I received two emails this week -- one from Richard, the piano player in the band I sing with, and one from my mom. Both emails contained the news that Sister Chieko Okazaki, formerly of the LDS General Relief Society presidency, had passed away. I was saddened by the news. I had gotten to know her just a little bit because our band, The Mixed Nuts, has a standing monthly gig at the retirement center where she lived. She was sweet and kind, and I very much enjoyed our brief conversations after our gigs. Chieko's son Kenneth said of his mother, "She had a way of treating people like they were special to her, and everyone felt special when they were with her." This was certainly the way she made me feel in a matter of moments.
In our conversations, Chieko talked to me about our band and my singing. She told me she liked to sing songs in Japanese to her children and tease them that they didn't know what she was singing about them since they didn't understand the language. She was always pleasant and I enjoyed spending those brief moments with her.
Joseph Walker of the Deseret New wrote, "Her smiling eyes and her own ever-present smile was one of her trademarks..." And Rodney Smith said of her, "I felt an immediate connection to her... Most people who met her felt that connection. She was one of those rare people who was so filled with the pure love of Christ that you felt that she cared about you — that you were important to her. And the truth of the matter was, she did — and you were."
I got to see those eyes and smiles first-hand and was able to feel that special connection she had with everyone. So, despite the sadness that comes to those left behind after such a loss, I am confident that Sister Okazaki is happy to be reunited with those whom she loves and with her Heavenly Father and Savior whom she so faithfully served.
At our gig tonight, Keith, the bass player, told me that he had something to give me. He pulled out of his bag a book titled Being Enough by Chieko Okazaki. He instructed me to open the front cover. There I found that the book contained a note addressed to me by name and signed by Chieko. I was so touched by the gift. We had all talked about Chieko as a band, and I had explained who she was to everyone. Keith had noticed how much I enjoyed interacting with her, so he purchased two of her books, and at one of the last gigs played at her residence - which I was not able to attend - he asked if she would sign one copy for his wife and one for me. She laughed and agreed to do so. She told him that she remembered me very well from the handful of times I had come to sing for them. She said she had enjoyed my singing and our talks and would love to write a note to me.
The note was written with a weakened hand, and the writing is a little difficult to see, but the message is clear and full of love:
"Aloha to a dear friend under the influence of our dear Lord, Jesus Christ. God be with you in being enough in His work. You did a great job. Aloha, Chieko Okazaki"
Keith had no idea when he asked Chieko to sign my book that it would be the last time he would see her. I believe this has to be one of Heavenly Father's "tender mercies". One of those little things that show us He is there and He loves us. One of those little things we may not realize are important at the moment, but make a difference. So, thank you, Keith, for responding to the promptings you received to do a kind, simple deed that allowed me to keep a connection with my friend whom I only got to know for a little while.
I am grateful for the opportunity I have to sing at retirement communities and care centers with The Mixed Nuts. I am blessed every time by kind men and women who lift me up with compliments, hugs, winks, applause, smiles, and thanks. Just tonight one woman told me I am a beautiful singer and, as she held my face in her hands, said I have a beautiful, glowing face. One man told me he can tell that I have the Spirit with me. And another woman beamed at me, held my hand, pulled me into a hug, and kissed my cheek. They tell me I have brought joy into their day with my singing, but the truth is they bring joy to me. Chieko Okazaki and all of the residents with whom I interact have made my life brighter. I am very blessed.
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