So, I've been meaning to write about my trip but the last month since I got back to Japan has been so hectic that I haven't had time.
I will publish my travel diary soon. Promise!!!
This is about death and dying across cultures, namely my reaction vs the Japanese reaction to the sudden death of my colleague in the small hours of Friday, August 28, 2009.
My school secretary had been having a constant headache since last Monday morning and had used annual leave to go the doctor three times before she collapsed on Thursday night and was no longer with us come 2am Friday. It was a brain aneurism.
On Friday morning I arrived at school, where I hadn't been for 2 days whilst visiting my primary schools, only to find the school principal on the phone in the teachers' room. I had barely sat down when he called us all to attention and talked about how she had died. All I understood was sore head so I assumed she'd had the flu or something and that we all needed to be on alert. But no when it was translated for me by the head of English who was told as soon as she entered the school I found out that the most happy go lucky member of staff in the school had died suddenly from what my mother tells me is quite the quick way to go.
For me, Friday was spent with my tissue box and bumbling around in a state of shock, I was almost catatonic apart from the sudden leakage of tears every time I thought about it. I also spent the day trying to find someone who would give me a ride to the pre-funeral.
For my colleagues it was spent holding it together after the initial look of shock. I think for them it was deciding which to go to, the pre-funeral or the funeral. The funeral is so formal and intimate that only the closest people and most high ranking, I guess, go. I had to find myself an English teacher to take me to the pre-funeral because I loved that lady even though I had little interaction with her. I believe my reaction to the lack of emotion shown by my colleagues that were at school that day was one of anger 'why aren't they showing any emotion?!' etc, but I now realise that they have their way and I have mine and the students didn't know yet so it was better not to wear their hearts on their sleeves in that instance.
I was on my way to another event, where I did my best to hold it together while I hung out with some Japanese friends of mine, when the call came that I could go to the pre-funeral with my old supervisor who is very good at teaching me about the cultural stuff. I was allowed to go to the 2nd most intimate and solemn event these people have and I felt incredibly honoured.
Yesterday, I was numb. I had some things I needed to prepare for the funeral. 5000yen in an envelope with my name on it and some other kanji that I couldn't read. A black shirt to wear with my suit and a belt because I thought my suit pants looked terrible without. I needed to mentally prepare myself.
At 6pmish I was picked up by my colleague. She asked me if I'd gotten the envelope. I said 'yes and Mama in Nara told me on the phone to put the money face down, but I need you to help me write the kanji, I got a plain one because I didn't know what kanji was best'. She wrote on for me when we parked at the venue.
The ceremony was short, only about 40 minutes. 15 minutes of incomprehensible chanting and singing by 2 priests followed by a couple of eulogies, one by her husband who talked about what a wonderful person the deceased was. Then it was everyone in the room's turn to file past the coffin, pray and place incense in urns in front of it. Then we filed out, receiving gifts of tea and rice crackers as we left.
It was so solemn and so calm. It was nothing like a western wake where you drink to the deceased and get rowdy to check that they're good and dead. It was a wonderful experience and I told my colleague how grateful I am to her for taking me. I found it very therapeutic and think, hope, it has helped me to process the sudden death of someone very special.
On the way home my colleague and I talked about what would happen at the actual funeral and then talked about western funerals. She then told me what when I get in the house I should throw salt on myself to keep the evil spirits away. I did that when I got in and feel better now than I have in days. May it worked. Who knows whatever at least I know that the pre-funeral helped me get over the death of my colleague and am feeling much better about it all now.
Suppressing one's emotions seems to be the Japanese way and it seems to work for them. I don't think it would work for me but I'm a heart on sleeve kinda girl.
Now, for the next couple of weeks, no more drama, no no no more drama. ;-)
I love you all, life is too short not to.