My grandmother passed away in June 2011, a few months after the Tohoku earthquake. She was 98 years old, but she had stopped living much earlier.
When I went home in 2009, she was still able to sit up and watch TV. I sat with her as she watched a samurai drama. I asked her if she was reading books as well because I knew she loved to read. She said, unfortunately, she could no longer see the prints, hence samurai drama. I watched the show for a while when she shifted her gaze from the small TV screen to me and told me how impressed she was that I traveled around the world, speaking a foreign language and earning my living. She turned her eyes back to the samurai for a moment, but after a moment of silence, she turned to me again and said, “I couldn’t have imagined doing that in my time. I didn’t have a choice. When I married your grandfather, he wasn’t the nicest man as you might know, and there were sisters-in-law, too. But it never occurred to me things could be different. I accepted it.” When she said this, her eyes gazed at space between us. Her facial expression was peaceful but not necessarily sad or angry. I felt pain because my life had made her realize how cruel history was to limit her life possibilities. Her words haunt me to this day.
A week before her death, I was talking to my father on the phone. I was working in London, and my employer had let me use the office phone to contact my family after the earthquake. I asked him if the grandmother was alright, and he took the phone to her room and told her I was on the line. I called her out, told her it was me. From the darkness of silence, a frail voice called my name. It was the last time I heard her voice.