I attended a buddhist service for my friend Thursday morning to mark the seventh day after her passing called 'shonanoka'. I'm not religious and couldn't understand anything that was said since it was all in Japanese (although the priests did say a few words afterwards that were translated to english), but the experience was really good and profoundly shifted something inside me.
Funeral-type services have always been very negative experiences for me. In fact every single service I have attended has left me feeling angry and alienated from other humans when in my mind the point is supposed to be about coming together in our grief rather than to separate and suffer alone. I can't express how relieved I was that this experience was not like that. I went in feeling afraid and nervous and left feeling connected to others and a sense that I had let some of that anger go. At the very least I feel like a human again.
The service was supportive, meditative, contemplative, and everything I have always felt a ritual should be. I can't say for certain what the service was all about, since my experience of it had more to do with sound and smell then anything else. There was the sound of the chanting and the smell of the incense. The chanting started out sounding kind of harsh and over time became melodic and calming. As soon as it began I felt emotions rush up to my throat and I started crying. By the end I felt calm and relaxed. Afterwards we were each invited to burn incense, a ritual that seemed to be about remembering our relationship with Sakurako, paying our respects to her, and letting go on some level. I read up on it and know it is more involved than that but this is my interpretation of it.
I am really touched and greatful that her family invited me to join them and were so welcoming and inclusive in allowing me to be a part of something that I know next to nothing about. It helped me a lot.