Every Funeral Has Its Thorn

And by thorn, I mean helicopter.

Illustration rose petals sky girl boy


My mother passed away very suddenly. My younger brother was in his first year of college in New York, and I had to be the one to call him. To let him know that the woman who had raised us was suddenly gone. We both flew home to Guam for her funeral. It was the worst chapter of my life. It was unbelievable, actually. Eight years have passed, and sometimes I still cannot believe that she's gone. I want to call her to tell her something funny, to hear her laugh. I can’t do that anymore.

During the planning of my mother's funeral, I received word that someone, an old family friend, had thought of a beautiful gesture and that it would probably be put into action. The proposed gesture was the renting of a private helicopter, which would hover daintily over my mother's burial site after her casket had been lovingly lowered into the deep earth. From this aircraft a shower of white rose petals would cascade delicately over the funeral party as if heaven itself was sending its celestial condolences.

It sounded lovely in theory. So in my grief-stricken, dazed state, I simply nodded my head to the proposal. "Sure," I said. I was touched that my mother, during her time on Earth, had such a profound relationship with this friend, and that this friend, in turn, wanted to commemorate her with no less than a level one hurricane of flowers via helicopter. Bouquets are for cheapies. Even those over-sized wreaths— those gigantic ones of orchids intertwined with pastel braided ribbons, hoisted up on display near the casket— they paled in comparison. Paltry! I scoff at them. You call that a condolence? Where are the sympathy giraffes? Where is the procession of weeping cherubs? Where is the harpist under a stationary rain cloud?


Oh, you have a helicopter? Ok, I guess we'll take it.

I went through the funeral service as if I were dreaming. That morning I had resolved to not cry, but about halfway through, I realized I didn't stand a chance. The floodgates were opened, and I was done for. My tear ducts, maxed out though they were, somehow just kept producing. Turns out you cannot run out of tears. I speak from experience.


I delivered my eulogy, sentence by sentence, each thought punctuated by more sobbing. I had meant for my eulogy to be both lighthearted and profound. I wanted us to remember the joy my mother exuded, but I also wanted everyone to feel the pain as deeply as I felt. I opened with a little joke about my mother insisting that she was forever 27 years old, and then I just cried the rest of the way, choking every word out.

My little brother, so stoic, held in every ounce of grief like a royal guard. I could have punched him square in the face, and I doubt he’d have even flinched. Even as he tied his white pallbearer gloves to our mother's casket, his face gave away nothing. Even as my grandmother dramatically threw herself against the casket, lamenting in Japanese that she would go down into the ground with her daughter, still nothing. We all had to take extra care so that my mother's body could be lowered safely to prevent anyone else (ahem, grandma) from intentionally falling in to the grave.

The master of ceremonies then directed our attention to the clear, blue sky. We heard it before we saw it. The bass-like, rumbling rhythm of a helicopter blade beating against the wind. Then we felt it. Gusts and gusts of air aggressively swirling about us. A dozen Okinawan grandmas instinctively put their hands to their heads to protect their coiffed hair. The confusion on their faces! They were appalled.


Um, excuse me, we're literally trying to have a funeral here. Literally so rude.

I quickly tied my hair into a bun, so that I could witness the shower of rose petals with unobstructed view. I was emotionally spent, but this would be the highlight of the funeral. I would look back on this perfect, poignant visual that would encapsulate our earthly farewell to my mother. I'd know that we had done it right.


The anticipation built as we watched the pilot attempt to position the helicopter at its prime flower-dropping coordinates. I believe he even moved slightly off-target to factor in the wind speed and direction. This was a real life mathematics exercise. If the wind is moving 20 mph, the funeral party is 50 feet below, and you have 3,000 rose petals up here and 15 Okinawan grandmas down there, then ... honestly what is even happening?

Silence. Or the almost silence of loud noises. The moment was upon us. Cream-colored petals fell majestically from the aircraft, the wind moved swiftly as wind does, and the petals, airborne for seconds at most, landed far away. Just so, so far away from where we were. It might as well have been for another funeral, that's how far they flew. I scanned the crowd reaction and saw only puzzled looks all around.


My brother and I exchanged a glance. His eyebrows were raised high. The highest eyebrow raise I had seen to date, relaying just how anticlimactic he thought it had been. Same, dude. Honestly. Same.

The helicopter took its leave and whup-whup-whupped away.


We had made it. It had been weird, but we had made it through.

The MC thanked the anonymous friend over his portable microphone set for the beautiful and touching gift. We all collectively smoothed our hair down. I thought about my mom. I wished she could have been there for her own funeral to share that look with me and my brother. That is this for real? look. I thought about how we'd laugh about it at Fuji Ichiban later that evening.

Over a meal of chicken karaage and miso ramen, I would start with, "Hey mom, do you think that helicopter pilot is embarrassed for having failed to drop those flower petals appropriately?" She would shake her head at me, but she’d be fighting a smile forming on her lips. She would say my name in a faux scolding tone. My little brother would snicker and say something stupid like: "Come on, now. Let's not be petal-ant." "Did you just make a pun out of the word 'petulant?'"

"Duh."

"Ehhh... not your best."

"You're right, but you gotta admit that pilot really ROSE to the occasion." "That’s a thorny joke if I ever heard one."

"What?"

"You know, corny, but with thorns, because roses."

"That's dumb."

"YOU'RE DUMB."

We'd all be laughing then.

"Okay, children." My mother would put her arm around me and admit, "Chotto omoshirokatta, ne."

I can hear their laughter in my head, and it makes me smile. I miss my mom so, so much.


I have to say, I am super grateful for anyone who ever sent their condolences to my family after my mom passed away. For every message, posted letter, bouquet, wreath, helicopter, cooked dish, hug-- I was and am so thankful for it all. I still live in the wake of her loss, and for a long time, I couldn't write a word. Everything made me think of her, and I found it very painful. I realize now that I have to write it, no matter how difficult, or run the risk of forgetting all of these precious feelings. Thank you for reading.

thank you, love you, xoxo ✨

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