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Live, Live, Live While We Have the Chance

May 17, 2013

Well, our trip to the U.S. is now little more than two weeks away. If you’d like to receive a fun postcard from us, during our travels, just head here for the details.

As I mentioned in that post, we haven’t been back to see my parents—my children’s grandparents—in five long years and I’m afraid the time we have left together in this life is now dwindling fast. Since the subject of family, and mortality, is now very much on my mind, I thought I would dip into my journal again and share an entry on this theme.

To read more entries from the personal journal I keep on my kids and their experiences, see…

Why Keeping a Journal on Your Kids is So Valuable
Give your kids a “precious peek” into their childhood, years from now, by keeping a regular journal on their young lives.

Funny Remarks from a Bilingual Kid
Record the memorable things your bilingual kids say, in both languages.

September 2, 2010 [Lulu was 6 years and 2 months; Roy was 3 years and 6 months]
Keiko’s grandmother died during the night of August 29. She was 97 and had vowed to live to the age of 100. Until a few months ago, she was in reasonably good health. But then she seemed to lose vigor, physically and emotionally, and went into decline after entering the hospital.

Oddly, it was the first funeral I ever attended in my life—I had never even been to a funeral in America.

The ceremony took place at a local funeral hall. It lasted about an hour, and consisted mainly of continuous chanting from three priests in their black robes. The final viewing of the grandmother’s body in her casket was quite moving, though. Flowers were snipped from the many floral arrangements decorating the front of the hall and we took turns laying these flowers by her body and saying goodbye. Roy had fallen asleep during the ceremony, and I was holding him in my arms, but little Lulu cried hard when she approached her great-grandmother to offer a flower. The children loved the old woman very much. She was a sweet and gentle soul who always greeted them with a smile and enjoyed playing with them. I’m so glad they had a chance to know her.

After the funeral, her body was taken to the crematory and burned. An hour and a half later, there were only broken bones and ash. As Japanese tradition dictates, we took turns picking up the pieces of bone with large chopsticks and placed them, scraping and rattling, into the urn.

In a strange way, the experience rejuvenated my feelings for life and made me wish I had attended a funeral long before. I now feel: Since the end is so clear—at least the end of this particular life, where we all will turn to bones and ash—I see keenly that I must live, live, live while I have the chance.

When we were driving home that evening, Lulu fell asleep in the car but Roy and I became engaged in a conversation about his great-grandmother and death. Although it’s hard to explain such things to a three-year-old—especially since it’s all a big mystery to adults as well—I did my best to suggest that, though her body may no longer be with us, she’s still somehow present, “invisible” to our eyes. I think, for Roy, it was the first time it dawned on him that the people in his life, and he himself, will eventually vanish like his great-grandmother, that death means the disappearance of the body.

“I don’t want to be invisible,” he said in a small voice.

Not wishing to die, to become “invisible,” is a natural feeling, it seems, but the important thing is acceptance, not resistance, living life as fully as possible while blessed with the opportunity, then heading into the unknown of one’s death with trust and faith in the ultimate safety and security of the larger mystery of existence.

Want to continue this philosophical mood? See Thoughts on Death and Life and the Bilingual Child.

How about you? Have you tried to explain a family member’s death to your own children? What did you say?

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