The Deepest Loss, by Aiko Matsumura, JapanAiko Matsumura

I was born as the second daughter in a well-off family and lived my life without ever having to struggle much with anything. I was bright and happy, with a tenacious, never-give-up attitude. I loved literature, and when I was in high school, I had an essay published in a local newspaper. “Life is long,” I wrote, “and in the future there may come a time when the harsh winds of fate bear down upon me as strong as a typhoon, but one should never grieve or be defeated. Life is determined by how bravely we face it and how we create it.”

A boy named Takaetsu read my essay and was touched by it. We became pen pals and eventually married. Later, he decided to adopt my faith and, in 1966, joined the Soka Gakkai.

I was 20 when we married and my life changed completely, because my husband’s family were farmers. Besides being a farmer’s wife, I worked in sales and was president of the Parents and Teachers Association for 12 years. I also volunteered a lot of my time in the Soka Gakkai organization and took on demanding responsibilities. The driving power in my busy life was the Buddhist practice of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo which my husband and I performed together daily.

related article A Fierce Determination to Live A Fierce Determination to Live by  Jharna Narang,  survivor of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks Interview with Jharna Narang, survivor of the 26/11 Mumbai terrorist attacks in 2008 Then, in October 2000, something occurred which I could never have imagined. My son had broken up with his girlfriend and had become very depressed, feeling he had been deceived by her. He stopped going to work and shut himself away in his room. Because he wasn’t going to work, he was fired from his job and his depression worsened. I hoped he would snap out of it and told him he needed to be stronger; there were lots of girls he could go out with. On October 16, I received a call from the police. When my husband and I arrived at the hospital, my son’s body was laid out on a bed with a sheet covering his face. He had jumped from the building in which his girlfriend lived. He was 27 years old.

At first I was angry. How could he have done this? Was he that weak? Then immediately I realized I should not blame him. Day and night I cried. I had not known how much he was suffering. I could have been more compassionate, I told myself; I could have shared his pain. It was too late to do anything.

Time stopped for me. For months I could not bear to face anyone.

The Pain of Regret

No matter how old a parent grows, their child is always their child. Everything about our short history together recurred to me vividly. Most painful was a message he wrote to me on Mother’s Day when he was in the fifth grade: “Dear Mom, I will grow up. You are always scolding me. Please also praise me sometimes too. I am so happy when you smile at me. I promise you that I will give you a comfortable life when I grow up. You are always working so hard. Please take good care of yourself, Mom. Love always.” I wanted to tell him now, “I am so sorry for always being so strict with you. I was always scolding you.” Why was I not more kind to my son? Day after day I was tortured by these regrets.

Why was I not more kind to my son? Day after day I was tortured by these regrets.

Just as I had not been able to understand my son’s struggle, I now felt as though there was no one in the world who could understand the pain I was feeling.

One day I started having difficulty breathing; I broke into a cold sweat and fainted. When I came to, I was in the hospital, and my husband was standing over me with an anxious look on his face. He told me, “You can’t go on like this. There are people who need you. You have to take care of yourself.” The love in his face and the gentleness of his words touched me and shone some light into the darkness in my heart.

related article Buddhism in Cuba Buddhism in Cuba by  Joannet Delgado, general director,  SGI-Cuba Joannet Delgado, general director of SGI-Cuba, shares her journey of discovering Nichiren Buddhism and how it took root in her country. I continued to chant for a way out of my pain. As my chanting deepened, my perception of my son’s death slowly began to change. I felt like I could tell him, “Even if you were deceived, I am glad that you were never one to deceive others. You were always such a purehearted boy, such a kind person.” I began to feel that my son was still alive, in my heart. I made a resolution that, for the sake of my son, I would live my life wholeheartedly for others.

A New Resolve

I believe that having faith is about bringing forth the sun of hope from within our own hearts, no matter what circumstances we find ourselves in. Boundless inner strength and wisdom already lie within us, and faith is the power which enables us to draw this strength from within our lives. Gradually, I began to feel as though the frozen river of my life was thawing and starting to move again.

From my Buddhist practice I know that death is not merely the absence of life; that, together with life, it is an essential part of a deeper continuum.

Aiko with her husband, her son and her daughter’s first child

I felt that I wanted to celebrate my son’s 27 years of life and to help him leave behind his legacy. My nights of tears were not the legacy I wanted for him.

I had always enjoyed writing. After chanting about this, I began to write. I chanted, wrote, scratched out what I had written, tried again, and then chanted some more. Though I had thought I had some talent for literature, I realized now how difficult writing can be. It took one year, but I finally finished the autobiography of my son and me, entitled Mother Like the Cherry Blossom.

I dedicated the book to my son and my own mother, who left me these words before she passed away: “Cherry blossoms only come into bloom after enduring the long, cold winter. The warmth of spring can only be appreciated by enduring the frozen air of winter. Live your life like the cherry blossom, which comes into full, joyful flower in the beauty of spring!”

Finding Others

related article The Roots of Recovery The Roots of Recovery by  Hideyoshi Mori,  Japan Farmer Hideyoshi Mori talks about losing everything in the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011 and how his Buddhist practice helped him restore a sense of hope. The autobiography was published in 2004. Following that, a letter describing my joy at publishing the book was carried in a local newspaper. To my surprise, I received a lot of responses to this; some from mothers who had had similar experiences to mine.

Our exchange of letters led eventually to the formation of a network of mothers, which we have called the Cherry Blossom Group. Some 30 mothers meet monthly, share and accept their grief and offer each other support. Through this group I have been able to offer to others the kind of support that I experienced from the Soka Gakkai women members who came to my aid in my darkest hour, offering me not just words of support but sitting with me and sharing in my grief.

Aiko (front row, second from left) with members of the Cherry Blossom Group

My deceased son taught me the power of faith. He brought me many new and wonderful encounters with wonderful people.

Though we may be knocked down by painful events or difficulties, I believe that each person has within them the power and potential to transform any difficulty or misfortune into fortune. To win, I believe, means to be able to surmount pain and move forward. Life is always from today—from this moment—onward. I don’t want to say goodbye to my son. Rather, I want to tell him “Thank you.” I feel I am just now beginning to blossom. And I know that the light of spring, the light of hope, will always be in my heart.

[Courtesy of January 2006 SGI Quarterly]

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