This is from the letter I wrote to my family and friends eighteen months ago, in September, 2012, shortly after my husband of 21 years passed away.
Dear Friends and Family.
Many of you already have heard the sad news. After being sick with pancreatic cancer for nearly three years, Shinko passed away on September 9. He was 63.
Shinko was many things to me; husband, best friend, travel partner. But he was also my hero. Shinko loved helping others. Maybe you remember a time he gave you a hand. I saw him do this so often.
One time, when we were in a very remote anchorage in the Tuamotus, in French Polynesia, the owner of a small resort had a generator he couldn’t get working. Shinko arrived with spare parts and tools in hand and they were quickly able to solve the problem.
Shinko and me in 1999 in Faka Rava, Tuomotus, French Polynesia
Recently, there was a collision at the intersection in front of our house, between a bicycle and a car. Shinko called 911, then ran out with a pillow and tried to make the bicyclist more comfortable while they waited for the medics to arrive. As she was taken away in the aid car with a shattered elbow, he reassured her that her bike would be safe with him until she could retrieve it. The next day, he took the bike to the shop to get the tire replaced and, when he discovered the wheel was also damaged, he bought a new one. Of course, he also detailed the bike while he was at it.
But the thing he liked best was helping people in disaster situations. He started with the American Red Cross in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina roared ashore in New Orleans. He went out three times for Katrina; the last one for the whole month of December when he delivered meals in the infamous Ninth Ward. Shinko and his crew drove their emergency relief vehicle, or ERV, through the neighborhood each day, delivering a hot meal and much needed bottled water to the residents who didn’t or couldn’t leave when the hurricane struck. There was an elderly couple on the route, living in their house without power, who Shinko checked on each day, carrying the food to their door.
Many hurricanes and floods followed, and Shinko developed lasting friendships along the way. He became a logistics engineer. Eventually, he was invited to join the International Committee of the Red Cross and he was deployed to Africa where he fell in love with the land and the people. He also joined Medicins Sans Frontiers (Doctors without Borders). With these two groups, he travelled to Moldova to work on an AIDs hospital, to Nigeria to deliver cholera vaccines, to Senegal to provide shelter during a flood, and to Ethiopia on a child feeding program, where his heart was broken watching starving babies die in their mother’s arms.
I think the most disappointing thing for Shinko, about getting cancer, was that he was no longer able to go on deployments.
Shinko fought the cancer for nearly three years, far outliving the doctor’s expectations. Although he could no longer go out on deployments, we continued to travel; plane trips to Spain, Morocco, Mexico, France, Japan, California; car trips to Eureka, Walla Walla, Willamette Valley, Missoula, Yakima, Mazama, Orcas Island, Vancouver.
Shinko faced his cancer with humor and a positive attitude. He never complained or felt sorry for himself; rather he often told me how lucky he was. He felt blessed to live in America where there is clean water to drink, where no one starves to death, and where health care is readily available. He left this world with grace and dignity, the way that he lived.
I will miss my companion, the love of my life, but I will always be proud of the selfless work he did to help others in need.
If you would like to make a contribution to a cause that Shinko supported, please donate to First Place School http://firstplaceschool.org/.
Love to you all.