My father died quite suddenly as he and mom were returning from one of his buying trips to the Orient. They were having breakfast on the patio of the hotel restaurant in Hawaii where they were staying for the day. Suddenly, dad fell over. He was dead of a massive myocardial infarction.
Mom became hysterical – not only at the loss of her husband but at the swiftness with which death took him. The hotel’s doctor had to sedate her to keep her calm and it was only after the medication began to take effect that she regained the presence of mind to call and let me know what had happened. I made arrangements to fly to Honolulu the following morning.
I realized that I was going to have to take charge of the situation and make the necessary arrangements because mom was simply too emotional to think rationally. That was so unlike her but her grief had overwhelmed her customary sensibility.
So we had dad cremated in Hawaii and planned on having a memorial service back in New York. Dad wanted his ashes scattered in the Sea of Japan and his Japanese Agent, Yoshinori Yassuda performed the service according to his Shinto beliefs.
Mom and I tried to get on with our lives as best we could as a two person family. At least mom had her business to keep her occupied and having something to focus on other than the emptiness of the apartment helped her through this time.
And then the letters started to arrive. This was at a time when people would actually take the time to sit down, find a nice piece of stationery and write down their thoughts. A lot of people had a lot of thoughts because over the next three months mom received over two thousand letters from people who had known my father.
In those days news was anything but instantaneous. An ordinary person’s death was known only through an obituary notice or by word of mouth. The letters that mom received were from people with whom my father had business dealings over the course of his lifetime. In some cases they had been written by individuals who had not dealt with dad for over twenty years. But they remembered him and cared enough to take the time to share their thoughts with my mother.
There was a theme to these letters. In essence they all said “Your husband was a wonderful man and a friend. Whenever I placed an order with him I knew that he was going to take great care of me. I knew that I could count on his word being as good as gold – if not better. He was a gentleman and a kind human being. I grieve with you for your family’s loss.”
The letters started to trickle in – and then as the word spread they arrived in greater number, increasing day by day – to the point where the letter carrier had to bind them together with rubber bands and leave them with the building superintendent as they were too thick to put in our mailbox. All those good wishes from so many strangers – each well-intentioned and each so painful for mom to read.
Well this was many years ago – long before the internet had come into being. As a matter of curiosity I went to Google and typed in dad’s name. Nothing was returned by the search – other than some suggestions that I might try this or that spelling or did I mean this? I guess I wasn’t really surprised at the result.
We live in an age where we measure our prestige by how many people click the “Like” or “Friend” buttons on the social networks. We have lost an understanding of the distinction between quantity and quality. We equate being accepted or admired by large numbers of people as a validation for our lives – rather than taking the responsibility to validate our lives through our words and deeds. We have lost the meaning of caring and sharing and loving. We have surrounded ourselves with the trivial and have excluded from our hearts those things that are of true importance.
In this context, I am grateful that my internet search yielded no results for my father. I learned things of far greater value from him than I was ever taught in school. And I will never believe that this kind and loving man was “a person of no importance.”