For mother-daughter pair Diana Ono and Megan Ono, caring for others is a role and a purpose that has been passed down in their family for generations.
They are caregivers to Diana’s parents, Tatsuo and Tomiko Ando (aka ‘Jichan’ and ‘Bachan’). Tatsuo and Tomiko each experienced serious injuries from falls in 2020, and at the time of this interview, the two were almost ready to return from rehabilitation at a local board and care home. Well before that, however, the Onos were caring for the grandparents—particularly Tomiko, who has dementia. The Ono family were also caregivers for Megan’s paternal grandmother, Dorothy Ono (aka ’Grandma Ono’), before she passed away at age 98 in March 2020.
Diana shared that she and Megan inherited this legacy of caregiving from Megan’s grandparents. Their large extended family, close to 50 people, cherish a tradition of family taking care of each other and is what keeps them together strong. She explained, “My mom [Tomiko Ito Ando] took care of my grandparents Mine and Gonsaku Ito back in the 1980’s, I am now taking care of my parents, and in 20 years, Megan might have to take care of me! I think because of our close-knit extended Ito family’s culture of respect and honoring our elders, it’s just something natural.”
Old Stories With the New Generation
Before Dorothy passed away, Diana and Megan’s family would visit her every Friday evening. These nights would be filled with activities: The family cooked dinner, Dorothy baked her famous desserts, and she was delighted to be the star of Megan’s home videos.
“I think the most important thing was that we talked to her and listened to her stories as we flipped through old family photo albums,” Diana said. “It got her to think about her history, and we really got to know things about her life and the family.” Megan agreed, adding that during these conversations, she was able to ask her grandma about her camp experience from World War II. This was new for the family, as Dorothy had not opened up to her children about the camps before. “I think it was because my generation was interested,” Megan explained. “I would tell her things like, ‘Grandma, I told your story in my class and people were so impressed!’ We would let her know her history is appreciated and that we learned from it.”
Support From Iyashi Care
In speaking about the falls that Tatsuo and Tomiko experienced in 2020, Diana said that Keiro’s Iyashi Care program was a great help to her and her relatives. “Iyashi Care really was a difference for our family,” she said. “It didn’t just help my parents but my siblings and I as caregivers as well.”
When Diana’s father fell in April 2020, he fractured his back and had difficulty adjusting to his limited mobility and not being able to do his normal hobbies in the months afterwards. He also was unable to work and was forced into early retirement from his own company. Diana said, “My dad speaks English, but he’s Japan-born, and his real feelings come out when he speaks Japanese. When Dr. Yanami or Kanako came, they were able to ask him questions in Japanese and tell him things like, ‘It’s OK to be depressed.’ That really helped our family figure out a plan.”
The team provided similar support with Tomiko after her fall, helping coordinate medications and find a care home for her and Tatsuo. Even with the two grandparents under rehabilitative care, the family still receives calls from the Iyashi Care team at least once a month for a check-in.
Caregiving With Purpose
Diana and Megan highlighted how they try to give a sense of purpose through their caregiving interactions. Megan has “tea ceremony parties” with Tomiko, serving manju from Fugetsu-Do and using her grandparents’ tea set. She said, “Bachan would serve me and I would serve her, and even though she has dementia, the practice is so deeply ingrained in her cultural upbringing that I think those memories came back to her.”
The family likes to spend time in the kitchen with Tatsuo, whose hobby is cooking Japanese food, especially sushi, is able to pass down his cooking knowledge to his children and grandchildren. Megan commented, “Food is that universal language, no matter what generation. I would chop onions and things, and Jichan would direct us. I think that gives him a sense of purpose, that he’s teaching us. And we want to learn!”
Embracing a Future of Care
Diana added how Keiro has helped their family along their caregiving journey. The family and Keiro’s history goes back all the way to the 80’s when Gonsaku Ito spent his last years at the former Keiro Nursing Home in Lincoln Heights. Since then, the family benefited from various services and programs Keiro has provided over the years. She shared about the importance of being prepared for the role of caregiving before stepping into it, as well as having a solid support system and doing self-care, which she learned through attending Keiro’s Caregiver Conferences in the past. She also feels that Virtual Keiro Forums and community events are helpful. And now, those lessons will be passed down to Megan.
Having been included in the various caregiving conversations between Diana and Diana’s siblings, Megan said she feels well prepared for the time when she might become a caregiver to her own parents. “I think I have a really good template to use if and when that time should come,” she said. “I know the kinds of questions to ask, and I know to be proactive in my planning.”
Looking towards a future of continued caregiving, Megan shared some of her thoughts about the kind of legacy of care she wants to pass on. She said, “The non-tangible things are the main things. Understanding the struggle that all of my grandparents went through with the war and the camps, embodying Grandma’s values of kindness and empathy and compassion, that kind of intergenerational wisdom I embrace. That’s where I feel like my grandma is never gone, because those values live on through my mom and me, and will eventually live on through my children and my niece. To know that those lessons and stories and all the history—the good, bad, and ugly—have made us stronger as a family, that’s really what makes me happy and hopeful.”