for those who need me
After Katsuya’s passing, Kyoko lost hold of herself. She couldn’t accept that the world moved on when her entire world had shattered, and the despair and emptiness consumed her. The days went by without Kyoko registering much (to Kyo, Kyoko would later on admit that she had almost no recollection of the time shortly after Katsuya’s death). Kyoko’s parents called her only to clarify that she shouldn’t even attempt to seek help from them with Tohru.
What hit Kyoko the most was the realization that nobody was truly needed in the world, and that nobody was irreplaceable to the world, seeing how things continued their course even without Katsuya.
But that’s so sad. What a lonely existence. That’s why humans need each other, and that must be why they look for each other. They want to need someone. They want to be needed by someone. We insist on finding that one person. To me, Katsuya was that someone. I needed him. Loved him. Finally, I had found him. Kyoko
Unable to accept life without Katsuya, Kyoko sought for a way to meet him again — by following him. For the first time in a while, she left the house, and there in the water, she saw Katsuya, smiling at her. Returning his smile, she was about to jump, but just in that moment, she heard a little girl call out to her mother. Kyoko snapped out of her stasis and remembered Tohru. What she couldn’t recall, however, was when they had last spoken, or when they had last eaten, only fleetingly remembering that Katsuya’s father had dropped by once in a while.
In panic, she ran back home, not knowing what would await her there. When she reached the door, a dozing Tohru woke up to greet her: “Welcome back.” — the very same words Kyoko thought she’d never hear again after Katsuya had passed away. To Kyoko, Tohru’s words and Tohru herself were nothing short of a miracle.
“I… I… Forgive me! Mum is back! Forgive me! I am so sorry! Mum is back! I am so sorry! I was gone for too long! Thank you so much for waiting.” Kyoko couldn’t do anything but keep begging for Tohru’s forgiveness, as no words were enough to express just how grateful she was, how inconceivable it was that Tohru had waited for her all this time without growing to despise her.
It’s always the same. I’m such an idiot. Every time, I have to lose my way before finding my answer. Kyoko
After that, as Kyoko later on told Kyo, she had some issues with the question of custody for a while, but Katsuya’s father helped out. Kyoko and Tohru also moved, and the stress kept her occupied, helping her get over Katsuya’s death — all the more so because Tohru was at her side through all of it. This ends the flashback from Kyo’s perspective. When he asked her whether she ever thought of seeing Katsuya again, Kyoko smiled peacefully: She had found her answer.
I’m afraid I’ve caused her a lot of sadness… But even so, she was there for me and supported me. Because of her, I can go on living. Even if the world doesn’t need me, I will live on for those who need me. Kyoko, Volume 21
There’s no way to whitewash it: Kyoko was an awful parent in the immediate time following Katsuya’s death. Not only did she severely neglect her daughter, she forgot her daughter even existed, and it didn’t occur to her until later that even with Katsuya gone, she still had someone for emotional support, someone she should have been strong for. The presentation of that chapter underlines that: Tohru was in the background, always, watching her mother without knowing what to say, but Kyoko didn’t — couldn’t — see her. Given how much Katsuya meant to Kyoko (not just as someone she loved or was married to), I understand, and I honestly don’t condemn her for her becoming catatonic — it’s not as if it was a choice. A person is a person, even with the responsibilities as a parent, and people have their weaknesses. Still, it doesn’t mean that it was “right”.
But Kyoko learned from that — again. Kyoko was someone who lost her way many times, but always got back up after learning her lesson. The Kyoko the reader had seen up to volume 16 is proof of that: There are numerous scenes of the time she spent together with Tohru, always affectionately snuggling with her, spending free time and holidays together, working hard to give Tohru as much as possible, sharing joy and sadness, supporting not just Tohru, but also her friendships, and teaching Tohru so many different things based on her own experiences, just as Katsuya said she would.
The Kyoko who had woken from the stasis went on to devote her entire life to her biggest treasure and what Katsuya had left her: Tohru, “the most precious girl in the world” — the one who had forgiven her in her greatest moment of weakness. Tohru became the center of Kyoko’s life, and I am sure that Kyoko became so much more of a doting mother (as pointed out by others) because that was just how much she appreciated and continued to appreciate Tohru.