By REI YOSHINO
Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko visited Keiro Retirement Home in Boyle Heights in June 1994. As they were about to leave, Fred Wada, the facility’s co-founder and director, introduced them to Yoko Eguchi, the activities director.
Wada told them that the senior residents affectionately referred to her as “Okaasan” (Mother). I heard that the imperial couple stopped and praised her for her dedication. That shows how much she touched the hearts of the residents.
The English word “volunteer” was not yet commonly used in Japanese when I decided that I wanted to do something useful for the community and went to Keiro Retirement Home. It was there that I met Eguchi-san and started out by assisting her. Over the next 20-plus years I spent weekends at Keiro, inviting friends to participate.
After that, Eguchi-san had to leave work due to illness and endured several surgeries. She was living peacefully in the South Bay, and two years ago I moved to that area too, as though she had drawn me like a magnet.
When just the two of us got together, we would talk about things like our hobbies and food, and make each other laugh with our jokes. But she did not speak about her illness or her job at all, and I never heard her boast about all the hard work she had done at Keiro.
Six months ago, Eguchi-san’s illness resurfaced. The doctor offered her various medical treatments, but what she chose was to do nothing. Aside from taking something for the pain, her wish was to let nature take its course.
Then, saying that it would increase her immunity, she would make healthy foods like koji and nukazuke by hand, think only pleasant thoughts, and keep moving forward. But the reality was that her life depended on transfusions. Even so, she never lost her sense of humor and was always concerned about the welfare of the people around her. To me, Eguchi-san seemed like a goddess or even Kannon-sama herself.
Last year on Thanksgiving morning, her husband noticed there was something wrong when she would not wake up, and Eguchi-san was rushed to the emergency room. Two days later, on the morning of Nov. 25, surrounded by her family, Eguchi-san looked as though she were falling asleep as she left on her final journey.
I was able to be with her at the end, but for a long time after that I was conscious of the fragility and preciousness of life. I became depressed and could not get anything done.
The funeral service, which had a warm atmosphere, was held at Green Hills Memorial Park, from which one can see the Pacific Ocean. I also attended a farewell lunch.
In December during the holiday season, I understand that many cards were sent to Eguchi-san by people in both the U.S. and Japan who were unaware that she had passed away. Each card would bring back memories of Yoko-san and move her husband to tears.
Already it is time for her 49-day memorial service. Yoko Eguchi-san, you were loved by so many people in the Nikkei community. Please rest in peace. In the not-so-distant future, let’s meet again in the next world. Gassho.
Rei Yoshino writes from Redondo Beach. This article was originally published in the Japanese section of The Rafu. Translated by J.K. Yamamoto.
Yoko Eguchi, 73, was born in Manchuria and passed away on Nov. 25 in Gardena. Survivors include her husband, George K. Eguchi; children, Louis Nishiyama, Teresa (Greg) Baker and Gina (David) Bonn; step-daughters, Amy Eguchi, Pamela (Allan) Miller and Elaine Eguchi; three grandchildren and one great-grandchild; brothers, Masuo, Takuo (Tomiko), Tsuyoshi (Motoko) and Norihisa (Chiyoko) Osato, all of Brazil.