Mama Berry died sometime Wednesday night into Thursday morning. She had a heart attack in her sleep after a day of laughing and joking with Papa Berry and listening to a singer who had come to the care home to perform for the residents in the evening. Laughing and singing were two of the things Mama Berry was best at. All those who had Mama Berry in their lives knew her as a proud Hawaiian and a woman of love who managed to live joyously, despite enduring tragedies that had no business darkening the life of a woman of her character.
At the end of my Junior year of high school, my parents decided to leave the neon flash of the Strip for the prairie lands of their youths, where riverboat gaming was just starting up. I moved with them, visions of Chicago and its possibilities dancing in my head. Once I was there, the realities of the exurbs and the limited opportunities of a semi-rural high school became plain, and I wanted nothing more than to return for my senior year as a Sundevil to be with my friends, choir and band. On one of my frequent calls with my friend and choirmate, Mike Berry (aka Kawika), he put the phone down and asked his parents if I could come live with them. I'm sure some responsible arrangements were made between my parents and his, but I don't remember them, and a few days later, I was on a plane back to Sin City.
The Berrys' oldest son, Hoku, had just moved out, so I was put up in my own room, given use of Mama Berry's blue Honda and taken in as a member of the family. Every morning she woke up two bleary-eyed teenage boys, and made us fried egg sandwiches while we got ready. A lover of music and the arts, Mama Berry was heavily involved with and fully supportive of Kawika's and my participation in Dr. Jensen's choirs, my clarinetting in Mitta Fu's bands, Kawika's roles in the school theatre, and all their many, many commitments. She never missed a performance, and she opened her arms and heart to everyone, especially the outcasts. She was good people through and through.
Not many years after I moved out, Hoku died of a ruptured brain aneurysm at around the age of 30, leaving behind a young grandchild. A few years later, Mama Berry had a stroke which took away her ability to speak and much of the use of the left side of her body. It was heartbreaking to see such a big personality silenced and stilled, requiring 24/7 care rather than giving it herself. For several years, it seemed like she had acquiesced to this lot in life, but in recent years she had become more active, going to church again and on outings with Papa Berry. The last time I visited, when I introduced the Berrys to Sushil, we met up at a Hawaiian restaurant, and it was so good to see her out of the care home. She looked healthier, happier and more tuned into the world around her. Her face lit up when we were reminiscing, and I was telling the story of Sushil and me, and she gave me a long, tight bearhug when we said goodbye.
It's very sad that she's gone so soon after her life seemed to be trending up again. But I am glad that she had happier last years with Papa Barry than could have been, and so grateful that she went in her sleep. After all the hardships she endured, she deserved at least that.
Mama Berry loved her church and singing in its choir. In lieu of flowers, I have chosen to make a donation in her honour. If you would like to do the same, the address is:
St. James the Apostle Roman Catholic Church
1920 N. Martin Luther King Blvd.
Las Vegas, NV 89106
Thank you for letting me be part of your life and family, Mama Berry. I love you and will miss you dearly.
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