What would my mom think if she saw me here in Ohio, sweeping a tomb and praying to ancestors — just like my husband would in China?
I’ll bet she would have cocked her head or raised an eyebrow, just as my relatives did when my husband announced our next stop. “We’re going to celebrate the Tomb Sweeping Festival,” also known as Qingming Jie. So John repeated himself and even explained it was a Chinese holiday where everyone visited their ancestors’ graves. But that only lead to polite smiles and nodding that suggested they were just trying to be nice and listen to him, but didn’t really understand.
That’s okay. If my mother was still alive, I’m sure she wouldn’t have understood what we were doing at that grave — a grave that was her own.
John laid a simple fruit salad of cantaloupe and honeydew melon before her gravestone, as if inviting her to dine with us at that moment. Then he put his hands together to pray, just as I did, and the two of us bowed towards her three times in reverence. We then brushed off the dead leaves and grass from the headstone, and polished it with a little water.
I didn’t even need to glance around at the other families there to know the obvious — no one else would come to bow or even offer food at a gravestone. I would never have done these things if I hadn’t gone to China and later married John. And sometimes, in the back of my mind, I even wondered — would I have gone to China at all if I hadn’t lost my mother when I was just 17?
Before coming to China, whenever I visited her grave I always wept at the very sight of her name, engraved forever in cold, gray marble stone — powerless and alone.
But this time, not a single tear left my dry eyes because I brought her something to eat, cleaned “her house” and showed her a little respect. Was it because it felt like something I would have done while she was still alive? Or was it because I had John by my side?
I don’t know for sure. But next time I visit her grave, I’ll be sure to bring along John and the comfort of his traditions.
What’s your experience with the Tomb Sweeping Festival (Qingming Jie)? Do you think it helps you cope with your grief better?