An Unexpected Death

To: Crecente From: Bashcraft

Previously, my experience with how the Japanese deal with a loss has been limited to my wife's grandmother having a Buddhist priest with fat earlobes chant and bang on a wooden drum in commemoration of her husband's passing. I remember being cramped in her grandmother's tiny room, my legs aching from sitting. Looking up at the family shrine, there was a picture of my wife's grandfather. The low rhythmic hum of the priest chanting was offset with the steady beat of the wooden drum and the punctuation of a bell ringing.

And today, I saw that same Buddhist priest with the same fat earlobes and the same wooden drum and the same bell. Though, this time it wasn't for my wife's grandfather he was chanting, but her grandmother, who passed away less than 24 hours ago. Her grandmother was 84 years old. An 84 year-old woman passing away isn't that shocking. An 84 year-old woman who's recently made dinner plans with your family is. We were supposed to have dinner later this month.

Just got back from the Japanese equivalent of a wake. That priest chanting in that low, rich voice, beating out a steady rhythm on that wooden drum and occasionally ringing that bell. A mosquito buzzed around the room, landing on my son's head. There was a large altar of what looked like some sort of temple. In the centre there was a 50 inch Bravia TV on which her grandmother's image was displayed. As I previously mentioned, there was a mosquito, too. And when it landed on my son's cheek, I plucked it and smushed it between my fingers. There was blood.

The entire room in the funeral parlor smelled of heavy incense. Sure, I had only known my wife's grandmother for a couple years. We talked. She told me about the war, the incessant firebombs, having no food and searching in the rivers and hills for something to eat. There was less a cultural gap and more a generation gap. The country she grew up in had changed — for the better, she said. That chant bellowed low and deep with that rhythmic beats and bells and I sat there and cried and cried. Tomorrow is the actual funeral service, and tonight my father-in-law is sleeping at the funeral parlor as is the custom to be with the body. We kept him company, stuffing our faces with raw fish we got from take-out. There will be a lunch provided at the funeral parlor tomorrow. During the period the body is burned at the nearby crematorium.

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