I grew up in a household full of love. I lived with both my parents, and my grandmother moved in when I was so young, she was practically there for as long as I could remember. I was told that she would always cook breakfast for everyone before we left for school or work.
When we moved into our first home in the suburbs of greater Toronto when I started attending elementary, she was a central member of our household, and every day I would come home from the bus seeing her watch cartoons such as Conan the Adventurer, and at times, I would even watch with her. She lived with us and was an irreplaceable part of my life for a long time until she got much older, and moved out to live with her other children and grandchildren.
She passed away a little bit more than a month ago, and it was the first time I’ve ever lost anyone so remarkably close to me.
At first, it was a difficult time for me because I had no idea how to feel regarding the situation. I knew that, in secret, my parents would be grieving, and having gone through such times before, they always did so when I was not around. I didn’t know how to go about the grieving process.
It was when I turned to anime, particularly Summer Wars, that I finally felt that uncontrollable flow of tears, and that emptiness that I now noticed in myself and in my life.
One of the big themes in Summer Wars was the importance of family, something that strongly resonated with me the first time I watched it earlier this year, something strong enough for me to consider it as one of my favourite anime films. I was already aware of how central the death of the Jinnouchi family’s matriarch, Sakae, was to that theme. When you lose someone who has directly affected so many people, it’s so easy to take for granted that impression such a person has left on your life.
So when I saw them go through the tragedy of Sakae’s passing away, I realized that the first time I watched it, I was viewing these events through the eyes of the main character, Kenji Koiso, who had no real attachment to the family yet due to not being related to them. Watching the movie again after my grandmother’s death was much different, since I was seeing those events through the eyes of Kenji’s love interest, Natsuki Shinohara, granddaughter of Sakae Jinnouchi. I deeply felt that moment between the two characters, when Natsuki was helpless in trying to stop the tears from flowing down her face, and when she cried uncontrollably. I finally managed let everything out, and I was crying along with her. I knew that feeling.
After that scene, the movie went on, and having gone through that particular moment, I tried to do so as well. I already knew that the Jinnouchi family would have to keep going and overcome that loss together as a family, so it was worth watching the rest of the way, especially to that particular scene where they read Sakae’s parting letter to her family.
“Never turn your back on family, even when they hurt you. Never let life get the better of you. And if you remember nothing else, remember to find time to eat together as a family. Even when times are rough; especially when times are rough. There’s no lack of painful things in this world, but hunger and loneliness must surely be two of the worst.Thanks to you, my precious family, I didn’t know a moment of either of those the last ninety years.”
My grandmother was ninety-five. At that time of her death, life was definitely hectic for me, being busy with work, and falling massively behind on my wordcount in NaNoWriMo. Sakae’s letter seemed like something my grandmother would have passed down to me, and I took every word to heart.
I ended up using parts of this particular speech on my eulogy for her on the day of her funeral, and even though they weren’t my words, I could feel the weight of each and every single syllable that rolled off my tongue as I spoke. What mattered most to me was that those words reached the people who I felt would have benefited from them. They did not need to watch Summer Wars, or even know of its existence. Just those words, and how true they were to real life. It’s an amazing thing.
The funeral had long passed, and I was left with a huge deficit in words, and a hole in my soul that I knew would require time to be filled again. It was a hole that could only be filled with words, because writing is my air. Sakae’s words were my grandmother’s, and eventually they would lead me to finding my own. On the final day of November, I was almost forteen thousand words behind my goal, and coming home from work, I decided to buckle down and write. I had dinner with my family and just typed away at my novel, and didn’t stop until I crossed the fifty-thousand mark with fifteen minutes left remaining until midnight. I would never have been able to do such a thing without keeping my grandmother in my thoughts as I wrote. I wrote from the heart. I wrote a lot. I wrote for her sake and my own.
I suppose that what I’m trying to say here is that of all things, it was anime that allowed me to move on the way I did. It is a common and effective practice for someone going through the grieving process to watch various movies that deal with themes of coping with death and loss of loved ones, but for me personally, being able to do so with anime validated my hobby and passion a million times over. My grandmother’s death made me appreciate Summer Wars even more than I already did, and now it’s definitively my second-favourite anime film of all time, right after Millennium Actress.
This weekend, regardless of how you are spending your holidays, take the effort to spend those holidays with those you love. Try to spend them with family, even if relations with them are rough. The last thing anyone wants is to feel alone. Thanks to my exerience living with my grandmother, I never had to feel loneliness for twenty years of my life. It’s not the ninety that Sakae has been blessed with, but I can truly appreciate the message, and will never forget it as long as I live.