Remembering Loved Ones

Recently, my family and I observed the 100th day memorial for “baba”, my wife’s mother in Japan, and grandmother to our kids. This had me thinking about another poem by Lady Izumi1 from The Ink Dark Moon by Jane Hirshfield and Mariko Aratani:

Original JapaneseRomanizationTranslation
跡をみてAto wo miteEven in my dreams
偲ぶもあやしShinobu mo ayashiI never think of you—
ゆめにてもYume nite mohow strange now,
何事のまたNanigoto no mataseeing your handwriting,
有りしともなくArishi to mo nakuto recall…
Translation by by Jane Hirshfield and Mariko Aratani

I can understand this sentiment. When doing the memorials, it can feel kind of formulaic, but then sometimes I will see something that reminds me of my mother in law, and I can still her presence somehow. While I was in Japan, my father in law, noticing my interest in the Hyakunin Isshu, gave me a book to take home that belonged to his wife (my late mother-in-law).

「新百人一首をおぼえよう」(Let’s Memorize the Hyakunin Isshu, new edition) by 佐佐木幸綱 (Sasaki Yukitsuna)

This is a nice book, published back in 2002 that covers the Hyakunin Isshu anthology with lots of neat photography of famous locations, and tips and mnemonics for memorizing poems for karuta card game. I’ve enjoyed reading through it.

But more importantly, it provides a tangible link to my mother-in-law. Due to language barrier, I wasn’t able to converse with her much in my early years of marriage, and in the later years her health had declined to the point we couldn’t converse anyway. So, I wasn’t able to connect with her as much as I wanted to.

But with this book, I feel connected to her in a way I couldn’t before. My only regret is that we didn’t share this hobby before.

However, as Lady Izumi’s poetry shows, there is another side to grief and losing loved ones:

Original JapaneseRomanizationTranslation
としをへてToshi wo heteThrough the years
物思ふことはMono omou koto waI’ve become used to sorrow:
ならひにきNarai ni kithere was not one spring
花に別れぬHana ni wakarenuI didn’t leave behind
春しなければHaru shinarakerebathe flowers
Translation by by Jane Hirshfield and Mariko Aratani


Original JapaneseRomanizationTranslation
頼むとてTanomu toteDo you now know
頼みけるこそTanomi keru kosothis world
はかなけれHakana kereis a waking dream?
昼間の夢のHiruma no yume noHowever much I needed you,
よとは知らずやYo towa shirazu yathat is also a fleeting thing…
Translation by by Jane Hirshfield and Mariko Aratani

As one gets older, one becomes somewhat numb to all the people that we’ve lost. The second poem here has overtly Buddhist undertones, reminding the reader that, as the Diamond Sutra famous says:

All composed things are like a dream,
a phantom, a drop of dew, a flash of lightning.
That is how to meditate on them.
That is how to observe them.

Translation by Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh, in The Diamond That Cuts Through Illusion

For my part, I have lost friends as far back as high school, known relatives who have taken their own lives, lost loved ones due to cancer, dementia, pneumonia, etc.

Chances are, you have too.

As time goes on, this number will continue to grow. If you imagine scattered blossoms in spring, one can easily find parallels to life and the people all around us.

1 Other recent mentions here, here and here.

Published by Doug

🎵Toss a coin to your Buddhist-Philhellenic-D&D-playing-Japanese-studying-dad-joke-telling-Trekker, O Valley of Plentyyy!🎵He/him

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