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Today commemorates the 49th day following the death of my father, which, in Japanese-American Buddhist tradition marks a milestone in the cycle of mourning for the family, relatives, and friends.

To mark this day, I am publishing the eulogy I gave at my father’s funeral.

This was perhaps the most difficult piece I’ve ever written and certainly the most difficult speech of my life.

It’s not perfect but it does capture the way I felt, the way I wanted to honor my father, and the way I wanted to celebrate my father’s life for those he leaves behind.

Namu amida butsu.

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(Originally given on November 20, 2010)

Today, I celebrate the life of my father.

As Tammy says, Dad hit the ultimate jackpot – he died peacefully at home after living a full life.

Dad died on November 12, 2010, at age 81, having survived cancer and two major surgeries.

During the past five years since being diagnosed with and treated for cancer, Dad was on “bonus time” and he made the most of it.

Tammy took Dad and Mom to Las Vegas just two weekends ago, and Dad enjoyed a remarkable string of jackpots from the moment he was in Nevada, culminating in a $100 jackpot … on a penny slot machine!

And Mom and Tammy dragged him to a fancy – and expensive – restaurant where they shared a spectacular dinner.

Even Dad was impressed to the point of conceding that sometimes “fancy” restaurants are worth every penny.

He lived a full life.

What does that mean? “A full life.”

Dad never accumulated great wealth or material possessions.

Those things were just not that important in his life.

Dad enjoyed life in simpler ways – bowling with friends, fishing with Uncle Lefty and Uncle Roy, and always the annual family gatherings with the tables piled high with gochisou.

Throughout his life and through the way he lived his life, Dad taught us the meaning of “itadakimasu” and “gochisousama” – appreciation and gratitude for delicious food and the effort of the people who prepared it.

Two years ago, Dad and Mom crossed the Pacific Ocean to stay with us in Tokyo for a whole month, which we spent “eating everything in Japan!”

Crabs from Hokkaido, sushi platters fresh from Tsukiji, and noodles of every shape, size, and color!

Dad truly loved his noodles.

Mom and Dad even walked to the local convenience store where they bought six different kinds of bento. I don’t remember how we ate them all but somehow we did.

Mimy and I will never forget how Dad would wander into the kitchen whenever Mimy started preparing a meal, looking over her shoulder.

The look of anticipation and joy that danced across his face was truly a sight to see.

He lived a full life.

And yet Dad’s greatest achievements may only be recognized by a relatively small circle of family, relatives, and friends.

The fullness of one’s life is perhaps inevitably measured by what is left behind.

Dad leaves behind a marriage that lasted more than 50 years, a wife who returned to college and graduated, a wife who worked hard to give their children a college education, and a wife bought a house in what is now a very fashionable part of town.

Dad leaves behind a wife who has travelled the world and discovered computers, email, and Facebook in her “old age” so you young people better watch out – Grandma’s googling you.

Dad leaves behind three children, each of whom chose a different path in life that has led to achievement, love, and happiness.

Dad delighted in his four grandchildren: Kendall, Kalani, Kiana, and Trent.

Each of you was his special treasure.

Your grandfather’s legacy to you is his demonstration of the truth that “being kind and gentle to every living thing” is indeed a path to happiness in life.

Dad lived to see his first grandchild Kendall Akira, who shares his name, graduate from university this past May.

Dad lived to see Kendall get engaged to the love of his life, Arlene.

Arlene, I know my Dad was happy to see Kendall so happy.

He lived a full life.

As it turned out, Kendall’s graduation in May was the last time I saw my father.

I was troubled by the fact he didn’t have his usual appetite, his passion for good eating, and his sheer delight at eating lots and lots of good food.

We nonetheless shared lots of laughs, great food, and good times with family, relatives, and friends in the cool evenings of early summer in Los Angeles.

He lived a full life.

Preparing to leave for the airport, my father hugged me tightly and whispered into my ear.

The last thing my father said to me was, “don’t forget to come home.”

Dad was encouraging me to go ahead and move to Beijing, China, where Mimy and I have started a new life together, a grand new adventure in our 50s.

Part of me knew Dad wasn’t going to be here forever and I was hesitating, torn between my desire for adventure and my guilt at being away from home for the past 16 years.

I think Dad knew that would be our final farewell – and yet he was telling me that I could decide what is most important in my life, that I must decide what is most important to the people in my life.

Dad’s words freed me from my guilt.

And so I chose to embark upon a new journey, one that would find me in a strange new world.

Beijing, the mother of all Chinatowns.

Dad, you would LOVE Beijing.

Great food, amazing food, huge mountains of delicious food everywhere and it’s cheap too.

The Great Wall of Chinese Sausages is waiting for you, Dad!

Did you know the Chinese invented noodles? Dad, you can eat a different kind of noodle every day!

Dad, you’re gonna love this place!

Mimy and I were looking forward to the day we would welcome Dad and Mom to our home in Beijing and then “eat everything in China!”

But it was a quiet Saturday in Beijing when Mom calmly told me that Dad had passed away peacefully that morning in Los Angeles, having lived a “full life.”

If I have any regret, it is that I did not tell my father I loved him more often, that I missed all those opportunities to hug my Daddy.

A “full life” — a life that is truly lived well — can only be measured by what is left behind in the hearts of the people you love, and the people who love you.

And thanks to Dad, I realize you can only celebrate, appreciate, and be grateful for the fullness of life in this moment, right here, right now.

Only now can you reach out to the people you love, the people who love you, give them a big hug, look them in the eye, and say, “I love you.”

Dad lived a full life.

So, today, I do not mourn the death of my father.

I celebrate his life.

Dad, I love you.

Dad, I didn’t forget to come home.

Namu amida butsu.

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