You know you’re in a different country when you’re staring at the various buttons on a toilet trying to decipher how to flush it. It is disarming, at best, to see pictorial depictions of what it might look like if you hit the “BIDET” option. But here I am in a stall at the Tokyo-Narita airport, bent over the fanciest loo I’ve ever seen. How disappointed am I when, on the brink of giving up, I discover an old fashioned stainless steel handle behind the lid.
When confused and overwhelmed, look for the simple answer.
That’s how it’s been the last week as I helped my father and stepmother take the necessary steps to leave behind their life of 22 years in Hawaii and move back to Taiwan. It’s felt like an episode of the Amazing Race. (DISCLOSURE: I have never actually seen the show but get its general gist). Never mind the emotional extremes of dealing with my dad’s diagnosis of Stage IV colon cancer. We suddenly had a car and condo to sell, financial matters to address, furniture to donate. And, did I mention Thanksgiving was tucked into the midst of these transactions?
By Monday morning, I was feeling confident. I had both of their medical records in hand, complete with slides from the hospital lab. We had an appointment set for the next day with an attorney who would be helping us set up a living trust. And we’d all had a good laugh over the questionnaire he’d asked us to fill out. If you haven’t done this with your parents yet, it’s a rather grim task. Grim to the point of ridiculous. The attorney wanted answers to a series of questions that read like a Choose Your Own Adventure Book, only ALL the plotlines wind up with SOMEONE DEAD.
1) In the event that father and stepmother both die, who is to be trustee of their assets?
2) In the event that father, stepmother and named trustee die, who is the secondary trustee?
3) In the event that father, stepmother, named trustee and secondary trustee die, along with all of the next of kin and grandchildren, who is to handle the remaining assets?
I was sitting on my dad’s couch reading this survey out loud soliciting answers from him and my stepmom. By the time I got to that third question, we all burst out laughing, conjuring up the various horrific scenarios in which it would actually apply. (Family reunion rental home catches fire with all of us inside. Plane en route to a family reunion with all of us on board goes down. See what I mean??! Your family, if it has any sense of humor, would laugh too.)
What my dad and stepmom didn’t know was that within hours, my brother, nephew and husband were paying a surprise visit to Hawaii. John had proffered the idea last week within minutes after learning the gravity of my dad’s diagnosis. In the hours leading up to their arrival Tuesday, John and I were orchestrating the best way to maximize the effect. After touching down in Honolulu, my brother and nephew recorded a video from their hotel room making sad faces, saying how much they wished they could be here with us. They mentioned plans to Skype with my dad in the evening. Oscar worthy performances.
Moments later came the knock on the condo door, expressions of bewilderment on my dad and Helen’s faces, and the several seconds more they needed to grasp who they were seeing in their doorway. Helen collapsed into John’s arms, her face filling with tears. My dad broke into a laugh of pure joy, as he repeated, “Really? Really. Wow. Wow.” He has a great laugh, by the way. It’s loud and infectious and no holds barred, whether he’s in a McDonald’s or a five-star restaurant.
Some of the best advice I’ve received in this is to cherish the moments. Capture them digitally if possible. So Tuesday night, in line at a Waikiki restaurant where they hand-make udon noodles, I’m rolling video as my dad teaches his grandson the same silly hand-slapping games he taught me when I was a kid.
Wednesday, there is a final meeting midday with my parent’s financial advisor. Then, it’s my brother’s turn to work his magic. Michael’s a car salesman, the best I’ve ever seen. And he’d arranged to sell my Dad’s Corolla to the local Toyota dealership. Given our tight timeline, we needed to go as a group, so my dad, Helen, John, Michael and I all pile into their compact car. My nephew stays behind at the condo with an auntie who’d flown in from Taiwan in recent weeks to help.
The people at the dealership are very confused about our little gang. We pour out of my dad’s silver sedan and onto the sales floor. John and I set up camp at one table, proceeding to work on matters like canceling the condo’s electricity and internet services. Michael begins negotiating with a salesman and learns midway through the car had been in two accidents, something my parents had omitted in previous conversations with him.
I feel for my brother, as the fender-benders pop up in a database and his leverage slips away.
“Why didn’t you tell me about those when I asked?” my brother says in Taiwanese, exasperated.
“Oh, we thought you meant the crashes we hadn’t yet fixed,” protest Helen and my dad.
My brother still manages to get a great sale price for their car, double what my dad thought they’d be able to recoup selling to a friend. John calls for a taxi, and we all load up again to head to our next stop, the attorney’s office in downtown Waikiki.
We realize during this meeting with the attorney that my parents need to go to a bank to officially set up the living trust. And it’s already within an hour of closing time the day before Thanksgiving. We have a hard deadline because my dad, stepmom and I are leaving early Friday for Taiwan. John bolts downstairs only to learn the bank on the ground floor can’t make it happen in time. I get my parents’ financial advisor on the phone, who contacts a woman at their bank’s main branch. That woman agrees to stay late to help us finish this task.
I turn to the attorney and ask, “Where is that main branch?”
He points at the building across from his and says, “It’s right across the street.”
Could not have planned it more perfectly.
In fact, I know I didn’t.
See, I choose to believe in all those prayers being offered to my family by friends, co-workers, even Facebook strangers. I am re-affirmed each time, each step of the way, when elements of this process have sped along with remarkable efficiency. And even when we’ve hit snags, it’s been for good reason. There have been frustrating moments in which things just have not worked, but those roadblocks have proven valuable in ways we could not have anticipated.
I guess what I’m trying to say is…I think if you look for God, you might just see Him…everywhere. Not in a naïve, Pollyanna kind of way. Believe me, I’m a tv reporter. I’m about as skeptical and cynical as they come. And I know my dad’s mortality has me thinking and talking about what’s beyond this life.
But it does come down to a matter of perspective.
We can spend our time right now lamenting his cancer.
Or, we can sail the waters of Oahu on a friend’s Katamaran Thanksgiving day with Diamondhead in the distance, with my dad turning to my brother telling him how proud he is of him as a father, praising him for his courage in being a single dad and overcoming unthinkable challenges in his life. I can smile through my tears as I see my 6-year old nephew looking on, three generations of the Song family men aboard one vessel.
I explain to my nephew, “We’re just kinda sad because Grandpa’s very sick. And he’s going to be going away for a while.”
My nephew nods peacefully and says, “I know.”
Where is God? I’ve come to think He is wherever you seek Him.
It may be as simple as that.