Thursday, July 15, 2010

A difference in customs

My summer is starting out pretty well. Mother is perky so far though according to the family this is unusual. Here she is in a dress I brought her from Japan and she does look lovely. Amazing how pointing a camera makes her stand up straight and smile. Things don't stick very long in her head though. I don't know HOW many tens of times she has asked me how Tetsu's mother's health is. And when I was telling her about the funeral arrangements for next week she wanted to know who's funeral... Which is only the main topic of the household these past couple weeks.

So... Funerals... Mourning... I see such a difference between America and Japan, though that's not to say one way is better than the other (though I do have my 'druthers.)

In Japan, a person passes on and within HOURS the body is transported home and laid to rest in the living room. All the relatives descend upon the home to discuss funeral arrangements and a neighborhood telephone chain goes into effect as soon as the funeral date is decided upon. Usually the wake is planned for that night or the next and the funeral itself rarely is scheduled beyond two or three days. That of course is because grandma or whoever is laying out on the living room floor surrounded in dry ice... Not a long lasting arrangement! Neighbors come to pay their respects and light incense at the altar and in the country area where I live the neighbors get involved in preparing food and decorations for the funeral.

Japan's mourning garb is black from head to foot. One of the first things I did when I got married was to buy a formal black dress with a jacket that can be used only for funerals... I've been wearing that dress for close to 30 years now! (However I didn't bring it to the States...)

A couple of weeks ago my very bright and cheerful friend from the pool lost her mother. After she'd been absent from the pool for a week I called her and was sad to hear of her loss. She said she was fine but wouldn't be back at the pool until the formal mourning period of 49 days was over. A week or so later when I was near my friend's apartment, I rang her again and asked if I could stop by... I thought it would be nice to bring her some flowers (though I'd never met the mother).

My friend was so happy that I made the time to visit her. I, on the other hand, was surprised to find her all dressed in black. Not the formal wear... funeral services were over... but black slacks, black shirt and sweater. And here I come bouncing in with my flower arrangement wearing a bright red paisley shirt! Another foreign faux pas I've made! (Also forgot the gift of money that is a Japanese custom.)

The funeral altar was laid out taking over most of the living room and the mother's picture and ashes were set in the center and I was directed to light incense. (Yes... I do offer the Buddhist incense since it is a comfort to the family.) Anyway, my friend said her life was on hold until the 49 day mourning period was over at which point the mother's ashes would be deposited in the family grave.

In contrast, Marcy and family are going about their lives pretty normally. Maxine's body is somewhere at a funeral home and will be cremated this week. The funeral won't be until next week. We don't take turns staying with the deceased until the cremation as in Japan. Marcy and I went and ordered flowers for the service and she's talked with the pastor but besides that not too much out of the ordinary. I've bought nice black jeans (I did feel they ought to be black) and I guess I'm wearing a white blouse to this affair... A lot of joking going on all the time...

"Marcy... You are wearing a black t-shirt today! Is that a sign of mourning?"

"Tani. You forget that I usually wear a lot of black because it is supposed to be slimming."

Marcy and I go shopping and pig out on potato chips and guacamole. She has her ear glued to the phone chatting and gossiping with her friends. We watch DVD's and commiserate about my mother's needs. Marcy admits to keeping herself busy and in high gear just so she doesn't start crying and fall apart but on the whole we are all happy and cheerful.

And that's the way Maxine would have liked it.

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