I first met Pat and Sets
in 1995 and stayed briefly at their home in Honolulu on my way to visit
friends in Australia. Both are second-generation Japanese-Americans. Patrick served in the 442nd Nisei Regiment in World War II, and
his company was among the first Allied units to liberate the prisoners
of Dachau. Setsuko is a retired nurse with strong ties to
her Buddhist temple community. They have one son, an artist
living in New York City.
At the time of our 1998
session, Patrick had begun deteriorating with what was later diagnosed
as Alzheimer's Disease, and Sets spoke of the increasing demands the situation
was beginning to make upon her. Since then, as Patrick's
condition worsened, Sets became a full-time caregiver. She
began writing poetry as a means of expressing her feelings during this
time of challenge and change. Patrick died in October of
Shall we include Patrick?
Absolutely. I hope he’ll speak up, too.
He cannot think to the point where he can communicate, any more, his thinking.
I find, you know… the words don’t want to come out, you know?
So you adjust for that.
I really am adjusting. I still am adjusting. And
I haven’t really, totally accepted the change in Patrick. That…
in order for me to be understanding, and compassionate unto Patrick, and
know that—the way he is, is not intentional. It’s just the
way he is. And I know that he’s getting so much frailer, too. Living
with Patrick day in and day out, and seeing him, and caring for him, I
can see that slow decline, you know.
So how have your roles changed because of that?
I have to have no expectations. And things that he used to do naturally
so you can expect, “oh, he’ll be doing this, he’ll be doing that,” right? I
have to do everything. That’s what upsets me. I have to do
practically everything. But I think it’s harder when I’m
very tired. (She laughs.) But that’s why I have to
draw back. From having certain demands. Even as a
volunteer. I used to be on the Board of Directors at the temple.
Oh, that entails so much complications, duty, responsibility, and since
Patrick was—becoming that way, and I expected certain things for him to
be doing, and not done, so I became upset with him.
So I have to go through
this process of “why am I angry;” because if I’m angry, that anger is
always related not to Patrick, but it comes from something within myself. I
have to go through this real internalization. That anger is always
connected to the ego, you know? I needed to see that before I could
let go of my anger. Patrick means well… and things are changing;
everything is changing. (She laughs again.) Everything in
the world is changing. He’s proving the thought. We’re always
changing. I think Patrick becomes kind of like a mirror for myself. I
Was it always that way?
No, no. More and more, I think, because I have to give up many
of the things I thought were important for me to be doing. For
me, I think that has become more secondary now.
This is an example of the kind of challenge… of what your obligations
are to each other, your responsibilities to each other, that
it seems a lot of people don’t want
to take on.
It’s not easy. But there’s no way else I can be other than how
I am. You know? I don’t think I can just leave Patrick, you
know, and say, “ohh, you just do whatever you please,” and just get upset
with him, no. I cannot do that. Because that’s not me, you
know? And it’s very strange; when he has all these episodes: fainting
episodes, even when he had that mild stroke in December, even when I go
in and out of the house, it always happened when I was at home.
So there’s a certain amount of unconscious awareness there, maybe?
Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. I think so.
When did you meet?
After he came back to Hawaii… He was discharged in… ’45? Patrick
was a student at the University of Hawaii. He finally took up the
G.I. Bill and he had a free college education.
Why, didn’t you have free tuition?
Well, it was paid for. By the government.
(Laughing.) Oh, yes, yes. Right. True, Patrick.
Were you both in school at the same time?
No. I had already graduated. I was a registered nurse. I
was working at the medical center and then we met at a mutual friend of
ours’ home. She was providing dinner for a group of these boys,
like Patrick’s friends; cooking dinner, because she needed income for
her family. About how many?
Twelve. They had veterans’ dormitories at the University.
Why did you go to these dinners?
She was a family friend of ours. Her husband’s family was an old
family friend. Her father-in-law was a veterinarian. He had
gone to get his degree from the University of Utah, which was very rare. He
used to work for the immigration here. And he used to help – you
know those people from Japan? Who used to come as laborers? He
used to be helpful. In helping them out in any way. If there
were any difficulties. He had a kennel. In his own home, in
the back side. And he needed somebody to take care of the kennel
because he was too busy with immigration work. I don’t know how
my father was referred to him, but somehow my father was called by him
to come to Honolulu. Because my dad was a veterinarian. Japan-trained,
you know? He looked after all the animals in the kennel. And
lived in their home, before he got married. We were very close family
friends. So I used to go and help her out at that time.
And there was this… dashing young student?
(She laughs.) I don’t know how it happened, but… we just
met, and we started to go out, right? Huh, Patrick?
How long was your courtship?
She said that we get married right away. (Laughter.)
Oh, noooo, Patrick tells a tall tale. Yeah, we had difficulty, too. My
parents didn’t want me to get married yet. They wanted me to support
Veterinarian work wasn’t enough to –
No, because my dad was a playboy. He was a spoiled boy. He
also was a drinker. And gambled his money away… We owned a
dairy, we raised cows, and we bottled; my mother used to milk the cows
in the barn and we bottled the milk, and we delivered them to the neighbors
around Hale’ewa. We did all that, when I was growing up here. And
then you know when pasteurization of the milk came in? It became
a law? That you cannot sell raw milk anymore? My parents couldn’t
afford to convert into all that pasteurized milk, so they quit the dairy
and they went into pig meat farming. And that’s how we grew up. On
the money that we got from our pigs.
