Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Thai Funerals

Pun and I had the opportunity to go to a funeral a little while back. Funerals are always thoughtful events for me. In this case where I didn't know the person (the mother of a manager of Pun at work) I wonder what was she like? How are all these people related to her? What is the meaning in all this ritual? Did she ever think about eternity? Where is she now?

This was actually her cremation ceremony. She passed away in April, I believe. At that time they had several days of rituals where people would come to the temple and listen to the monks chant while eating a dinner provided by the family. Usually, funerals appear to be light hearted here especially when the deceased is an older person. People visit, talk on their phones, read the paper. And then as the monks begin their chanting in intervals, some sit up and pay attention. These nightly ceremonies can go on for days, depending on how much money the family can afford for the funeral. The longer, the better. It is part of the merit making system to help the person in the next life.

So she was held until her birthday in June to be cremated. I have no pictures to show you but if you go here you can see how a cremation ceremony is set up. We sat and sat and waited until the last minute when we filed up to the coffin, placed our shaved-wooden flower under it, then walked down some side stairs, and received a book about her life. That was it. People were laughing, talking, visiting. I stood there at the bottom of the stairs awhile longer watching them push the coffin into the fire chamber, seeing it light up with fire, and watching the two monks who sat at the bottom of the stairs look on. I am not sure what their role was, but it was definitely an honored one.

I am not sure what I was expecting. But honestly, when it was all over it was overwhelming to me. It was one of those few moments in my life when hell became so real. I could see it. And all around me were others completely blind to it.


Laurel said...

Oh Merri, how heart wrenching. Thank you for sharing about this, and for the link.

karen said...

Wow. I don't have a lot to say after reading your post. That is all so very interesting and so different than here. It is sort of amazing that when you just grow up with something that it seems like no big deal. How we can desensitize ourselves from almost anything.

Anonymous said...


My name is Daniel and I knew Pun when we studied at the CEPM program at UT Austin in 1995. I have good memories about him, he was young and we were not. I have been coming to Thailand several times and each time I thought about google Pun's name to see if he is here. It seem you guys are in Thailand. Well, if is possible let Pun knows that I am with Dow Chemical and we are doing a mega project near Bangkok. He would probably remember is you mention, I am from Peru and my wife is Japanese. I can be contacted via e-mail to dabanto@dow.com or here in Thailand at 086-884-2713 or at the hotel at o3825-9888 room 229 (Sheraton). Congratulations you have a nice family.


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