Goodbye, Dad and thank you

The loss of a parent is inevitably a painful experience and it’s especially hard if you can’t attend a funeral because of Covid travel restrictions. Tomoko Parry said her last goodbye to her father remotely, using a video. In this week’s guest blog for Japan Story, she remembers what he means to her.

By Tomoko Parry

Illustration of the moon by Yuka Morita

Like many people during this global health emergency, I am grieving. My father died recently, not of coronavirus but from other natural causes.

Because of travel bans, I was unable to leave my home in the United States back to go back to Japan for his funeral.

I therefore decided to record a short video message addressed to him, so that mom could play it back in front of his body, before he was taken away to be cremated.  

As I considered what to say in the video, I realised that I have never told my dad that I loved him. Nor did he tell me that he loved me.

Make no mistake, I am sure there was a great deal of love between us.

But it was not really expressed in words and I think that’s probably quite typical of Japanese families.

We Japanese don’t say “I love you” very often. The closest we get is “daisuki” which means “Like (you) a lot”. There is also a phrase aishiteru, which is an expression of love but to my mind it feels more appropriate for young lovers than for parents and their adult children. 

In some ways, I might have found it easier to tell my father “I love you” in English rather than in Japanese, but my dad only spoke a few words of English, even though he listened to NHK’s “Radio Eikaiwa” for a long time after he retired.  

But in the end, maybe it was better to be quiet. Japanese people often rely on non-verbal communication more than Westerners. We seem to expect people to read our minds. As I now spend half of my life speaking English, that’s not always easy.  

One of Japan’s most celebrated writers is the novelist Natsume Soseki. His face appears on the 1000 Yen banknote, looking wise and gentle. Soseki once translated “I love you” as “tsuki ga kirei desu ne” (literally: “the moon is beautiful, isn’t it”).  When I think of that phrase, and of my late father, it gives me goosebumps.

Even though part of me very much wanted to say “I love you, dad” I settled for the more neutral sounding: “Thank you for everything, dad”.  

My one regret is that I didn’t mention the gorgeous moon that appeared in the sky on the night before he passed away.

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