So they wanted you to be the breadwinner.
Even when I was working, I used to give half of my paycheck to my family. That
was something that they expected, because we grew up learning that if
the elder children didn’t support the family, the younger children will
not be able to have an education. Because my parents weren’t that
How old were you then? When you were getting married?
I think I was 24 when I got married. It wasn’t a… passionate
love affair. I don’t think so. But I really liked who Patrick
was. I think I admired his stability, and thinking ability, you
know. And his kindness…
What about you, Patrick? What was the big attraction for you? When
you met Sets, how did you know it was… the one?
Ohh. Well, you know. You know.
You just knew.
Yeah. So I never felt the need to hunt around for another girl.
How would you handle disagreements?
A lot of it used to be like, “shut up.” Or I would yell at him.
(She laughs.) And he wouldn’t talk back to me, you
know? There were times when we had silent periods, I think. Sorrow…
it’s something he cannot come out and express openly. I guess that’s
part of the culture… and the way Japanese men are. ‘Cause when his
family died—his sister died, his brother died, they become ill, or whatever. All
of it just stays inside. He expects me to be doing whatever needs
to be done for them. I can see his emotion, all that feeling he
really feels deeply. When his brother died, and we had to go to
the funeral. They had an open casket funeral, you know? To
view his body. I said, “well, Patrick, this is last goodbye, for
you, for Esau”—his brother’s name was Esau. And we were up there… “Is
it alright for me to touch him?” he said. And Patrick, he reached
down and (she whispers.) just rubbed and rubbed Esau’s
forehead. (She makes the motion over and over.) That’s
how I see Patrick expressing his emotions in that, in that instant moment. It
comes out. And I have to be able to see that, you know? (She
sheds a tear.) Not because he doesn’t feel anything, because
he doesn’t do anything or say anything; he does, and he doesn’t
know how to show it, that’s the way he is.
And from all the years together, you can read that.
Mm-hmm. Yeah, yeah, yeah. And I do a lot of that, Robert. (Whispers.) A
lot. You know? I don’t think he does it for me. (Laughter.)
Was it always a situation where you bring complementary things in terms
of your character? An “opposites attract” sort of thing?
Very different. He was always very, very stable. Always thinking
clearly. There’s no gray areas in his thinking. Whereas I
am… I’m so emotional. I do emotional things. (She laughs.) You
know, and I just have these terrible gray areas. You know, after
everything is done, I go, “ohh, I wish I did it this way!” And
he says, “Just forget it already, it’s in the past, you
can’t do anything about it…” So it’s really a contrast.
That’s the anchor for you, then.
Yeah… and he has no desire for wealth, or power, or… being someone other
than who he is. He is just so… he lives his life so simply and so
honestly. I see that side of Patrick very much. Very much. For
me, it’s like… Patrick’s life is like a ritual. Gets up in the morning…
he gets the newspaper… he reads the paper… eats his breakfast… he goes
to the bathroom… (She
laughs.) I remember when he had his vegetable garden. What
he used to do was go out there and he used to tell me there was nothing
more… that gives him pleasure than sitting out there, in his garden, you
know, on the side of the house, and viewing the mountains and the beautiful
weather, and drinking his can of beer. (She laughs.) There
was nothing more he needed. And he has always been that way. He
has been very close to the soil.
You know my Buddhist
faith is so important to me, right? I used to go away to these
retreats and all those weekends, go to lectures and seminars, and be so
involved. And Patrick, he is so close to nature. He pours
kind of his faith in being very much with nature itself. And he
never, ever needed to go to that camp, join in the ritual, participate
in that. But see, the beautiful part of him: he never stopped me
from going. He must have had some self-pity. Like a lot of
men would, you know? Like, “no. Don’t go. You’re gonna be there
all week.” But… that’s not him. He always said, “oh, yeah.
Go. Yeah. Go.” And the strange thing is, he’s been very
good friends with the teachers of Buddhism. I’ve brought them home,
we’ve socialized, and gotten to be good friends with them.
Was it always traditional roles in your marriage?
Lot of traditional, yes. Very traditional. We’re American,
we’re second-generation American of Japanese ancestry. I think I’m
very connected traditionally and culturally to the role of women in Japanese
culture. That’s the way my mother was.
Were you from a big family?
Yeah. From seven. There were seven children. And a lot
of people don’t see this. It’s kind of hidden, I think. One
of my Buddhist teachers always knew me, you know, that I was a bed nurse. I
was a professional, I had a career, and all. So I guess he always
saw me as a professional person. Then when he came to our home,
to have dinner, he saw me in the kitchen, and doing… (she laughs.) he
said it blew his mind! That’s what I mean when I said, when you meet
people, I think there’s a certain kind of persona that you’re putting
on. And it’s only when you get to know one another real well that
you can see what the other is thinking. Mm-hmm. There’s a
lot of that in our marriage. I always felt I should have dinner
ready for Patrick, and I should be the one that cooks the meals; although
he participated when I was working. He used to go to the market
and have dinner because I used to work late, you know?
Was there ever any resentment about that?
No. No. But it was in my part, see, my inner part of me that
said that it’s something I have to do. You know. That’s my
life. So that’s what I mean when I said that there’s a lot of inner
feelings and thoughts that can’t be seen from the outside. I think
it has to do with – in our culture we have what we call gaman –
which means “endure,” okay? Gaman. We must endure
all of this. And pass through it. That kind of feeling
I think is very strong.