Enough has happened since the last entry that I think I’ll go in reverse chronological order for this one as far back as I can remember.
Yesterday, the 19th, was the funeral for Hirata-Sensei, Misato-Sensei’s mother. I’d never been to a Japanese funeral. Thankfully, for my humanity, I felt it as an experience rather than as another anthropological event. I was a bit human. I was thankful for at least that, though I’d prefer Hirata-Sensei were still alive.
The funeral was held at a home next to Tomoko’s favorite pachinko parlor and the Family Mart where she used to work. It’s near the culture center and that one restaurant whose elderly, barely mobile, owners make me think I should eat there just to keep their place open. We arrived in a white, antiseptic looking, room. Redeeming it was a beautiful display of flowers spiraling in the front. There were floral decorations along the sides, and pieces of calligraphy that, I believe, stated some of the highlights of Hirata’s life. Turning into the left, there was a place to drop off our funeral envelopes of money and to pick up our gifts. Kyoko met me there later, but our other classmate, whose name is super cool and starts with N but whose specifics escape me, was there when I arrived. I got there early, wearing my black three piece that quite obviously doesn’t fit. I wore a dark tie, but it ought to have been black. There was no time to go and grab one, though. The Buddhist priest chanted several times. It seems that it was another summary of her life, though there was probably a religious element that I didn’t understand. She was eulogized by her son and her grandson. Most of the group was her family, I think that it was only her three grand-students who were there other than because of blood or marriage. There was a lot of waving and moving around of small leaved branches with white paper tied around. The most moving part, though, was the casket.
I’d been tearing up a bit, but I hadn’t really lost myself. I’d known Hirata for a year, but we had never been close. I first really started to honestly cry when her grandson spoke. I understood, really understood, that the ceremony was for the living, not for the dead. I could see how much he had loved her, and I could see how important things were. I loved the ceremoniousness of it. I feel like, when people know what to do, they know how to mourn. And the strong feelings that everybody had were radiating and reverberating on the white walls of the funeral chapel. Then, they brought out the casket and opened it and we got to see her face. And she looked like she was sleeping. I’ve never really understood death. I’ve seen more of it than many, but only animals. With a shredded bit of meat, death is understandable. But when there’s just . . . somebody or something in tact there. Looking like it could sit up . . . it just baffles me. I can’t understand it. The funeral director wheeled out a table full of flowers, and we put them in the casket. We filled the whole thing with flowers, and it was just so beautiful. All of us put a hand on the lid to lower it on, at the end, and I do not know if anyone was dry eyed. I couldn’t see through my own tears.
Then it was time to load the body into the hearse, and we got on a bus and went to the crematorium. Kyoko informed me, at that point, that I could leave if I wanted to, but I didn’t want to. To be honest, I wasn’t sure that I should be there, and I was hesitant to go. I had a lot to do, but I wanted to support the family. Still, I wasn’t sure if my presence was really . . . helpful. I think it came across as me not wanting to be there. Of course there are places I’d rather be than funerals, but most of it was just uncertainty that I’d be part of the healing and not just . . . baggage. Like usual. But when it was clear that me being there meant something to Misato and to everybody else, I knew I had to stay. I wanted to stay. I wanted to say goodbye.
The bus arrived, and we had another brief ceremony. I’d walked by the place before but not known what it was. It’s near the place where I get my hair cut. Then, they wheeled the casket to the actual booth. It looked like a lobby with a series of low elevators. Or dumbwaiters. Her son turned the key and we heard the incineration begin. It was a strange and evocative sound. I’ve not heard its like before and I don’t want to hear its like again. Then, we returned to the funeral chapel, and we had lunch. I didn’t feel much like eating. However, there were too many noodles, and so I ended up eating three small helpings of noodles so that they wouldn’t go to waste. Then, the family was returning to the crematorium, presumably to pick up the urn, but the other students were leaving, and I thought I’d do likewise.
The meal was more similar to what I’m used to. There were family moments, memories were shared, mundane chit chat and catching up ensued. I got the business card of a guy who works for NHK. Maybe this funeral will mean that I can get that TV program I dream of making. I felt bad networking at a funeral, but . . . I don’t know. There’s nothing I can say about it that won’t sound flippant or like I’m making excuses. I’m conflicted about having done so. But I did it. I hope it goes well.
I wrote a haiku, probably my finest, on the way to the crematorium. I can’t remember it. I’ll have to try to rewrite it. I felt, for the first time, that doing such a thing wasn’t completely disrespectful. I’d never understood mourning art. I still felt conflicted, working on this, and I’m a bit worried that I’m just copying The Tale of Genji. Yet it felt more sincere than I’d imagined that I could.. I’ll describe the scene that inspired it.
The bus drove through the hills. It’s autumn, and the rice is ripe and the higanbana are blooming. Those are the red spider amaryllis plants that are associated with death and funerals. The rice stalks hung heavily, all seeming to face the bus as we drove. As though they were bowing to us or mourning with us. The sky was heavy and gray. A typhoon was coming. It hit last night. You could feel it in the air, and you could see it, but some sun still made it through the clouds, bathing everything in a strange reflective gray light. It was a perfect day for a funeral, if such things exist. I was not sure if I should be appreciating its beauty, but I did.
I’m never sure what to feel or how to feel or what to do. I was told over and over in all of this to follow my heart. I’ve not known what that piece of me wanted in a very long time.