Remembering the Dead

Japan is about to celebrate Obon, a time when ancestors and their sacrifices are remembered. In fact, this year for the first time in modern times, they will shut down the Shibuya Scramble Crossing for six hours to have an Obon Festival in its center.

My husband and I will go on a very long vacation.

At the end of our trip, we will stop at the gravestone that marks were our son’s remains have been placed. After he passed away and was cremated, his ashes were put in an itty-bitty urn (the size of a very small melon).

I remember carrying that urn, as if holding a living baby. It was precious. The weather was sticky and muggy that day, but the sun shines beautifully in streams across the grave.

My father-in-law came with us, leading us to a gravestone emblazoned with his family crest and name. At the base of that gravestone, embedded in the grass, was a stone plaque that I mistook for a foot stone at first.

One of the cemetery works came out, dressed in a black suit, and knelt down to that “foot stone”, grasping it at the side. When he lifted, I realized it was a lid that hid an underground box with two shelves.

Deep in the back were urns of various sizes, shapes, and colors — the ancestors of my husband’s family. I handed the urn carefully to the worker who very gently placed it inside. We were given a moment to pray for our son before he put the lid back on and sealed it shut once more.

(Once sealed it can’t be opened without smashing the stone lid.)

We will visit our son this Obon and stand at that grave to pray for the life we could not save. I have so many feelings about this, about that tiny urn down there in that dark, dark place with his ancestors.

My husband will apologize to our son that we could not bring him into this world.  Then we will pray.

Even if we can’t meet him in this world, we hope one day to see him in the next.


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