“But that’s how life is, Yuriko-chan. In our lives we must experience both beginnings as well as endings. It is like the season changing after the last cherry blossom falls.”
This quote is from my MG historical fiction, The Last Cherry Blossom (Sky Pony Press), based on events in my mother’s life in Hiroshima during WWII and surviving the atomic bombing at 12-years-old. Yuriko’s (main character) Papa expressed the above sentiment to her, and it’s one of the reasons I chose my title. I thought of cherry blossoms scattering as they fall from branches. At first glance, one may think the beauty of the blossoms is lost, yet it’s just as lovely watching the fallen blossoms glide along with the river current or strewn along a walking path.
In the final chapter of The Last Cherry Blossom, Yuriko moves to Tokyo with a relative she barely knows (No spoilers, in case you haven’t read it yet) and must start a new life after the atomic bomb took away all that she knew or ever wanted. At that time, she wondered how she’d survive all these changes, never mind thinking something good could come from it all (I’m writing about how my mother dealt with these feelings in my current WIP) 😊. Yet, those horrific events eventually led her to meeting/marrying my father, moving to the U.S., and having me.
Interestingly, if I hadn’t been hospitalized for over a month from a near fatal blood clot, my Mom may not have shared her August 6th memories with me. The blood clot caused nerve damage and I spent months learning how to use my left leg again after being diagnosed with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome(CRPS). CRPS is a neurological pain disorder in which the autoimmune system attacks itself along with the sympathetic nervous system. Physicians have said it’s possibly a result of the radiation my mom was exposed to, which weakened my immune system.
After my hospitalization, I needed help to care for myself and my then 4-year-old daughter while my husband worked during the day. My parents helped me with that. During that time, my mother began revealing what happened on August 6th. A momentous occasion because she hadn’t discussed her experience of the atomic bombing with anyone. In fact, I was nine-years-old when she first told me she was born in Hiroshima, not Tokyo. And when she told me, it was still too painful to discuss it further. She also asked me not to tell anyone. Twenty-two years later, she released these painful, horrific memories with each passing day of my recovery.
At first, I had thought it was cathartic for her to finally be able to say it out loud, cry, be angry and unburden all that simmered within her for over 40 years. I’m a fixer by nature and felt that I could be useful again by being there for her. But as the days turned to weeks and another hospitalization, I sank deeper into depression because CRPS took away the person I used to be. However, my mother helped me to realize that even though she thought of giving up, she was grateful that she didn’t because she had me and a granddaughter she loved more than anything else in the world. She showed me that despite the tragic events, something wonderful can also happen. She opened her heart to me and by doing that, she opened my path to rediscovering writing. I realized that if my mother had the courage and strength to survive after August 6th, then I could create through my own pain and loss.
I expressed my heart-felt appreciation to her 8 years later when I began writing The Last Cherry Blossom. After reading one of the drafts, she told me that she finally understood why she survived. She couldn’t or didn’t know how to tell her story, but I could do that for her, for her Papa-for my Japanese family. I’m grateful we could give each other the gift of seeing the beauty in life’s changes as when the last cherry blossom falls.
~ Kathleen Burkinshaw
Kathleen Burkinshaw is a Japanese American author residing in Charlotte, NC. She’s a wife, mom to a daughter in college, and owns a dog who is a kitchen ninja. She has presented her mother’s experience in Hiroshima to middle and high schools for the past 8 years. Writing historical fiction also satisfies her obsessive love of researching anything and everything. The Last Cherry Blossom, is recently nominated for the NC School Library Media Assoc. YA Book Award,a SCBWI Crystal Kite Award Finalist (southeast region), 2016 & 2018 Scholastic WNDB Reading Club selection, nominated for both the 2018 NC Sir Walter Raleigh Fiction Award and the 2018 Sakura Medal in Japan.