I didn’t feel the loss anymore…They’re kind of gone and I really don’t want them to come back, particularly. My life is different now.
– Eric Clapton on “Tears in Heaven” and “In My Father’s Eyes”
Eric Clapton is a figure whose music is ageless. Decades from now, we’ll be discussing his guitar playing, and whole new generations of fans will listen to “Tears in Heaven” and well up when hearing it for the first time. The quote above reflects Clapton’s life, now over 20 years removed from the topic of the song, which his son’s tragic death. If not sentimental, it’s perhaps a realistic point of view. Then again, maybe not – no one ever claimed Clapton was the best of men.
The death of a child is, of course, an extremely painful event. There are many different ways to respond to a death, and there’s not necessarily a “right” way. But perhaps the death of a child can be a torch in the darkness, which reveals the light of a parents’ love in the blackest of situations. It seems so in the case of Menma’s mother and Jintan’s father. Though both are flawed parents (Menma can’t see the son right in front of her and Jintan’s dad could perhaps push him just a bit in preparation for his future life), they’re also perfectly lovely in the most important aspect of parenting: love.
In episode 8 of Ano Hana, Menma’s mother breaks down and throws hurtful accusations at the Super Peace Busters. Menma’s brother remarks that his mom is “creep” and won’t leave the house. She is stuck in the past, paralyzed by her daughter’s death. But despite the lack of wellness in the situation, her reactions reveal was the mother once was: one who gave everything for her daughter.
The life of a parent is this: you give up everything for your children. Your hopes, desires, wants – they are secondary, if they exist at all. You give and give and give, and when there’s nothing left, you give even more. Some won’t agree with me, but I believe this to be 100% true – a life of a parent should be a life of whole sacrifice. No one can do this perfectly (I’ve certainly struggled with it), but we ought try our best.
I have a friend who had a falling out with her mother – the mom did not put her daughter first. She consistently put herself in the lead. She was and is a bad mom – because being a parent means losing yourself for the sake of your child.
Menma’s personality provides insight into how her mother loved her. Children emulate their parents, and Menma was a giving, loving, and graceful girl. She truly puts others above herself in almost every situation. Where did she learn that? From her detached father? No – it’s from a mom that always put her first.
And what of Jintan’s father? I kept judging him throughout the series, thinking that he needed to do something for his son’s future. But the truth of the matter is that he sees his son – he truly sees him. One of my favorite scenes in cinema history comes near the end of The Joy Luck Club, when a mother tells the daughter who always felt like she was a disappointment this: “I see you.” She saw her heart, and claimed that it was beautiful and more important than anything else.
Jintan’s dad, while at the cemetery, reveals that he knows all about his son. He is not an absent dad – he knows the situation. He also knows the pain that Jintan feels with the guilt of losing Menma and the pain of losing his mom – and because of that, he will let Jintan find peace himself, without driving him into further pain, to addictive substances, or to other harsh decisions. He offers grace and love even further when wondering why he son need apologize, although any human would feel burdened by a son who is ungrateful.
He sees him, and he’ll give Jintan the love he needs to endure.
Parents in the past were perhaps no better than ones today. But increasingly today, there are lots of things that come before, or share a level playing field with family – money, possessions, career, success, ambition, friendship, romance, and alcohol among them. But be clear on this – none of these things should come before love. Love trumps all and it is more valuable than gold and rubies. It’s what we all need and it’s what every parent can provide every child.
For those of you without kids, remember my advice. Put them above yourself. And see them for who they are. And I promise, you will never regret it.