Local astronaut's eulogy from orbit: 'We lost mom in the prime of her life'

 

By Catherine Edman | Daily Herald Staff

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Whether flying down a slide with astronaut son Dan Tani's daughter Keiko or whitewater rafting, 90-year-old Rose Tani taught everyone around her to savor life.

"She was fully involved," Dan said in a message taped aboard the International Space Station that was played Sunday at his mother's memorial service.

Rose Tani died Wednesday when she drove her car around a school bus stopped at a Lombard rail crossing. It put her directly into the path of an oncoming freight train unable to stop in time to avoid her. The sheer impatience of the act was difficult to fathom for those who knew her, a meticulous, thoughtful woman.

"At age 90, I think we lost mom in the prime of her life," said her son in an unprecedented, and heart-wrenching, message from the first U.S. astronaut to suffer such a loss while in orbit.

But the memories of the vigorous, feisty, joyous, generous and gracious woman shared by her four children at the service showed a life lived fully -- and without regret.

Except perhaps, Dan joked, that the frugal shopper may have left behind unused groceries.

"I'm sure one of the things that's bugging her is she just bought a half gallon of milk," he said, eliciting chuckles from a jam-packed First Church of Lombard United Church of Christ that was otherwise somber.

NASA officials offered to try to hook up a live video or teleconference so Dan could participate in the afternoon service as it happened, but he and his siblings opted for the video message instead. The entire service was filmed and will be sent to him at the space station.

Though he was scheduled to return to Earth last week aboard the shuttle Atlantis, problems with sensors in its fuel tank aborted that launch twice. The earliest he could return now is sometime in January.

His mother's memorial service drew hundreds of people who filled the church pews a full 30 minutes before the service began, and the line to offer condolences to the family wound through the building more than an hour after its end.

That's a reflection of how much the diminutive daughter of Japanese immigrants was beloved at the church she attended for four decades and where she volunteered regularly.

Her son Steve recalled how his mother had no hesitation about getting down on the floor to play at the level of her grandchildren.

"Being part of her grandchildren's lives was her higher priority," he said. "Each of them, each of us, would grow up knowing we were special."

"I think that was one of the most special aspects of my mother," he added.

Then there was her unflagging independence.

Her eldest son, Dick, who spent the first few years of his life with his parents in a Japanese internment camp, recalled the time his mother called and asked for help trimming a tree.

He dutifully hopped in his car, drove over to her Lombard house and found a 6-foot-tall ladder already propped under the tree in question. Rose grabbed the tree-trimming tool, then told her son, "now you hold the ladder," he recalled.

And when it came to her daughter, the woman raised in a traditional conservative Japanese family chose a different path. While Rose Tani was severely restricted in terms of what she could say in front of her parents and elders, she vowed her own daughter would live differently.

"She wanted more for her daughter than she was allowed herself," Christine Tani said.

She even joked that during her teenage years, her mother may have wished many times she made a different parenting decision.

Rose Tani's husband died in 1965, leaving her with two children in college, two in high school and 4-year-old Dan.

Christine said people often ask her if she's proud of her baby brother, the famous astronaut.

"Yes, we are," she said. "But we're more proud of our mother because she raised him by herself."

 

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