In Tough Times, Ohana Is There

Susan Page
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Wednesday - May 13, 2009
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My son Kyle just got married. The wedding was held in Kailua on the same beach from which he and his best pals all too frequently launched out to Flat Island to surf instead of attending school.

Dear friends Terrye and Robin donated their vast lush lawn for the ceremony that took place on a gentle gradient between two tall coconut palms. The backdrop was Kailua Bay’s astonishing blue water linking Mokapu point on the left to the “Mokes” (Mokulua Islands) on the right - one exquisite natural church.

As the sun began to ease behind the Koolaus as if on cue, the group Kamahao softly sang Hawaiian songs, the rhythm of a waxing surf adding backup. I watched Kyle, now front and center, spot Jenn, his beautiful bride-to-be, appear just beyond the last row of seating. His face said it all. And that would be when the groom’s mother could-n’t squelch the tears despite a potential mascara crisis. So many emotions over 34 years of parenting through good and bad times.

But also, I thought of those who’d sacrificed to come.

Weddings bring family and friends together like no other occasion (except maybe funerals). But times are tough. Travel to Hawaii is expensive. Yet despite the economy, more than 60 people traveled vast distances, saying something about being near loved ones when times are tough. As Lee Iacocca, 1980s Chrysler CEO and savior, said of family, it is “the only rock ... that stays steady.” I’d add “friends” to that quote.

Our cousin Carol and her husband Mark from Austin, Texas, have been like sister and brother to Kyle since he moved to south Texas. They made the long trip to the wedding despite hard circumstances. Since last summer’s layoff, Carol hasn’t found a job. In December, Mark lost his job as a software designer. Then, two weeks later, he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), often referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease. They have two teenagers - a son headed to college and a daughter in her junior year of high school.

Mark, 50, a superior athlete, was told by doctors to get his affairs in order, they could-n’t do anything for him. He would have two to five years. Almost as much as he is about the effects of the neuromuscular disease, Mark is concerned about how he will support his wife and children. They still came to the wedding.

Mental health experts say that when people are jobless, they need friends and family to help keep things in perspective, to let them know that they’re not just “the job,” but individuals. We tried to encourage in that way.

“The biggest thing I have learned from all this is how much I am loved,” Mark marveled. “I never knew how much the family cared, but they’ve all come through like champs.”

My nephew Clay, one of the groomsmen, has been job-hunting since last spring’s layoff. He almost canceled because of obvious financial and emotional stresses, but his mom (my sis) insisted. Being around family has bolstered his spirits to press forward.

Other attendees traveling from afar are also jobless or are in industries heavily hit economically, but none of those facing challenges got drunk, cried “poor me” or moped dejectedly. Rather they laughed a lot and basked in the supportive love of us all.

The unemployment rate now tops 8 percent with nearly 5.5 million Americans out of work. An AP poll last month found seven out of every 10 Americans have a friend or relative who’s lost a job recently.

Here in Hawaii, ohana is the glue that holds us together. If you’re jobless and think you can’t go to that wedding or reunion, go. Ohana will embrace you. And, remember, one day your ohana may need you, too.

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