In the Chinese zodiac, Mike was a snake. He was born in 1953 which was the water snake. Each animal has five elements, so being that the animals recur every 12 years, if you multiply that by the five elements, the exact animal under which you were born doesn’t reappear again until you are 60.
Mike’s full-cycle water snake began February 9, 2013. He died exactly one week later. Almost to the hour, if you count that it begins on the hour of the new moon.
I’m not an astrology freak, but I do notice such things out of curiosity and interest. I happen to be a monkey, in the Chinese astrology. This year of 2016 is the year of the monkey. The fire monkey, to be exact. My birth water monkey will occur in the next cycle in 2028, when I turn 60. So when I realized the timing of this, it took on a level of grave importance to my small life. This was to be the last full cycle before my birth animal…the one which took Mike.
My friend Chee was one of the most serious Kung Fu students Mike had since we met her here on the Big Island in 2001. She is Chinese, and became a wonderful part of our family and one of our best friends over the years. She and I happened to have lunch together that day February 9, 2013, a week before he died, to celebrate the Chinese New Year kind of on a lark together. But since Mike’s death that date took on a much deeper significance, and we have tried to get together each year - among other gatherings - to remember him.
Mike’s death impacted her very deeply as well. She took his teachings seriously and to this day continues to pass on his knowledge as she can here, to those willing to learn. But beside that, Mike being the powerful fatherly/brotherly influence he was, I know losing him for her changed her perspective on life…differently since she wasn’t married to him but similarly, in that his large presence created that large hole that can never be filled.
So when I realized this was going to be my monkey year I asked if she wanted to plan a lunch date and she responded by asking whether I might want to up the ante and go to Honolulu to celebrate in grand style. Which we did. As I type this I have only been back an hour or two from a wonderful three-day girls mini-vacay on Oahu, about a 45-minute plane ride away. Being Chinese and being stuck on our Big Island with very limited resources, at her request we spent almost the entire time in Chinatown eating dim sum and noodles and all kinds of things she looked forward to doing, her happily speaking Cantonese to the shop people and us both just rejoicing in being there together. And much of it ended up in conversation about Mike, of course. All kinds of stories we remembered…it was just…really, super, super, super special and I am so deeply grateful.
Monkey, here I come. This is going to be a great year. I just know it.
And I am so blessed to be able to tell you that a few days before, my dear friend Margaret was here in Kona for a visit. She has come every year since Mike died for a few days and her friendship has completely changed the nature of my grief. Having her by my side through all of this has meant just everything. Her husband died exactly three months after Mike - May 17 - and we are quite close in age so we really relate so much. We hung out on the beach, relaxed a the coffee shops, and took an amazing adventure day drive around the island to see the volcano in my new car.
When we arrived down there, the volcano crater was socked in with fog and we thought we might not see it, and after all the driving we did to get there felt very disappointed. But I told her…let’s just wait. Weather can change in an instant. And sure enough…around 7:30 PM the fog cleared…slowly, a warm, orange glow appeared in the cloud, then it grew, and grew, and then it got clearer and clearer and suddenly we were looking at a fire coming out of the ground down below. I cannot tell you how incredible it was to watch that happen. And to share it with her…well, there just are no words.
So I am back now, to the musician who took wonderful care of my house and dogs while I was gone, to my “normal” - “never-normal-again” life after a week with dear girlfriends who mean the world to me.
The icing on this week is this. As I boarded the plane back to Kona, I got a text that my stepdaughter was going to in to labor with baby #3…the one who will hold Mike’s namesake…the spirit that has perhaps been playing with him up there all along…who knows…but for sure the third of an unknown number of children who complete me as feeling as close to a grandma as I will ever be…I am forever grateful to Mike for that, and so thrilled to be Tutu to these kids…It feels just so special. And she will be a little monkey, just like me. I am overjoyed and excited and scared for my stepdaughter and as I type this she is in the throes of it all…life and death and everything wrapped up together this week.
So….gong hey fat choy. Happy Chinese new year to all you animals out there. And thank you all for being part of this life for me.