A Farewell to Sensei

I looked up and down the boards, hoping that something would call to me. I had very little job experience, but I knew that I needed something more stable, more fulfilling to do, while I continued my studies. I wanted something different, something that would teach me valuable skills and obviously, something that helped pay the bills.

A few boards in, something small caught me. Right in the middle of it all – yet it seemed to ask for someone just like me. Part-student, minimum 15 hours weekly, exceptional writing skills, excellent communication, good people skills, preferred Japanese speaking, or at the very least, someone who is currently learning. I took a copy of the job posting and decided to apply.

While I didn’t exactly bomb the interview, I definitely didn’t show my best skills. Yet, somehow there was a good feeling about the office, the doctor, and her staff. I had no prior experience with Chiropractors or Eastern Medicine, and yet, it still seemed like a good fit. Luckily for me, they felt the same.

Just like that, within my first few months of being a college student, I started working as *Sensei’s assistant. What I thought was going to be a short-term job, ending up being one that supported myself and my family for nearly 5 years. It became a foundation for many of the skills that I utilize today.

Even from those beginning months, I admired Sensei. She was a well-educated woman, and had built the business on her own. She was well-known and highly respected. She was stern and straight-forward, but there was never any doubt in her dedication to her patients. She worked long days, and tried to accommodate all who sought her care. She was an expert in her craft, and in the later years of my employment, was seeking a way to teach the next generation of healers.

She never faltered in her trust and kindness towards me. She had her own way of showing she cared. Once, she had asked me to house-sit while she was on vacation. She wanted to ensure that I was well-taken care of, so she stocked the pantry and fridge with all the foods that I liked. Anytime she went to Costco or a favorite Sushi restaurant, she would bring back something for me, remembering that as a student, those things were a luxury. She treated me with care in the various ailments I suffered through during my employment, never once asking for payment (believe me, I tried).

Towards the end of my college career, I had the opportunity to work in Japan for a few months. She and her office manager reassured that my job would be waiting for me when I got back. She even made arrangements for her family to take me on a special trip while I was in Japan. Even today, that trip is one of the most memorable out of all of my travels. The few days before I left, the office manager pulled me aside and put a small envelope in my hands. She whispered that she and the doctor didn’t want me to worry, and it would help me in the first week or so. The envelope contained cash. It wasn’t so much the amount itself, it was more so about the gesture. I never said it outright, but it felt like like a family was looking out for me.

After I had graduated college, I stayed on for a few more months up until I found my first post-university job. I remember the last day of employment, feeling strange and unsure. My family was going through a difficult time, as such, I needed a stable income and environment. Working for Sensei gave me the stability I needed. They were supportive as well, which I feared would be hard to build in a new place. How could I leave something that was such a big part of my life?

In the years following, we slowly lost touch. We met a few efforts to check in, and we met once. I visited her office as a patient a few times, but eventually, the visits stopped. A number of years ago, I had a dream about her, and it prompted me to try to contact her. She answered the phone in a weary voice, surprised, but happy to hear from me. I told her I had a feeling that I should call her, and she told me that sometimes, the universe just calls out to us – the dream I had was right. Something was wrong – she was ill.

She battled her illness for some time, and eventually, I received notice that her practice was closing. I tried to contact her, but by that time, the individuals who were answering her calls didn’t want to put me in contact. I gave up, and didn’t think about her for quite some time.

A few months ago, I randomly began to think of her. What had become of Sensei? How was her health? Did she move back to Japan? I tried to find ways to contact her online – but gave up again because at a point, it felt a bit stalker-ish. I didn’t think that anything would come up again, so it would be best to give up.

Early last week, I felt something was wrong. It came up suddenly, and lingered for a bit. I felt that something bad was about to / or had happened, but couldn’t explain what it was. Then, as soon as it had come, it had disappeared. I had chalked it up to being stressed and tired, and later, had joked that it was because my husband had a little mishap while on the road (nothing serious).

Today, I received a text from a friend who had heard of Sensei’s recent passing. I was in shock. It wasn’t that long ago that I was looking for her. Nothing could have prepared me for that update. I imagined her voice again, telling me that the universe had come together to let me know, preparing me to hear something that I didn’t want to. Only then that I recall that terrible feeling from last week. Perhaps it was her, perhaps not. In the end, it means that I can never tell her what that time in my life meant to me.

Being that tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and we take the time to be grateful for what we have and for those around us, I wanted to honor the time that I knew Sensei. Working for her put me on a path that I never thought was possible. I learned quite a bit during my time with her, and I grew to be a responsible and reliable employee. I was exposed to a type of care that continues to help me today. I experienced many things that I would not have otherwise known. Above all, I was able to find a trusting and supportive friend and mentor. I will never forget the experience, and will always be thankful to her.

Because I didn’t get to say goodbye in person, I wanted to write this farewell to her. I don’t think she completely understood how many she’s helped, or what she meant to many people. She will definitely be missed, and I hope that wherever she is, she’s been reunited with her loved ones, and is at peace.

*We all called the doctor “Sensei”, which many will know as “teacher” in Japanese. It is also a honoric way to address a specialist, such as a doctor.

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