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A Letter from a Reader

In response to the entry "To You Who is Bereaved of a Loved One"

I received an e-mail from a reader in response to the previous web page.

First mail:

Dear Sirs,

I lost my husband this summer (in the year when I received the mail). I have a problem about my family’s home altar (butsudan [仏壇]), and in search of a solution I found your website. I would like your advice.

I had lived with my husband's parents since getting married, and had kept a peaceful home with them and our children, as well as maintained a happy marriage. My father-in-law died about twenty years ago, and since then our home altar has been in the bedroom of my parents-in-law. My mother-in-law spends most of her time in that room.

After the 49-day ceremony and summer ceremony (obon [お盆]) for my husband, his memorial tablet (ihai [位牌]) was placed in the home altar. During the 49-day ceremony and summer ceremony, a temporary altar was installed in the other room, and I could pray for my husband's peace on the other shore with gassho in front of his tablet. But after his tablet was placed in the home altar in my mother-in-law's bedroom, I could no longer spend time with his tablet. Although I’m ashamed to say it, I didn't experience such grief upon the death of my father-in-law. But now I want to talk to my husband and be with him in front of his tablet in the home altar with gassho. My heart ached for such a wish.

Home altarI just have enough time to offer a miniature meal set every day and ritually pray for him and my ancestors with gassho. This is all I can do for him now. My mother-in-law kindly allows me into her bedroom, but she goes to bed early at night. Only after finishing all the housework and when I have time at night can I sit with him, if possible. But I hate to ask my mother-in-law to let me in to sit in front of the home altar at such a late hour.

In terms of her, she is peacefully sleeping in her room with her husband and son. Once I asked her to move the home altar out of her bedroom and put it in some other place. But she flatly rejected my request. Indeed, even I didn't expect myself to cling so to his tablet.

He was the most invaluable and dearest person to me. He gave me a lot of happy memories.

I have to take care of my mother-in-law and keep our home safe and decent in the future to come. To me, my husband's tablet should be an anchor for my heart. I wonder if it is such a wrong thing to move the home altar to some place at which we can freely pray with gassho any time. How can I make her understand my hope?


Dear Mrs. A,

Thank you for your mail. This is Jushoku (then) Kasahara of Rinkaian.

The unwilling situation you wrote about your home altar made me feel empathy for you. I am sorry to say that I have no good idea about a convincing way to make your mother-in-law accept your request.

While it is of course important for us to pray in front of our home altars with gassho, there is another way to pray for the deceased - a personal, internal way. This method is as follows: Feel the spirit of your husband in a part of your body. For example, focus on your right shoulder - though this is merely an example - ask your body from what part in or around your body your husband is watching over you.

This method focuses attention on your spontaneous "reality" in a certain body part, and if you have such a reality, or a distinctive feeling, others (including me) cannot criticize or interfere with the fact. This is a matter solely between you and your husband.

I humbly recommend you try this if you like.

Taijun Kasahara
Second mail:

Rev. Kasahara,

I appreciate your quick response.

In our life with our parents-in-law, my husband always supported me, and stood up for me. Conversely, after marrying me, my husband was probably not a good son for my mother-in-law. Perhaps she thinks that her son has finally come back to her now as he was before.

Examining myself again, I noticed that I became somewhat competitive with her because I am subconsciously aware of such feelings of hers, which may form my rather obsessive attachment to our home altar and my husband's memorial tablet.

Following your advice, I tried to feel the presence of my husband. I felt as if he gently put his hands on my shoulders from behind. Tears flooded my eyes. I hope he is spending a tranquil trans-shore life after the hard days struggling with his disease. With such an image in my mind, I quietly chanted nembutsu.

Three months have passed since I, and my mother-in-law as well, lost an invaluable person. We probably don't have enough breadth of mind yet to think of each other. I will refrain from hastening to persuade her, and, far from giving up, I will give her all the time she needs to allow me to move the home altar.

Thank you for listening to me and giving me such good advice. Your mail has eased my mind so much.

This sincere reply from her touched my heart and brought tears to my eyes, too.

Later I asked her for permission to disclose this correspondence on the Rinkaian site and share her experiences, which she kindly accepted. She told me that she was able to sort out her thoughts by writing the above e-mail, and she hoped that her experiences would be of help to someone else.