In Death, the Celebration of Living
Today's my dad's funeral. We all got up early for the preparations. People arrived early, some just to pay their respects before they went off to work, particularly those who couldn't make it the night before.Last night, we had a huge thunderstorm and in addition to that, the city council had closed off a major intersection leading to our housing area for the 'opening' of a newly built fly-over, thus causing gridlock in town. Many people had to turn back because they either didn't know the alternative route to our house or the rain and the massive traffic jams just prevented them from getting here. This morning the four monks arrived at 9am sharp, and we promptly proceeded with the chants. We then lined up in a row and offered the food to them, one dish at a time, starting with me, being the eldest son. Once they got their food, the rest of us had our breakfast too. When everyone was done, we were asked to sit in front of the monks and we chanted a bit more, and one of them told a story (a bit like a sermon I guess) in Thai, and another translated it into Hokkien for us, mostly for the benefit of my Chinese-speaking family members. The key points mentioned was that we shouldn't be sorrowful for the loss, but instead we should celebrate the fact that my dad has done great deeds in life and will definitely be going to a better place. The reason for his short lifespan was due to the karma in his previous life, but in this one he has redeemed himself. We then had a short 5 minute meditation session, visualizing my dad free of suffering and making his way towards Buddha, for peace and happiness. After that was all done, the family had one last look at my dad in the coffin before it was finally sealed up. Traditionally in Chinese funerals, there was one final show of respect with the funeral director calling upon the different groups of acquaintances of the deceased to bow in front of the coffin, in the order of family, business, and friends. The coffin was loaded into the hearse and we, the three sons and my mom rode with it to the crematorium. My grandparents were not allowed to follow us there because they are from one generation above, and are regarded symbolically as 'life-givers' so they should not witness the final rites for their son. We led a long procession of cars to the crematorium and our group was quite a crowd there. All of the flowers that were given had to be brought over and burnt together with the body. And we got a LOT of flowers... 53 arrangements. So much so that it took them a good 10-15 mins to unload every one of them from the van. All of us, including visitors, then walked around the coffin, leaving a piece of sandalwood or a flower on the top of the coffin, and 'walking over fire' (a pot with burning incense paper inside) and finally washing our hands in floral water. As we were doing this, a Pied Fantail flew in and watched the proceedings from one of the beams above. This is one of my dad's favourite birds. Everybody then adjourned to a vegetarian restaurant for lunch at the end of it all. Today, I actually felt it was a joyous occasion rather than a sorrowful one, strange as that may sound. With the blessings of the monks and the attendance and fellowship of friends and relatives, there was a very good and happy vibe going on. In fact today's the birthday of one of the monks in attendance! It was almost like my dad intended _not_ for us to weep but instead be happy and party on and celebrate life. Even after we the family all got back home we had tea while chit-chatting and laughing about things and not dwelling on the sad things, and sometimes sharing funny anecdotes about my father. I'm so glad my good friend Jaime actually took leave and came up to Ipoh with her family too to send their regards, even though they don't know my dad personally. Thanks so much. Likewise, we've gotten _immense_ response from the condolence guestbook I had set up on my dad's web site -- laurencepoh.com -- and I had printed the messages and put them on a notice board. It's a shocking realization to many of our visitors as to how far reaching my dad's influence has been with messages coming in from all over the world, most of which are from people who have never even met my dad in person. Tomorrow we'll be going back to the crematorium to pick up my dad's ashes, and taking it to Pos Slim, a small village on the way up the new road to Cameron Highlands, and he will be put to rest at his favourite birding spots, among the birds he loved so much. My uncle has put up some photos of the monks' cave temple from the day before.