What losing a parent in your 20s teaches you

First up, all you need to know is that my favourite movie was right.

Now onto the article:

Dad died all of a sudden. Even the family doctor shared his shock at his funeral.

Luckily Dad was doing what he loved, being outdoors, hiking. Can you guess where my love for the outdoors comes from?

Experiencing the death of a parental figure at any age is sure to have an impact. And I’m sure it’s fair to say the younger you are, the greater the impact.

I was still sorting my life out.

And then this happens.



Or perhaps you could say, it was the kick up the bum I needed.

For years until then I had been thinking of many things I wanted to do. However, I hadn’t pulled the trigger on any of it. I guess I was waiting for someone to come along and give me permission or something.

Well, that person was gone. Or at least I discovered for certain that they never actually existed in the first place.

Now with the constant reminder that we aren’t long for this earth, I tend to do things for the sake of doing them a lot more often than I did before. I err on the side of action.

In a weird way, losing a parent is extremely freeing. Sure, you lose someone who, for me at least, was a major guiding figure. However, guiding figures come with their own form of pressure that you have to live with.

Now I get to imagine what he’d say instead. And I get to manipulate his words to my own liking.

What I would give to have dad’s real advice now though.

In spite of that, I’m hoping others can benefit from the lessons I have learned along the way.

Hence the blog.

Japanese Attitudes to Death Really Helped

Rocks stacked on top of each other with a mountain in the background. Sights such as these are common in Japan, especially on Zao-san (Mt. Zao) where Jizo-dake lies.

Japanese attitudes to death are much more healthier than in the west, or at least for European New Zealanders. We have a funeral and then sort of do things for that person, i.e. visit their grave, whenever we feel like it.

It’s telling that there is no native word for death in Japanese. 死, Shi, is a loan word from Chinese.

For the ancient Japanese it was believed that when you passed you didn’t go to another realm, your soul actually went to the nearby mountains.

I guess Dad got a head start.

Either way, this means by going to the mountains, you can actually go and visit your ancestors. This is why Gassan is known as the world of the afterlife. I have a friend who makes the pilgrimage to Gassan annually for this exact purpose.

And then every year at Obon, the ancestral spirits are welcomed into family homes. It’s another chance to be in the presence of those who have gone before us.

How beautiful is that?

There is a built-in culture the Japanese have for periodically commemorating the lives of those lost. They make a real point of the fact that without the ancestors, we too wouldn’t be here.

Now every year at Obon I take the chance to think about Dad and the others we’ve lost along the way. And the same goes for every time I visit Gassan, or the Reisaiden (Hall of Ancestral Spirits) on Haguro-san for example. Or anytime I pass a Jizo statue or the piles of rocks you see on the mountains here.

The irony being, of course, that death is kegare in Shinto. It’s to be avoided at all costs. Thank Kami the Buddhists won this one I guess.

Which is to say

Having experienced the death of a parental figure in my 20s, there are a certain number of silver linings. Ones that I hope you can learn from too.

The conclusion is a simple one, my favourite movie was right; Get busy living, or get busy dying.



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Tim Bunting Kiwi Yamabushi

Tim Bunting Kiwi Yamabushi

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Sakata City, Yamagata, Japan 


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