Updated: Apr 17
During this Pandemic, the notion of “life and death” has been looming in our minds more than ever. Dr. Sunita Puri wrote a piece, “It’s Time to Talk About Death,” for the Op-Ed page of The New York Times last month. She stated in it that “Americans are not good at talking about death. But we need to be prepared for when, not if, an illness will strike.”
We, Japanese, feel differently about preparing for death in general. Most households have a Buddhist altar called a “Butsudan,” which is a wooden cabinet sometimes crafted with doors. Its primary use is to pay respects to the Buddha, as well as to family members who have died. Butsudans used to be massive in size but are becoming compact to accommodate changing lives and modern interiors. Still, there are daily rituals associated with it, so we are reminded of death every day. The practice of Ikebana (flower arrangement) developed by offering flowers to the altar and later formalized. The homes of practitioners of Shinto have similar alters.
A popular Japanese women’s magazine, Croissant, published a special edition a few years ago, which was titled, “We Have as Many Ending Notebooks as The Number of Lives.” An “Ending Notebook” is a notebook to aid whoever would be responsible, a spouse, children, or a friend, upon the death of the notebook’s owner. A notebook can have elements of a will and a living will but can contain more, such as how you should be cared for, what to do with your remains, and how the funeral or memorial should be handled. You can also include messages for your loved ones.
Perhaps it is time to create such a notebook, or a folder, for yourself or your parents if possible. Once everything is written and prepared, you can have more peace of mind. The selection of funeral and memorial flower arrangements can be a subject that one can include in the notebook. It can be popular sympathy flowers, such as lilies, chrysanthemums, roses, orchids, or your favorite flowers. Indicating your choice is one less decision your loved ones need to make during a difficult time.