I was home for 40 days between March 20 and May 7. Dad died on May 5. When I got home in the evening of May 8, he was frozen and already in his coffin. (In Japan, we don't embalm unless there is great damage to the body but conceal dry ice in the coffin until cremation, usually around Day Three-Five.) On May 10, according to Dad's wishes, immediate family (sans Ben; he couldn't get away until the weekend,) gathered and Dad was cremated. Ben arrived on May 12, on the Seventh Day, and went home last Sunday.
There've been a few other occasions when the whole gang gathered, which has been wonderful for Mom. The next event is either Father's Day at the house, or his burial on June 20. After cremation, his ashes, (not powdery like I've seen in Western films, but a collection of dusty, fragile bone fragments,) with the throat bone shaped like sitting Buddha placed just under the lid of a simple urn, goes into the family grave around 49 days after death, and that's the end of modern mourning in urban Japan. There are the 100th Day, the first Obon, (the spirits coming home for a visit in mid-August,) anniversaries including the important First, Third, (can't remember all the significant numbers in between,) up to the 100th, plus all the Obons. And likely other significant occasions I can't remember, but we rely on my sister for these.
Mom is fine, surprisingly unsentimental, but I can't blame her considering the work she put in to "keep Dad alive" (her words) for the last few years. I did object, however, to her rushing me with my grief and had to put my foot down a couple of days after I came home.
My brother and I pretty much finished the business end of Dad's death in the last week, like banks, pension, etc. A short letter Dad wrote in March was sent out to his friends and acquaintances and Mom is receiving calls, letters and visitors, and I'm starting to see a little bit of my Dad's character other than as a strict and temperamental parent. I feel frustrated Mom hasn't been crazy about Dad's letter and his choice of casual proceedings, and feel fed up when she feels embarrassed about them. This letter is so Dad, and those who knew him well, especially those who have known him since student days, agree with me/ There have been a couple of occasions where I've had to speak on Dad's behalf so as not to let things get out of hand, or to spend time and energy on protocol that don't mean much, but to whom, Dad and me?
I'm also discovering Dad and I shared a lot of, (or I inherited a lot of his,) values and outlook on life, and that Mom is a far more conventional and conservative. When Dad was alive, we spent all our time on caring for him and getting things done that Mom and I never fought and even conspired against Dad, but now I realize Dad's presence may have concealed/protected me from Mom's conservatism. I've also surprised how Ben and I have adopted the Kiwi pragmatism; we have grown much lighter on our feet, which is a good thing.
This trip we disagree on so much and have been getting on each others' nerves. I can't believe the amount of time, energy and money Japanese folks, (i.e. just Mom, or her age group?) spend on protocol for the benefit of "others". Mom thinks I'm severely lacking in common sense and sensitivity so her insult of choice has settled on, "that's the way things are done around here." She's also insists on doing things not to embarrass Dad, i.e. befitting of his social standing. Dad became the vice chancellor of a small university the same month I got married and left home, and even though I lived only an hour away, Ben and I worked long hours and I guess I didn't visit often enough so that I was totally unaware of the huge financial/status/attitude changes that took place in this household. I am the one who grew up thinking toy stores were just for looking at toys, not even touching them, because I was born while Dad was in grad school. Ben and I paid for our wedding and invited our parents, which Mom thought was a bit strange at the time but I never imagined there was any other way.
Anyway, Dad's been out of public life for 15 years; he's been an old man with bad health looking forward to the next occasion he was to see his grandkids.
To try to alleviate friction with Mom, I drew up a simple roaster of housework last night, and things went smoothly for an evening, but already this morning we disagreed. Two housewives living in the same house is not easy, one who's been "serving" others for nearly 60 years vs. one who's had total control over her time for nearly 15. And each knowing she's right. The roaster was meant to give each other breathing space, i.e. to do the job without being rushed, but Mom wants me to do it when she wants things done, and I want her to do things how I do them. I need to back off, because when whatever I'm trying to do here is done, I go home to my cushy life and she has to live her new life. All I can hope for is that she'll take hint from my life and know laundry doesn't have to be done every day, it's not a crime to cook a few portions and freeze, and that one can wait until one finishes weaving to vacuum, not do it before and after.
My life here hasn't been just work. I bought a tiny notebook I carry and draw in. Just simple, quick drawings, but because I use public transport, it's fun to steal quick ones of strangers, especially when they are fast asleep. I hastily made three warps before I left, and I have access to Mom's yarns so I hope to weave some and perhaps post them to galleries. Mom chants every day that I should get back to work, but she must vacate one loom before I can, so I wait patiently. Just after I got back, we had hot and humid days and I rushed to buy a few very thin T-shirts, and also a couple of books on simple summer clothes. A few nights ago we dug into Mom's fabric stash, so a few short-and-wide cotton dresses are forthcoming as well.
After seeing Ben off on Sunday I went to see a Tatsumura Textiles exhibition. A cousin who came to visit after I got home told me about this taking place in Tokyo but by then that one was closed. To our great surprise it moved down to Yokohama so I had a chance to view some insanely intricate work but also to study their techniques. What I'm hoping to see later this week, though, will blow your mind.
Thank you for your emails, letters, and cards of sympathy. It still feels strange to think Dad is dead as it's as though he's just temporary away. There are lots of things he knew that we turned to him for without thinking; Mom throwing dye-, chemistry-, history- and geography-related questions and not trying to remember much of the answers, me ringing him up with the strangest chemistry questions in times of household accidents from New Zealand. I'm still at that stage of regrets, for not having been kinder to him; of not having made the effort to talk to him; of, let's face it, taking Mom's side all too often. I think he was lonely in his last years, locked in a body that wouldn't work and not getting the respect he craved. And though the rest of us felt he was loosing it because he didn't use it, we weren't in his body so it wasn't for us to judge. At least physically he is in a better place, so I take solace from that.