Tian, a young girl sits quietly sadly threading glass beads onto a wire, a bead for every tear shed since the news of her sailor father’s death. Tian, her mother and brother, Dao, are making a bouquet of glass beads to be placed on their father’s grave on a lonely headland in far off Australia.
Since receiving the sad news, the family have observed the rituals. They donned white clothing and headbands, the colour of mourning and Tian’s mother lit the incense and placed fresh flowers and fruit next to a faded photo of their father, a father Tian and Dao hardly knew. Mother allays Tian’s fears that father did not receive a proper ceremony telling Tian that the ship’s Captain explained in the telegram how they had followed the correct funeral observances and when the ship left port, father’s shipmates stood on the deck and the captain gave three blasts on the ship’s horn to say good-bye.
Very soon the bouquet is complete, carefully packed, addressed and posted off to that far away grave. Tian, finding a fallen blue bead, hangs it in the window where it simmers in the light moving to and fro just like the ocean waves rising and falling. A remaining glass tear for her father.
Di Wu’s pastel illustrations reflect the sadness the family is feeling and the importance of the death rituals. Funerals are important in Vietnamese Buddhist culture and the illustrations show readers how carefully the family dressed and how they placed the incense, flowers and fruit near their father’s photograph and the respect shown by the extended family. They also reflect the respect and rituals given by the crew and Captain of their father’s ship at a uniquely difficult time.
Jane Jolly was inspired to write this story after coming across a grave on the headlands at Stenhouse Bay in South Australia. A plaque tells of the accidental death of a Vietnamese ship’s bosun, Doa Thanh. His fellow Buddhist crew members held funeral rites and he was buried overlooking the sea. Atop of his simple grave is a glass case with a bouquet of glass bead flowers made and sent by his family. It is easy to see how the death of a loved one in a far-off land would be difficult for those left behind.