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Monday, December 3, 2012

Notes On A Funeral

Recently I attended the funeral of a colleague's father. He had been battling throat cancer and succumbed after around 6-8 months of treatment. He was in his 70's, and I think his passing was somewhat expected given his frail condition. I got the call on Sunday that he had finally succumbed, and we went with the rest of the office crew for the funeral at his house.

I've not been to too many funerals, and the few I have been to have been traditional Christian funerals, at churches etc. Perhaps this colours my opinions a little bit, but whatever the case may be, I thought of jotting a few points down.

1. The first thing I noticed was how there were very few people actually 'grieving'. As we entered the funeral home, there were no idle people around. The family members were busy arranging food and drinks, while the rest of the 'visitors' simply sat outside catching up with each other in the hastily erected tent. Even our colleague showed little or no emotion that this was in fact his father's funeral, instead spending most of his time making sure the generator was okay and chatting with a few of his relatives and work friends. Now, I perfectly understand that people deal with grief in different ways, yet I still felt a little unsettled at this lack of emotion at the proceedings.

2. While the family at least were somewhat sombre, the rest of the people who had turned up at the funeral showed little concern that this was a funeral, loudly guffawing and joking with each other, completely oblivious that they were standing roughly 20 feet from a dead body. I was really embarrassed by this; how can people be so callous over the death of a loved one? Sure you may not have known the man personally but still, some form of decorum should be present. Just because they've seated outside in this tent, the gang goes into party mood. If there was booze around, they would probably have burst into song.

3. The Buddhist monks arrived, and while my poor Sinhala and ignorance to most Buddhist customs prevent me from commenting more on the part they played, I was rather surprised when they left abruptly in the middle of the proceedings. Just as soon as a someone got up to speak about the deceased man, they three monks simply nodded at our colleague and got into their waiting trishaw. I found this rather strange, but again this may be the custom that I am unaware of. Yet, if we are asking a religious figure to attend our funeral, isn't it sort of a given that we want them there for the whole ceremony? I would be very surprised if a Christian priest simply read a few verses and left in the middle of the funeral, leaving the family to handle the rest of the proceedings, and as far as I know, most faiths would have a similar expectation.

4. While I know that a funeral of a loved one is certainly memorable, I don't know why in the world anyone would want to take photographs during it! There was one relative, armed with a point & shoot, who took several pictures throughout the evening. I'm talking about the coffin, the deceased, the people, the priests, the priests and the coffin, and then the hearse, the coffin again as it was carried to the graveyard, the grave stone, the coffin as it was lowered, the coffin as it was buried. It was ridiculous, having this serious and difficult time being punctuated with camera flashes and the digital beeps every time he went back and forth to see if he got the coffin in just the right light. If anyone did that at a funeral of my loved one, there would be an extra body to bury. I'm sure he uploaded them on Facebook that same night.

5. Our company makes a point of sending an email to the entire workforce if a relative of an employee passes away, including providing transport to and from the funeral. I always found this surprisingly considerate, given our 'corporate' label, but I have since noticed that this trend of announcing and providing transport for everyone's funerals has made the whole idea a bit of an 'event'. You hear people asking each other if they're going for this one or not, as if there is some form of merit gained by attending the most number of funerals in a year. Is this what has led to my previous points regarding the levity of the attendees? I'm unsure, but it's something to ponder on.


Chanaka Palliyaguru said...

In a way, the way they responded to the death of their "loved" ones is very realistic.

There is no such thing as "death" in Buddhism. The astral body leaves the physical body which is no longer powerful enough to house a consciousness.

May be they were being themselves instead of hiring people to weep.

May be they didn't actually love the one who is dead.

Could be that the monk's had another funeral to attend.

Taking snaps at funerals is ludicrous. And some people play cards and carrom.

As a habit, I go to funerals. Doing so would make me feel that "death" is very natural and that its a part of life. If I can understand that fully, I would not be crying at a funeral of a loved one.

Gehan said...

Hi Chanaka, I find your comment very intriguing. Thank you for that!

Angel said...

I post agree and disagree with stuff you have mentioned. I have always felt that taking photographs was just horrible taste... I remember going to the home of a patient after her funeral, and her mother showing me the pics of her decked out as a "bride" and lamenting of how that is the only "bridal picture" she has of her daughter. That was her way of grieving. Recently, I lost a beloved uncle, and I understood why my relatives were taking pictures and videos... because his siblings were unable to come to SL, and this was one way they could feel as if they were a (distant) part of the funeral rites.

Very often, we do not see the close relatives grieving. That is not to say their grief is any less... specially those with strong characters find solace in working hard preparing for the alms givings etc. That said, I do find the lack of sobriety among the other participants quite embarrassing... but for those not directly connected, it is indeed just another "event".

The part played by the Buddhist priests is to remind the gathering of impermanence and conferring merit upon the deceased. it is very rarely that a priest stays until the casket is taken out of the house.

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