Caviar Dreams

No, this has nothing to do with Robin Leach and his “champagne wishes and caviar dreams” sign off at the end of the old TV show “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” This is about honoring my mother in a way I think she would find thoughtful and meaningful. Five years ago today, my mom passed away. And tonight, my son and I will honor her memory by having a traditional Japanese meal that she often prepared for us: Tarako (caviar), gohan (steamed rice), nori (seaweed), shoyu (soy sauce), furikake (a topping for rice made of fish, seaweed and sesame seeds), cha (green tea) and red bean cake for dessert. She would love it! We will place a table setting for her with rice and the whole works, as she made an offering to her Holy Ones every day at a little shrine she had set up in her family room.

I miss her so very much. I wish you had known her. Toshiko was a woman of great Beauty, Courage, Love and Faith. Her Beauty is obvious in her photos—porcelain skin, black hair, great bones, perfect figure. But she was also beautiful on the inside and had an appreciation for the simple things in life. Mostly, that meant time with family. My dad, sister and I were her life and she was completely committed to us. She had an appreciation for beauty all around her, whether it was nature, clothing, jewelry, or art. She is legend in our family for the intricate bedspreads and tablecloths she would spend months crocheting for family members far and wide. Those gifts of love and beauty are cherished by loved ones to this day and, in fact, are being passed down from one generation to the next.

Toshiko was a woman of Courage. She met and married my father—an American soldier stationed in Japan during the U.S. Occupation after the Second World War. That was not an easy decision for her to make. She had been designated to carry on her family name because there were no sons—she was an only child. She gave up her family and her country to start a family of her own and adopt a new country. Once here, life was challenging. My parents married at the height of racism in our country and Mom said in the beginning of life with Dad, she often felt like a monkey in a zoo because people stared at her. She was different. So she said she stared right back—but smiled. I can’t honestly say that I would have the courage she did to leave my family and home to start a new life where I knew only one person and barely spoke his language.

Tosh would tell you it was Love that gave her Courage. She told my sister and me, “Love is blind. We made it work because we love each other. It didn’t matter that we were different. It didn’t matter that other people didn’t like it.” It’s pretty simple, isn’t it? Not easy, but simple. She chose love. I don’t know that anything more needs to be said about it. I thank God she chose love because without it, I wouldn’t be here right now.

Mom’s love was so deep that when Daddy died 17 years ago—shortly after they celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary—she nearly died, too. We thought she kept having heart attacks, but testing revealed none of the blood enzymes present after heart attacks. Her doctors came to the conclusion that she was suffering from a broken heart. It made perfect sense. Her emotional heart was broken. Her soul mate was gone. However, Mom was a woman of Faith and she knew that she and Daddy would be reunited one day. She hung in there for 12 years without Dad…and then she just couldn’t do it any longer. She said it was time for her to go. We don’t know how she did it, but my sister and I are convinced that she planned to die as close as possible to the anniversary of our dad’s death. He passed on April 22nd. Mom passed on April 13th.

So April is a significant month for me. I am reminded every year at this time of the cycle of life. Birth. Death. Rebirth. April is a reminder to love deeply, speak my love, live in the now, and savor that love is eternal. I miss you, Mommy, and think of you every day. Each time I look in the mirror, I see you looking back at me…

Time now for that dinner and caviar dreams. Godspeed.


Please share your thoughts and insights below. Your participation provides wisdom that all can benefit from. Thank you.

Denise Yamada © 4/2012

We are Family

My Uncle Emil died last week. “He had 88 great years, one bad week,” was the family refrain as we laid him to rest on Monday. Funerals are such bittersweet occasions, aren’t they? They are full of happy memories of time shared with our loved ones and sadness for the reality that we will no longer share hugs and kisses. This funeral and family gathering was no exception…and it was so much more. I am blessed that I was able to reconnect with some family members that I had not seen in more than 17 years—some even longer. Even though much time and distance had separated us, Emil brought us all together again: children, grandchildren, cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and friends. In an instant, I was welcomed into the family fold. I was aware of the love and history that bind us.

