The Japanese have a word for it.

You haven’t heard from me for a while. That’s because I’ve started to become more outward looking: I’m making friends locally and I’m looking forward to things opening up after Covid – although I for one will still be taking precautions when I venture forth. I’m also feeling less trapped by the house that belonged to my parents and not so overwhelmed by objects they used and loved.

Recently, I heard mention on the radio of the Japanese belief that inanimate objects absorb energy from the people who handle them. There’s a word to describe the aura that surrounds an object after it’s been repeatedly used or loved by someone. I wasn’t able to catch the actual word, but the concept exactly described what I’d been feeling: the things that belonged to my parents and my dearly beloved aunties were surrounded by a sort of force field which I couldn’t ignore.

I had wondered if I were being overly sentimental, overly attached to things, but now I think, no, I was just sensitive to the energies people I cared about had bestowed on these articles which had no actual value in themselves.

I’ve heard of belongings being thrown in a skip or into the rubbish after someone’s death, and that’s always seemed so sad to me, so lacking in respect for the person who’s died. It’s unlikely the dead will neither know nor care what happens to their possessions, but that’s how I feel. Perhaps the people who throw away these objects without seemingly a second thought, do it to save themselves from being overwhelmed by their sense of loss – or possibly their sense of guilt because they got rid of stuff used and loved by the dear departed one. Of course, sometimes people have no choice and have to clear things out quickly so, although I haven’t been happy about being in my parents’ old home during the time of Covid, I’ve had the luxury of time to sift through so many of their possessions. And with the passing of time, it’s become easier to let go of things. Perhaps the energy that I could feel surrounding the objects has dissipated.

Just before Xmas, my brother and my nephew finally came and finished emptying the loft. I’ve spent much of the winter sorting through this last pile of ‘stuff’. It’s a big pile. However, most of this stuff belonged to me. Shifting through it has been a very different experience to shifting through things that belonged to other people. I don’t need to feel guilty that I’m being disrespectful to a dear memory – and what I decide to keep (ticket stubs to Rolling Stones and Beatles concerts from the 1960s! My first attempt at a novel!), and what I throw away (angst-ridden adolescent poetry!) really is up to me.

When I think about how our lives are so full of meaning to ourselves yet when we die, as we’ll all do at some point, how little it will mean to most other people, I always feel a sort of melancholy. The individuals in my family weren’t celebrities; they weren’t famous, but that makes their memory so poignant and makes me want to acknowledge them. They bravely continued to live their anonymous everyday lives, struggling on when things went wrong, enjoying things when they could, not, on the whole, causing any harm.

Honouring the dead is what makes us human, isn’t it? Archeologically speaking, our ancestors are considered to be human when they give their dead a ritualised burial, leaving grave goods for use in another life, or perhaps to help them to be reborn. We can’t know what they actually believed, but we do know that they did not merely cast their dead aside. When we don’t know where our loved ones are buried, when they can’t be laid to rest in peace, still remains a dreadful idea for us. Contempt for the dead is considered a mark of a monster.

So, after these two years, I’m at last getting close to the feeling the Roman poet Catullus expressed when he wrote a poem at his brother’s graveside. He’d travelled a long way to perform the funeral rites, and at the end he says Ave Atque Vale – Hail and Farewell. I think I’m slowly approaching a time when I can honour the dead and know their memory will always be with me, but their possessions don’t have to be.

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