A mother’s tribute to her son

The late Aya Nakano was compassionate and loving son

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It has been two weeks. Even as we held funeral services and memorials for you, I still can’t believe that you’re gone, anak. I keep looking at the door, hoping that at any given moment you’d walk right in and ask me, “What’s for dinner, Mom?” Then you’d put your arms around me and ask me, “What’s up, Mom?” with that big smile on your face. I miss that big smile that melts my heart, that loud infectious laugh that makes me want to laugh along with you. I miss our little trips to the grocery store, to Target, to Best Buy, to anywhere I ask you to tag along with me even if you knew I went to some of these places to window shop or scour for bargains. It didn’t matter if you thought it was a complete waste of time; you tagged along with me anyway. You’d tease me about these stores as being my new “hang-out places.” You’d tease me about a lot of things: about being embarrassingly technologically incompetent, for instance. How behind I was with the rest of the world. Yet you bought me an iPhone for Christmas and surprised me with a MacBook Air for my graduation. That is the kind of person you are — warm, generous, big-hearted. Even as you teased me, it was never mean-spirited. You did it to make me laugh, besides pointing out the obvious.

I remember when you were barely three years old, the song “End of the Road” was playing on the radio, and you asked me why the singers were so sad.  You didn’t understand the lyrics to the song, and yet, you instinctively knew it was a song about a personal loss. You see, it was because you had a great sense of empathy and compassion that made you feel and understand the crux of the song even as one so young. So I am not all surprised that you grew up to be such a compassionate, understanding and forgiving young man. And I am so proud of you, Aya. So. Very. Proud.  When I was unwell and was going through very difficult times, you told me, “You’re gonna be fine, Mom. I got your back.” I am quite certain you were affected by my health and financial circumstances, but you never showed it. Not a word of complaint and nary a sign of resentment. You endured it all — so much more than any adult could or would want to bear. And you were just a child then. So you see, you are perfect in every way, Aya.

Just. Perfect.

I didn’t realize you listened to my daily sermon about school and life in general, because you’d pretend to be taking a nap during each rant. I would always tell you the importance of school, of getting a degree.  I would always say you can do anything you want after you get your college degree but to always do your best in every endeavor you choose to undertake. You did listen. You were the best partier up in Oregon while in college. Even as I worry about your partying ways like any parent would, I knew I had to let you experience what college was about and everything that it entails. You met and made a lot of friends in the process, all of whom experienced firsthand what an amazingly wonderful, giving and loving person you are. Every person you met had a story about how funny, helpful and loyal you are, Aya. You had this amazing gift of making every person you meet instantly comfortable. And even as you partied, you dutifully fulfilled your promise to earn a college degree.

As proud as I am of your earning a degree, it doesn’t even come close to how proud I am of you as a person, Aya. How proud I am of how you lived your life. You chose to live it with laughter, with love. You chose to share your light to anyone who was open and willing to enjoy the simple things in life with you. Laughter — it doesn’t cost anything. Anyone can laugh for as long as they’re open to it — open to the silly, the trivial, the seemingly mundane. You taught us that. You loved watching reruns of SNL and Will Ferrell, Chris Rock, Chris Farley, Adam Sandler and Judd Apatow movies. You even introduced me to the Dave Chapelle Show.  How you loved to laugh, Aya … how you loved to laugh.

Love: This you gave freely and openly to anyone willing to be your friend. And how you loved unconditionally — both family and friends. You loved me even as I faltered, disappointed, nagged — and for that I am eternally grateful. Forever blessed. There were so many things I wanted to say at the funeral but couldn’t because I was still trying to understand what just happened to you. I still don’t and can’t.  But remaining silent as I struggle to wrap my head around what just happened does you a great disservice. And you don’t deserve that. So I want everyone to know what a perfect son you were, Aya. Beyond the great big smile was a great big heart whose capacity to love is greater than any bullet or hate can destroy. You lived life to the fullest and loved deeply, Aya. This legacy will be carried on by the countless many you left behind, the countless many whose lives are forever changed because of you. No bullet can ever take that away. Not. Ever.

I thought holding your funeral was the most difficult thing I have ever done, Aya. No mother should ever have to bury her child. But I was wrong. Living life without my smile and hugs is even harder. You were my smile and hugs, Aya. You are my Bunny Aya. You are my greatest blessing, my greatest love. But I will manage somehow. That is your legacy, Aya.  I will honor that. I will manage to laugh someday. Hard. Love? I will always have that. The overwhelming love and support I received from your friends, their respective families and even strangers has helped me through these harrowing times. I felt your hugs from every friend of yours who came up to me. And our family is stronger because of you. This is entirely your doing. This is because everyone loves you, Aya.


Love and laughter. That is your legacy, Aya. As profoundly painful as it is to love and laugh without you physically by my side, I choose to do so. That is the lesson you’ve taught me, anak. Thank you for the life lessons. Thank you for loving me, anak. Thank you for the best 23 years of my life. Thank you for your hugs and kisses. Thank you for enduring it all.  Thank you for watching the Warriors game with me. Thank you for taking me the movies. Thank you for standing in line with me on a Black Friday. Thank you for patiently explaining to me what “cap” means in basketball terms and how that affects the team. Thank you for explaining to me it wasn’t Tim Duncan’s fault his wife is divorcing him.  Thank you for sharing your excitement about Steph Curry with me. Thank you for letting me see you jump up and down upon seeing Kent Bazemore at Target. Thank you for letting me watch X-Men cartoons with you when you were little. Thank you for being so understanding. Thank you for being so forgiving. Thank you for the honor of being called your mom. Thank you for being you, Aya.

I love you very much, anak. My pride. My joy. My love. I miss you so much it hurts.

Until we see, hug and kiss each other again, my Bunny, Bunny Aya.

Love always,


Maria Climaco is the mother of Aya Nakano, a University of Oregon alum who was killed on his way home to Emeryville after playing basketball at the campus Recreational Sports Facility.

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