I have never really had to deal with death up close. I remember when my grandparents died, but they were elderly and went quickly. I’ve never had to see someone slowly die from cancer or another ailment that slowly drains a person’s life force. I Wish I Could Say "Thank You" follows the last year of Yukari Takinami’s mother’s life. The story is an honest retelling of the author’s experience of losing her mother to pancreatic cancer. The story is raw and probably the most realistic story of cancer that I’ve read. It doesn’t glamorize it, the writer doesn’t rewrite her mother to make her sound like a saint and there isn’t an epic death. It is a truthful interpretation of how cancer can impact not only the person suffering from it, but also the loved ones who take care of them.
The story starts in the year of 2016, two years after Yukari’s mother’s diagnosis. It’s been a year since her mother’s death, and she still sees people everyday that remind her of her mother. One woman looks a bit like her, another dresses as fashionably as she did. She then begins to reflect on the day in 2014 that she got a call from her sister that her mother was sick. Pancreatic cancer, stage four, no cure. Her mother was dying and much sooner than any of them were expecting. The story then goes on to detail all of the changes that quickly needed to happen in order to help improve her mother’s standard of living. First, she moved in with the author’s sister, Nao, who was a nurse and could help her get to her doctor’s appointments. The author then had to start planning trips to visit her mother, clean out her house and start to prepare for life after her mother’s death. The story highlights how Yukari and Nao’s mother changes because of the cancer, mainly in looks and, in a lot of ways, temperament. Her mother was always a fierce, fair woman with a passion for gossip. She was loud, often honest to a fault and very fashionable. The cancer causes her to lose weight, changing her appearance drastically, she starts to become more closed off and is tired a lot more. Of course, she is still loud and isn’t afraid to tell people what she thinks, all the way to the end of her life.
The narration does go back and forth at times between the two sisters, showing their two different experiences when it comes to their mother’s ailing life. We get to see the point of view of the caregiver and that of the worried loved one. The stress on both women is clearly illustrated among the pages and how they deal with it in different ways. In Nao’s case, it’s just escaping her life for a short time by visiting an arcade and Yukari seeks out different types of therapies to feel spiritually closer to her mother while being so far away. We also get to see the struggles of taking care of someone who doesn’t really want to be taken care of. It’s intense at times, but the author did a good job illustrating the struggles that are faced when helping an ailing parent.
One of the interesting artistic choices that the author made to highlight who the story was really about, was the different character designs. For the most part everyone isn’t super detailed, something common in a lot of other manga. The only exception in this is the author’s mother. What was constantly catching my attention was how she drew the eyes. They were so very life-like and detailed, even more so than anything else in the story. As she got sicker and more frail-looking, her eyes didn’t really change until right before she died. It was a smart choice by the author, showing that while he was changing physically, she was still the same person. We also see that as the story progresses, her mother starts to look more weathered and her clothing choices start to be more covered up because of the change in her body heat. I used to work at a nursing home when I was in high school and I remember how cold all of the elderly would get, so that was one of the things that stood out to me in the manga. While the author’s mother was only 63 when she was diagnosed, her cancer was causing her to age much more rapidly. By the end of the story, she didn’t look like the same person from the beginning.
I was personally really moved by this story. There was a good progression to the story and change in all of the characters because of this experience. What really got me was at the end, after the mother had passed and everyone was attending her funeral, we got to see how everyone was coping. Yukari and Nao’s children are too young to really grasp what was going on; Nao’s son even asked if he gave his dead grandmother a bunch of Dragon Balls, if she would come back to life. We see how exhausted the two sisters are and the altered reality they had been living in during their mother’s final days and now having to go back to “normal life”. The last chapter focuses on how their lives continued after their mothers death, when it didn’t feel like it ever would when she was dying. There were new births, new jobs and connecting with new and old friends.
Overall, this book felt like the ultimate healing process. As someone who writes in order to move past trauma, I could relate with being able to express one’s loss through the use of art. I highly recommend this for anyone who has dealt with loss and feels alone in their grief. This book shows the troubles of dealing with death, but also how to get past it. As cheesy as it sounds, there really is always a light at the end of the tunnel.