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Departures

Big treat yesterday – my day carefully planned, and then naughty W’son Ch*y called. It was chilly, but the sun was shining. “Let’s play,” he said, so we did. We messed around doing errands and went to see Departures, an Academy Award winner from Japan, which we’d both long wanted to see.

A stunning film, my friends, highly, highly recommended. It’s about death, which means it’s also very much about life. I won’t give anything away if I tell you it begins when a cellist loses his orchestra job and moves back to the house where he grew up, to take a job as a … what’s the name in English? A mortuary assistant? He assists a man who prepares bodies for burial. But in Japan, that job is a performance; a crowd of the bereaved kneels in front of the covered body, and the man hired by the undertaker works in front of them. He washes the body, clothes it and makes it up, allowing the mourners to see the dead loved one looking natural and warm, for the last time. And then the lid of the coffin is put in place. All of this as an exquisite ritual, a public dance.
The film brought back a powerful memory. My father died in his own bed in 1988, at the age of 65. Mum and I were there with him at the moment of his death. Even now, it’s surreal to me that one moment my father was there, and the next, gone. Just gone. I wept again last night to remember that when the undertaker arrived, Dad’s body was zipped into a large plastic bag and whisked away – no ceremony, no washing, no preparation. How much wiser to allow the family to spend time with this new form their loved one has taken – motionless and silent, never to return, but as beautiful as ever.
After seeing the film, I thought for the first time of the handling of my beloved father’s body, and regretted that we did not treat him with more care.
The film is not remotely morbid – in fact, it’s full of humour and it’s about the greatest love. One of those rich, haunting films that will stay with me forever.
Then Mr. Ch*y and I went for dinner with Ben Torchinsky, a man who has dealt with his own terrible departures this year. He is coping magnificently with the loss of his right arm, less so with the loss of Sarah, his wife of more than 60 years. Ben is a rare conversationalist – last night, telling us tales of the tycoons he has dealt with or met, like Conrad Black and Peter Pocklington. Unlike his peers, Ben somehow managed to make an enormous amount of money while remaining a decent and honest man. He said, even when I had to fire someone with just cause, I wanted to do it humanely and well. I thought, you never know when you’ll meet this person again and need his or her help or friendship. It sounded an awful lot like “Do unto others …” over our platters of crispy chicken and honey-garlic beef.
Today was heavenly, true Indian summer or whatever it’s called now, bright sun and swirls of dead leaves, and tomorrow apparently even better. Warm days in November are precious because we know we must make the best of the last real sun before winter. If only, Departures tells us, we could learn to treat every one of our days like a rare hot day in November.

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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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