The Tyranny of the Dead

A couple of weeks ago, I was horrified to find out that, as wife of the eldest son, one of my jobs would be to put make-up on my mother-in-law after she dies. (Also, if a loved one dies as the result of an accident, the bereaved get to wash off the blood.) I told my husband that I didn’t think I could bring myself to put foundation on a corpse, should it come to that, and he scoffed and told me that it was the last kind thing I could do for her.

This got me to thinking about the Western attitude toward death versus the Japanese one. In Japan, where worship of the dead is part of the culture, where my mother-in-law puts out a bowl of rice for my deceased father-in-law every day, where not putting out the bowl of rice might upset the spirits of the dead and bring about bad luck, people are more comfortable with death. After all, the dead are always with us.

On the one hand, I can appreciate this, but on the other, it seems like the dead have too much power over daily life. I remember how I once made the blunder of heaping too much rice in a bowl when I was helping prepare school lunch. One mother told me that rice is only heaped like that for the dead. Today, my mother-in-law told me that I shouldn’t hang the laundry facing in a certain direction because of the dead. To be honest, I cut her off before she could give me the details, but I’m guessing you’re not supposed to hang shirts, which are kind of the shape of a person, facing north, the land of the dead. I don’t mind if she follows these rules, but I really could do without the added stress of worrying about offending the departed (or whatever). I regret, however, that I cut her off. It sounds like something I could use in a story.

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3 thoughts on “The Tyranny of the Dead

  1. Lots of superstitions, that’s for sure. Another one is that people shouldn’t sleep facing north.

    I didn’t know that about make-up. No doubt my MIL will make alternate arrangements though should she feel the end is drawing near. She has quite an elaborate skincare/make-up ritual; I never wear the stuff, to the point that my son said the other day, when I had lipstick on to go out to a party, ‘Mom, you’ve got something on your mouth.’ She deserves better than that!!

  2. My husband said that now people say it’s good to sleep with your head in a notherly direction due to the magnetic pull from the North Pole. It sounds like psuedo-science to me, but it’s interesting all the same.

  3. Your whole life reads to me like a story, a beautiful and mysterious story. I suppose part of it is your lovely writing, and another part is that the grass is always greener…

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