Tuesday, December 19, 2006


Five years ago my sister, Deborah Takeko Ooka Yasuda, died of pancreatic cancer. I've been avoiding acknowledging it because it hurts so much.

She died December 15, 2001.

She bravely battled this very aggressive type of cancer for 8 months. She had a very high tolerance for pain - one tough cookie. I have many memories of our time together as she battled this horrible disease. I had Friday's off and I would try and spend most Friday's with her. As she became more ill I know she looked forward to us just hanging out at her house. She only got to see my new home once. We have a lot of stairs and by that time she was not getting out much. I tear up just reminiscing about our times we spent together.

She saved my life when I was about 19 or 20. I had just taken my finals and had come home to the dorms at the UW. I wasn't feeling well but just figured it was the flu. She called to see how my exams went and I told her I was a bit under the weather. I went to bed and she called a couple hours later to see how I was doing. I was feeling pretty terrible. She insisted I come and stay with her and her husband Kyle(a doctor). I tried to resist but if you knew Deb, you can't really resist her. She was one stubborn lady.

She came and picked me up. Later that night sometime around midnight Kyle came to check up on me. He knew something was wrong. They took me to the emergency room at Virginia Mason(where he worked) and I was admitted to emergency surgery. I have a condition called endometriosis. The endometriosis had taken over one of my ovaries and it had burst, spilling blood internally. They both saved my life that night. Her instincts told her to care for me and it saved my life.

When Debbie was admitted for the very last time to the hospital it was at the end of November 2001. I took a leave of absence from my job so I could be with her as much as possible. A couple of weeks later I was scheduled to meet Greg, who was attending a conference, in Las Vegas for a few days. I knew when I left that it would be the last time I saw her.

We all knew her time to go was very near. I wasn't going to leave her but she insisted. She wanted me to go. She told me I had to go. That was the toughest thing - seeing her on the way to the airport knowing I would never hold her hand again, never look into her eyes and say I love you.

I got the call two days later as I was having dinner at a restaurant at the Venetian.

I was sad, yet relieved. She had been in excrutiating pain and she was free from the pain.

As I sit here writing, I just can't believe 5 years has gone by. Life continued on without her. That doesn't mean continuing on was easy.

Debbie was like a mom to me as a child. My mom was so busy just trying to survive with 7 children, working full time. Debbie took care of me(as did all my 6 older sisters). I remember her making me do my daily chores like sweeping or vaccuuming. She would tell me stories when I would go to bed and they almost always began with "Once upon a time there was a little girl named Naomi...".

We lived in a 1500 square foot home - two parents and 7 children. When I got old enough to sleep in a "real" bed I shared a bed with her. I would kick at night, hog the bed and blankets, eat crackers in bed. She'd be like "Naomi....there are crumbs all over in this bed!". We'd get out and try to get all the crumbs out. Man, what she had to put up with.

During the time we spent on those Friday's she shared memories of growing up. She told me a story of when I was about 3 or 4. We were at the local drug store and of course she had me tagging along. I'm sure this would not have been her choice but she had to watch out for the little ones. This lady comes up to me and said "Honey, aren't you cute?". I said with attitude, "My name's not Honey, its NAOMI!". Deb said she was like "oh my goodness!". We(all my sibs) have that feisty-ness...definitely from our mom.

She even told me about the birds and the bees!

I grieve for her daughter, Mirei. Mirei is a wonderful girl and she lost her mom when she was only 6. Mirei is a lot like her mom - super outgoing, daring, very intelligent, opinionated, likes to joke and have fun.

Her mom was her world. Mirei was Deb's world. I know Deb is watching over Mirei but no child should lose their mom at such a young age. They did everything together. Deb loved that girl so very much and it tore her apart to know she would physically be apart from her, not be able to watch her grow up, not be there to give her advice about boys, life.

Deb was feisty. She believed in fighting for the less fortunate. She didn't do that at a global level but on a personal level. From emotionally supporting people at work, coaching them to stand up for themselves to gathering the community to help a woman get out of an abusive relationship by organizing people and collecting money so the woman could leave the relationship.

She even organized a Cultural Day during high school in the 70's to help educate people about other cultures. Remember this is Ellensburg, Washington in the 70's. People would yell at her to "get back on the boat and go home!". She didn't care. She had already developed the tough outer shell and she went on her way. She did what she believed in and no one was going to stop her.

Tonight I'm just taking time to grieve so my heart can be open to the wonderful-ness of this time of year. My heart has felt closed but I want it to feel open. Shedding tears helps to heal and open my heart again.

I love you, Deb. I miss you so darn much! Tell Mom and Dad Hi!


bizyhands said...

Sending you hugs this Christmas.

Rebecca said...

That was beautifully written Naomi. We each find a way through the pain and giving voice to the grief will help you heal. My heart goes out to you and your family, and thank you for sharing your memories of your sister with us.

Elise H said...

Naomi: though we have "known" each other only for a short time, I feel like we have become connected for a reason. Your eloquence is matched only by your compassion for others and for passion in your own life. I cannot pretend to understand the depth of your grief, but your words have had a profound effect. I wish you and your family all happiness this holiday season and throughout the year. Thank you for allowing me and others to know your family a little bit more. What courage you have to open your heart in that way. I am sure your sister is proud of you!

Jamie said...

Hey Naomi, Thank you for sharing the stories of Deb and your lives growing up and your lives together at the very end. I know you know that Deb is always with you as are your parents. I love you and am thinking about you.