Normally, I try to post weekly to this blog, but with being on vacation and gearing up for Thanksgiving, it’s been a busy week! Since I do this blog mostly for myself, I’ve made it a rule that I will never rush through a post for the sake of getting it done. I really want to take the time to organize my thoughts, so for that reason I’m sorry I missed posting last week!
Last week, my husband and I managed to get away and take a vacation to Kyoto in mainland Japan. We haven’t had a real vacation in quite some time, especially just the two of us. He did take me on a work related trip back in July, but since it was an evacuation for a huge typhoon, I am not counting that as a vacation! Anyway, with everything that has happened this year, including funeral expenses for Luca and my husband starting a busy job, vacation just hasn’t been at the forefront of our minds, but I knew we really had to plan something for ourselves, so we succeeded in booking a last minute trip to Kyoto and I’m so glad we did!
To me, Kyoto is like the New England of Japan – so much history and beautiful fall weather and foliage. We lucked out and I think we were there for the peak of the foliage. I had seen pictures of Kyoto, but didn’t believe that it was actually going to be that beautiful. I was wrong; it was even more gorgeous than I could have imagined! We climbed Monkey Mountain, rode a rickshaw through Arashiyama’s bamboo forest, enjoyed a traditional kaiseki meal, participated in a traditional tea ceremony, and toured so many gorgeous temples and shrines.
While it was so nice to have a relaxing time with my husband, our vacation always highlighted that Luca wasn’t there with us. I imagined carrying him around in the baby carrier everywhere we went as he happily took in the surroundings. I thought about how our trip would be so different if he was here. We would trade our late dinner dates for early nights in to tuck him into bed. I would have had to bundle him up in warmer clothes, since it was much chillier in Kyoto. Most of the time, I was able to smile when I thought of him, but sometimes the solemn silence and peacefulness of the temples we walked though and the surrounding natural beauty gave my emotions nowhere to hide.
On our last full day in Kyoto, we had a wonderful, friendly guide, Ayano-San. She is a student at a Kyoto university and is part of the Good Samaritan Club, which is a group of students who volunteer their time as tour guides in order to practice their English. All we had to do was pay for her meals and entrance fees to the various tourist spots. It was Ayano’s first time being a tour guide by herself and she was amazing! She asked me ahead of time if there was anything in particular that we wanted to see aside from the packed schedule she had suggested for us. I had heard about certain temples that had special areas and rituals to honor babies and wanted to find these places. I looked online, but couldn’t find much information, since everything was in Japanese. I was hesitant to ask Ayano, since it was such a sad and sensitive subject and most Japanese people who hear about Luca do not want to talk about it, as I’m sure they have no idea what to say or how to react, not to mention with the language barrier it’s impossible for them to know what to say. However, I took the chance and told Ayano I really wanted to find these places. She was so mature for a 19-year old and worked so hard for us tracking down the answer to our one request. She found two temples to take us to in order to learn about how Japanese people honor their babies that have died.
One place we went to was Sanjusangendo Temple. This was a huge Buddhist temple, built in 1164, that is best known for the 1,001 statues of Kannon, the goddess of mercy. While Kannon is the Japanese name, Guanine is the Chinese name, which means “perceiving the cries of the world.” This temple was absolutely incredible. I wish I could have taken pictures of this amazing sight, but no photography was allowed. (Google it!) While I am not Buddhist, I am always so interested in learning about other religions, particularly in Japan since we live here. And, I welcome anyone to pray for my baby or send him good thoughts. 🙂 One of the monks explained to us (with Ayano’s translation help) that the temple offered three wooden tablets (Ayano called them amulets) – a thin piece of wood with Japanese writing – one for adults, one for babies, and one for ancestors. We selected the one for babies and the monk asked us to please write Luca’s name on it. Then he had us carefully pronounce his name so he could rewrite it in Japanese, so that he would know how to pronounce it when he prayed. The monks at that temple would keep this amulet to chant a sutra and pray for our Luca for one week, then after that week, it would be burned.
The other temple we went to was Tohfukuji Reigen-in Temple. This temple practices Mizuko Kuyou, a Japanese Buddhist ceremony, which roughly translates to “water child memorial service.” This ceremony is a way for Buddhists to recognize children lost from miscarriages and stillbirths and honors Jizo, the god responsible for bringing babies to “the other world,” where the baby can then be reborn into the future. In the past, mizuko (“water child”) were buried under the parents’ home, and are believed to go from the water of the womb back to their natural form upon death, and flow into the natural springs of the earth.
We were permitted to enter a special area of the temple where parents displayed small statues of Jizo in honor of the children they had lost. (This is similar to what we saw.) The tiny statues all had red bibs and other personal adornments like tiny hats and other little items that each family had left in memory of their baby. The bib and adornments are set out to thank Jizo for saving the baby from an illness, or to ask him to protect that baby. It was incredibly emotional for both me and my husband to see all of these little memorials to so many babies that had been lost who were just like Luca. Luca’s room is our special place to remember him and I felt like the parents who had placed those statues there were proudly telling us about their babies, just as I do when I show someone Luca’s room or tell his story. Everything was placed with such care and I could tell that each little decoration had such special meaning to the family that had put them there. It was truly an honor to spend time in this temple and learn how many Japanese people honor their babies. It was sad, but comforting to know that we were not alone in both our sorrow and our wishes to remember our child.
With the holidays quickly approaching, I worry about how we will handle them without Luca. Already, the stores are getting more crowded and crazy and I have to admit it can give me a lot of anxiety. When I attend events with a lot of strangers or run to grab groceries when the commissary is packed with people, I tend to get pretty anxious, sometimes to the point where I feel like I need to get away immediately. For some reason it just stresses me to be around so many people who don’t know about Luca. They are going about their day, toting their kids around, happily running their errands, or getting irritated with life’s smallest annoyances, while I am carrying this enormous sadness that they do not know about, or that can’t be talked about.
After visiting all of these temples and shrines, I read about some of the Buddhist teachings, like this story here. As this story teaches, I must remember that even though many times I feel like I am the only one who can understand such suffering, that is not the case. So many others have experienced terrible losses in their life. Like all of the parents who placed Jizo in that temple for their own babies. And probably many of the people who I walk by at the grocery store or post office every day. I’m trying to remind myself, lately, that I can help myself through those anxious moments by reminding myself of these things… and also by telling people I encounter about Luca, which makes me the happiest.
When I was on my way to teach this week, I encountered this beautiful butterfly! I really do see butterflies EVERYWHERE I go – this is proof! And they always remind of my angel. This one hung around for awhile and let me get very close to him. I didn’t notice until after, but his right wing looked different than his left wing. This actually had special meaning to me, because my sweet little Luca’s right arm was different than his left. Because of his diagnosis, the radial bone in his right arm never grew properly. It is difficult for me to talk about, but at the same time this little butterfly reminded me of those tiny little arms and sweet little fingers and toes. How I wish I could kiss them again!
I had another happy moment this week when my cousin, Kristin, surprised me with a message that she and her two sweet little boys visited Luca’s grave. This made me so happy! It really warms my heart to know when Luca receives visitors, especially when it’s his two little buddies, Bodi and Bryson. I bet Luca was smiling down on them!
I am so thankful for our family and friends who can visit his gravesite while we live so far away. This year has really highlighted how far away we are from family and some days that can be really difficult for that reason. To our family and friends in the U.S. – we miss you so much and wish you a Happy Thanksgiving! And to our friends who are like family here in Okinawa, we are so grateful to have you in our lives and look forward to spending the holidays with you Okinawa-style. ❤