Books as Medicine for Loneliness
Ando Kinuko, 51, Akashi-shi, Kisakicho
Now that I have calmed down, what happened on January 17th sometimes comes back to me in my memory. My husband was found dead when his right wrist was spotted under the staircase. He was probably taking his breakfast when he was knocked down by the vertical tremor. I woke up ten minutes earlier than I used to on that day, and that actually saved my life.
‘Please don’t leave me,’ I said, gripping my husband’s left hand firmly. I wondered what had happened to his head, body, legs and right arm. I tried to shift the stair but failed. It was as steady as a rock, and I could only give up.
Some neighborhood kids were kind enough to ask me to accept the fact, but
I was sad and regretful that I did not manage to get him out...
Did he really breathe his last? He was covered under a huge beam and could not make any noise, could he? Was he in great suffering and pain?
A fire broke out in the night and burnt everything to ashes, including his
body, which was left there overnight. Together with it went the company we had
built hand in hand for the past 31 years.
We had planned to live in Nagata-ku Chitose-cho in our old age and built the second storey three years ago. He was delighted when the room was ready, and did his Zen meditation, sutra transcription, and musing there every morning and evening. He took photos of some flowers nearby, enlarged it and gave it to neibourhoods, telling that he was very happy to see their joyous expressions. I lost our house, all our properties and the photographs of my fond memories.
If I had woken up ten minutes later that day, I would have gone to that other world with him. I must not waste my life after the escape. Now that he is gone, I have to work doubly hard to make up for his absence for the sake of our three children and three grandchildren.
On the next day of the earthquake, his remains were found by the firemen. Most which had been burnt to ashes. Only his trunk was left, but other parts were not recognizable. “Couldn’t bring myself to look at the body,” said those by his side. I did not get to see it.
The fact that his head and limps were burnt beyond recognition and the only thing left of him was the trunk was too hard for me to bear. A sense of depression and sorrow welled up in me. At the same time, I was angry that nothing could be done. How much more such nonsensical cruelty had I to endure? What had he done to deserve this fate? He had never for his life done anything bad. He had worked hard all his life and yet...
I collected his bones with my children. Only small bones were left behind. Bigger ones were nowhere to be seen. For the long moments from the mortuary to the Nishikami Funeral Hall, he was all alone and probably lonesome.
After the farewell service and the 49th day Buddhist sermon, I began to cool down. In April, I rented an apartment unit and began to live with him. I would always feel an attack of genuine loneliness. I had always thought that my life would be meaningless without him by my side. I felt bitter about his quick demise. I lost my company, my house, all my other properties, and hopes for the future. I was kicked out of my social circle and feeling unwell physically. Everything went wrong with me then. I found that life was too heavy a load. I was depressed because I was not sure that I could stand up again.
I would place the offering on the altar, chant and then have a
conversation with him. Naturally, we could only have one-way conversations, and
I could never hold back my tears at such a moment.
He was as young as 52 and still full of energy. He could have contributed to society much more that he did. However sorry I felt for him, he would not come back. I was so disconsolate and sad that I wished I could forget everything and be happy again. When I felt this way, my son would say, ‘Mum, I am not happy if you forget my father,’ and try to cheer me up. I had probably become weird by thinking about things that I should not have dwelled on and saying them out loud.
My husband used to say, ‘There is no hardship too tough to overcome.’ Then
one day, it occurred to me that I could only count on myself to cope with a
disaster like this. And by looking at things this way, I began to feel my own
existence and the real meaning of my life.
When he was alive, we competed against each other as a couple and worked our way up. Back then, I had no idea how immensely difficult it would be for me to live without my buddy in life. After the catastrophe, I thought I would not be able to move on without him. But on June 19th, I made an effort to rise early and ride southwards on my bicycle for about ten minutes to arrive at the seaside. There, I took out a writing pad and did my sutra transcription. I also walked on the sand beach barefooted and the sand made me feel good. I ushered in the morning in a fine mood.
With that, I took my first step towards recovery. He was good with the Aqua Lung and I have had a lot of fond memories at the sea. Initially, whenever I gazed at the sea, I would almost get drown in tears. Gradually, sea-gazing has become a routine for me.
It was books that made me realize the importance of creating a social cycle for myself. I would visit bookstores to find solace for my sorrow and solutions for my problem. I hated myself most for the death of my husband and it felt very painful because there was no clear indication of where I should go from there. I read a lot, and what I read has strengthened my heart tremendously, for which I am thankful.
All human beings are lonesome. I have come to understand that I am not the only one suffering loneliness. I am going to work towards regaining my vigor as soon as possible.