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Sometimes The Body Forgets To Grieve

By Emma Webber

This piece was written and submitted by one of our community members, Emma.

In a small Japanese village nestled in the mountains, scattered with traditional straw–
roofed farmhouses, I stepped off the morning bus at Shirakawa-go and breathed in the
cool, damp, country-side air. With 250 years of architectural history but barely a soul in
sight, I felt alive and alone.

In need of solitude amidst a few months of turbulence, I left Australia to travel
through Japan’s green forests and waterfall walking tracks. Getting comfortable alone became easier for a rather chatty extravert than I thought. But seeking out silence
can often bring unexpected feelings to the surface, and on this particular day, a
a profound sensory experience led me to face grief that I hadn’t known I was burying.
Walking from the bus stop into the village, everything seemed closed. Asleep. It was not
early by the standards of a farmer or a fitness instructor, but in a small, slow town like
this, the birds began chirping in the mid-morning. So as raindrops started to fall, I ducked
to find cover, with a side of coffee and cake.

I found a short wooden door with an open sign on its front and peered through the
window of an empty, quaint coffee shop. Hesitantly turning the door handle, I stepped
inside and said a soft “Hello”, hoping a soul would return my call.

And that’s when it began.

My senses had flared in the quiet, dimly lit room as I left the outside world and breathed
in the scent of well-oiled mahogany that lined the cabinets and countertops. It was the
exact smell of my grandfather’s piano. The smell of him charming the room with
classical music as he played the keys with soft hands and closed eyes.

As I waited in silence, I soaked in the decor. Shiny wooden tables and chairs with fresh
flowers in each setting spoke of elegance and gave character to the room. The
purple ones were just like the delphiniums my Granny used to pick from her garden. I
could see her in my mind, asking my brother and me to smell their perfume as she smiled

The far wall was lined with colourful teacups and saucers, each unique from their
neighbour, patiently waiting to be filled with warm liquid and hugged by cold hands.
They remind me of the floral collection my Granny owned, and I could hear her commenting
on their beauty as if she were standing there next to me.

I’m pulled out of my daydream as a door from the far end of the room opens, and a small
character walks into my vision. He was old, with kind eyes and dressed impeccably. He
wore suit pants and a white buttoned-up shirt and combed his hair carefully to one side,
framing his warm smile. I was reminded again of my grandparents, who dressed as if
every day was a special occasion.

There’s something beautiful about that.

I guess in a slower time it made sense; human connection was cherished – it was important to look your best for it.

As he approached, he looked at me to ask if I would like a seat. I nodded. ‘Yes, please’
and was shown to one of the shiny tables. I ordered a coffee and cheesecake, and he
smiled ‘very good’. His smile was unassuming and gentle, just like my grandfather’s, and
as I made that connection, I felt a strange sense of butterflies warm my stomach.

I went to the bathroom to wash my hands and was hit again with this strange sensory
timewarp. The walls were painted pastel pink, the exact shade of my grandparent’s
place in Scotland. Then, as I took a deep breath, this soft, musky smell overwhelmed
me. It was like a combination of porcelain and perfume that only an older lady
would wear. Everyone knows it. That smell of being wrapped up in your grandma’s
cardigan and kissed gently on the head.

Suddenly, without warning, I began to well up. Disoriented and struggling to make
sense of these forgotten memories taking over me in such a foreign place.
I haven’t thought much about my Granny and Grandpa since they passed. Living in
Australia, I couldn’t make it back to Scotland for their funerals, so saying goodbye felt
like a distant wave that I had given them many times before, hoping it wouldn’t be the

When I returned to my chair, I sat down to a slice of fluffy cheesecake and a fragrant
black coffee. It steamed with nostalgia as I breathed in the memories of Granny
enjoying her late morning cuppa and cake whilst we demolished a Marks & Spencer
chocolate log.

I don’t know that I’ve ever tasted coffee and thought so specifically of her. But it feels
like she’s here. Like they’re here.

As I looked up for answers, Frank Sinatra filled my ears, and I could see my new friend
smiling as if my Grandad had requested this one for me – knowing it would pull at my
Heartstrings. Tears filled my eyes once more, overwhelmed by the concoction of senses that
transported me to such a specific slice of my past. I was about as far as I could possibly
be from Scottish soil, yet memories of my grandparents surrounded me that I had
not reminisced in years.

Had I forgotten to grieve because I was so far away when they left?

Or had I let our memories fade away as they aged and lost parts of themselves? The parts that made up the DNA of our stories.

Leaving the coffee shop, my body gave way. I sat on the corner of the lane and wept –
for the happy memories that I had revived, the love for them that I had forgotten, and my
sadness for them no longer being here that I had pushed aside.

I am not overly spiritual, or one to seek out meaning, but that day felt worth
investigating, and since then, I’ve become certain of two things – That senses have the
power to take you anywhere and uncover lost memories. And that sometimes, the body
forgets to grieve.

Sometimes, we forget to feel, taste, hear or smell the memories that celebrate our lost
loved ones. Sure, you can reminisce and cry and share stories. But to touch an old
jumper, to smell their perfume or taste their cooking? They’re things I believe the body
craves and needs in order to say goodbye.

In my search for solitude, I found grief. By stepping away from the chaos and soaking in
my surroundings, I was able to give permission to emotions that I had trapped for too
long and found closure that I hadn’t known I was missing.

For me, it is a reminder in our modern world that human connection should be
cherished like it once was. We don’t have to dress for every occasion, but we should
treasure the sensory experiences that mark our memories and keep our spirits alive.

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