Where The Dead Pause, And The Japanese Say Goodbye: A story of loss

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  • Friday, 03 Jul 2015

Where The Dead Pause, And The Japanese Say Goodbye by Marie Mutsuki Mockett

Where The Dead Pause, And The Japanese Say Goodbye

Author: Marie Mutsuki Mockett

Publisher: W.W. Norton, non-fiction

In Where The Dead Pause, And The Japanese Say Goodbye, author Marie Mutsuki Mockett chronicles her journey in learning to deal with loss.

Mockett opens her memoir on the morning of March 11, 2011, when Japan was hit by the earthquake and tsunami that resulted in tens of thousands of people dying and hundreds of thousands more affected negatively.

Mockett, too, was affected, though not directly: her Japanese maternal grandfather had died just before the disaster, but because of the radiation leak from the quake-affected Fukushima nuclear reactor and subsequent evacuation of the area, she couldn’t bury him properly in the family temple near the reactor.

She had also lost her American father, albeit three years previously – and had, unknowingly, been grieving ever since.

The land of her maternal ancestry hit by a catastrophe, her grandfather being denied a proper burial, still struggling with her father’s passing ... Mockett finally acknowledges that she needs help to deal with all the upheaval in her life.

To find the peace she needs, Mockett leaves the United States for Japan, where she mourns along with the rest of the nation. There, she meets a colourful cast of characters – ranging from a group of Zen priests and lay Japanese people who perform rituals that disturb and haunt, to a distant relative who nourishes her body and soul with simple yet nutritious meals – who ultimately uplift Mockett to the point where she can face the ghost of her father without succumbing to grief.


She also dons protective gear and ventures out to Fukushima, an area that she visited often as a child. Mockett writes that she wanted to try to come to terms with the possibility that should the area be closed permanently, she would be saying goodbye to Fukushima, its people, and its history.

And that would be a wrench because she had wanted to pass down a slice of the culture and history to her son – a last link to his Japanese ancestry, if you will.

Although she is clear that she was mourning her father and grandfather, Mockett never once presents herself as a whinging victim.

In fact, though this memoir is steeped in grief, it is primarily about Mockett in a dual role as narrator of her life and Everywoman, understanding the effects death and fear can have on people.

She takes us along on the journey of discovery as she learns how her ancestors deal with such matters, and the end result is a charming kaleidoscope of Buddhism, Shintoism, and ancient Japanese rituals that provides some form of wisdom and enlightenment in how Mockett understands the cycle of life and death.

Kudos to her for not focusing on religion – this makes Where The Dead Pause, And The Japanese Say Goodbye more of a spiritual read than a religious one.

Despite the heavy subject matter, Mockett’s writing is easy to follow, pulling the reader along as she learns what it takes for her to overcome grief.

Though, make no mistake, Mockett does not present her memoir as a self-help book. What Where The Dead Pause, And The Japanese Say Goodbye is, is a beautifully written testament from a daughter, granddaughter and part-Japanese woman to the important individuals in her life.

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