Our family patriarch, Milos, came to this country from Croatia in the early 1900s. He married my grandmother, Frances, and together they had four children: Mildred, Michael, Emil and Thomas. Thomas—Tommy—was the youngest, and my father. He was the first of that generation to die. He was only 67. My grandmother, who we call “Bubbie,” outlived her baby boy. She cried, “God took the wrong one! It should have been me…” But God clearly had other plans. Bubbie lived to be 103. Her third child, Emil, was the last to go…and it is he who we honor and remember this week.

As I listened to each of Emil’s children share their memories of him…as I watched his eight grandchildren serve as his pallbearers, it struck me that we are all connected, whether we are related or not; whether we live in our bodies or in spirit; whether we were born in this country or another; whether we are alive now or lived in another century. We are all connected. We belong to the same family—the family of man. It’s been said that it is in our DNA to love and respect one another. Science—quantum physics—teaches that we are born to be community. We are born to be our brother’s keeper. If science didn’t bear this out, how would we know this is true? Here’s how: All we have to do is hear the stories of acts of kindness and compassion, and that part of our DNA is activated. Think back to the aftermath of 9-11 and seeing the stories of how people from all across our country—all across the planet—came together to help us heal and rebuild. More recently, when the earthquake and tsunami hit Japan, how did you feel when you saw the news stories? When you heard the stories of people helping people, of triumph or perseverance? You no doubt experienced a feeling in your heart. It’s that feeling that connects us to the community at large; that reminds us that we belong to a whole greater than who we are as individuals. And that feeling is all the more pronounced when we are with our family, given or chosen.

This is the legacy that Uncle Emil and his generation, and the generation before them, leave for us: A sense of deep contentment and deep connection for having belonged to them. A knowing that we belong to something far grander than the eye can see. It must be felt by the heart and communicated by the soul. This is what I felt and heard as I walked away from Uncle Emil’s grave site on Monday. As I passed by one tombstone after another that bore the names of my people—Kovacevic, Luketic, Verbanovic, Matalski—a deep and abiding pride swelled up inside me: These are my people. These people were good, hard working, loving, family driven. These people built this community and contributed to its success. These people are part of the fabric of our great nation. I am proud to belong to these people.


Please share your thoughts, insights and questions below. Your participation provides wisdom that all can benefit from. Thank you!

Denise Yamada © 12/2011


You Can Make a Life or Death Difference

Click here if you would rather listen to this article:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

A name is added to the national organ transplant waiting list every 10 minutes. And each day, 18 people on that list die because compatible organs can’t be found in time. As I write this, a San Diego woman—Katrina Bischoff-Howell—is on that waiting list and hospitalized on a ventilator. (To the left is a photo of her taken during a somewhat “healthier” time, when she was on oxygen, but not yet on a ventilator.) Cystic Fibrosis has wasted her lungs and she now has a very small window in which she can receive a transplant…or never be transplanted. Her husband tells me that after two weeks on a ventilator, the body deteriorates and is weakened. He would know: He has CF, too, and received a lung transplant six years ago. Now it’s his wife who is in desperate need of one. You can read and watch her story here:

But rather than only read or watch her story, will you act to possibly save a life? Here’s a letter written by Katrina’s mother, which I share with her family’s permission:

Hello Friends and Family:

Yesterday, my daughter, Katie was moved to ICU at Thornton and was put on a ventilator. This means bluntly that we have only two weeks to discover two donated and fully vetted and qualified transplantable lung lobes or to have a cadaveric transplant and to successfully transplant those lungs. After two weeks on the ventilator there is no more opportunity for transplant. Moreover it is extremely tough for a CF patient to be able to live after being on life support for that length of time.

Here is exactly what you can do to help.

·· If you are under 55, have type A or O blood and are at least 5’ 9” and are willing to give up one of your five lung lobes to Katie, call my husband at (760) 579-8275 and we will get you tested to be a cross-match. Katrina is a very difficult match because of being transfused years ago and therefore her blood chemistry changed. The test to see if you are a suitable cross match is simple and painless. If you are a match, USC will take it from there.

