. Was it really better for me to be there? Did it make me feel fulfilled that I had shared your last moment with you, and did I accept your death more easily, as people would say?
I was not prepared to see you die. I did not expect to see it happen before my eyes ― this hardest, crudest, saddest time I have ever experienced. I was angry: with my mother for having suffered alone without telling me the truth, and with the reality of having to watch you suffer when I could not help you in any way.
Father, please come to me. Tell me that it was better, after all, that only the doctor and my mother knew you were dying, so that my brothers and I would not cry endlessly. Tell me that you were glad to be surrounded by your loved ones, to have me hold your hand at the end, so that I could at least feel happy about being there with you. Please.
I am afraid to return to the United States. I am afraid to see my college town unchanged, to watch myself going to classes as if nothing had happened in Japan. Even here, as I aimlessly walk, I see people working in stores and laughing with each other just as they did in the hospital the morning before you died. Everything around me is the same, yet all seems different; am I still in the middle of a long dream? As I sit here in your room, I only wish your watch would start ticking once again.