I’ve always known that you never passed anything from one set of chopsticks to another because it was part of the Japanese funeral service, but I never had any idea…
“Letter from a Japanese Crematorium,” Marie Mutsuki Mockett’s incredible essay about her grandmother’s funeral, in AGNI is as Maud said, like “eavesdropping on the deepest and most spellbinding of secrets,” a theme which wafts across Mockett’s experience as well:
And the fact is, because I speak Japanese yet remain something of an outsider, I generally end up hearing the things that are considered taboo. A family friend confided that he might be bisexual; then he broke down and confessed he was actually gay (and could he stay with me in New York for three months to experience liberation?). My mother’s cousin, who I’d always been told was adopted, revealed to me in the five minutes it took to walk to the house from the parking lot where we had bidden goodbye to guests that he was actually the illegitimate son of my grandfather’s brother, and therefore my blood relative. When I was twelve, my grandmother showed me an old photo of a handsome young man and told me that he was her “true love.” It was not a photo of my grandfather. With geographical, not to mention cultural distance, secrets mistakenly appear to lose their power.
Despite all this, Takahagi remains unconvinced. “I am sorry. I just wouldn’t feel comfortable taking you for a visit to the crematorium,” says my cousin, driver of the American hearse.
Funerals and weddings and other large family gatherings are often catalysts for secrets to escape, not only in Japan.
Mockett’s experience makes me recall a story my mother told, of attending her great aunt’s funeral in a rural town in Utah. In one eulogy, a relative revealed that now, in death, the woman would finally be reunited with the true love of her life–her cousin, hello, not her husband.
[Though her husband had, in fact, already died, too; I guess the cousin and the husband were just waiting with their “we need to talk, dear” looks on their ghostly faces when the great aunt crossed to the other side.] Also, the cousin shared a name with the woman’s firstborn son, who was sitting there on the chapel dais.
update: Mockett also posted pictures relating to her essay.