·· Post the need for transplant donors to every friend and Facebook contact right now! Please ask them to consider giving one lobe to her IF they qualify. Please make certain that they understand how critical it is to act now.

·· Please ask your friends, family and congregations to pray for Katie now.

·· Because of the length of time it takes to find a donor…and now we have only two weeks to accomplish this…we can only identify potential donors for testing through this first week. Please understand that there is absolutely no time to waste.

Please I implore you to act now, right now. Please do not hesitate.

Thank you for your consideration in lovingly and prayerfully considering this massively bold request immediately. Please help me save my daughter’s life.

Do you want to know the amazing story of how I learned about Katrina’s situation? From my friend Sharlie Ross Kaltenbach—also living with Cystic Fibrosis. Here is a woman who is in need of a transplant herself, asking others to support her friend. I am not the least bit surprised that Sharlie is reaching out on behalf of her friend—that’s the kind of giving, loving and compassionate person I know her to be. Make no mistake, Sharlie is also in need—her lung function is at a mere 18%. That’s why those of us who love her have mounted a fundraising campaign to help cover the expenses associated with her needed lung transplant.

Here’s how you can help Sharlie: Buy a product from this website and personally ask three friends to do the same:

We believe in the power of three! Do you remember the movie Pay It Forward? The main character helped three people and asked them to “pay it forward” to three more people, so nine people would be helped. Then those people would multiply into 27. Then it would spread to 81. Then 243. Then 729. Then 2,187. And on and on. That’s the model on which we’ve based this fundraiser. We ask you to buy one product for $27 and ask three people to do the same and “give forward.” In a very short period of time, hundreds of thousands of dollars could be raised to fund Sharlie’s transplant and associated costs, with any excess going to others living with CF and to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation for ongoing research for a cure.

All of the products offered will enhance your life, too! Please check them out here:, buy a product and ask three friends to do the same, to continue “giving forward.” Simple way to make a difference.

Another way to get involved is to sign up for the donor registry. You can do that here: Will you join me? I’ve been on the registry since I first met Sharlie and her family about 20 years ago.

If you live in another state, go to the US donor registry site and search for your state:

YOU can make a life-or-death difference. Will you?

Please share your thoughts, insights and questions below. Your participation provides wisdom that all can benefit from. Thank you!

Denise Yamada © 6/2011


Let Us Honor Death with Life

We are entering a season of rebirth, and yet, I often find myself thinking about death these days. This month and next mark the anniversaries of the passing of five people I have loved, including my mother and father. Two more family members died just this month. As I contemplate that, and the climbing death toll in Japan, I feel that a part of me has died, too.

My mother was a Buddhist and taught me that death is not the end of life; rather, it is the end of the body we inhabit in this life—and that our spirit remains. Some days that comforts me and I can even feel my loved ones near me. I call them my Holy Ones. Other days, I cannot feel them…and feel utterly alone. And then I remember what my dad—raised a Catholic—taught me. Daddy told me that even when people we love die, they are still with us—they are inside us. All I need do is look in the mirror and I can see this is true. I have my mother’s eyes, hair and skin. And when I look deep within myself, I see my mother’s dignity and grace. I see my father’s love of language and humor and sense of community. My parents live inside me.

But even those with whom I did not share genes are within me. When they passed, they bequeathed to me things more valuable than worldly goods. They left behind the best parts of themselves. Lexi left me love, faith and courage. Andi left me compassion and possibility. Ann left me fidelity and sweetness. Now, it’s up to me to ensure these parts of them live on forever through me. So I pledge to carry on these parts of my Holy Ones: I will be love, faith and courage. I will be compassion and possibility. I will be fidelity and sweetness.

In the face of death and destruction, the best we can do for those who pass before us—whether we are related or not—is to live in such a way that they continue in us. Will you join me in that?

I send you my love, peace and prayers.