Thai funerals are chill

I went to a funeral over the weekend; a coworker lost her father.
I always find it remarkable at funerals here because they’re such pleasant affairs. Is this a Theravada thing, or a uniquely Thai thing? I suspect Laos is much the same but I’m not sure about Cambodia, Myanmar, or Sri Lanka…
At a typical Thai funeral (I’ve actually been to around fifteen and driven by hundreds), blue canvas pavilions are rented and placed in the street in front of the house for guests to sit under. Monks come from a local temple and their amplified chants fill the streets for all to hear. This is one social occasion when people generally arrive on time, so they can be there to offer prayers and light joss sticks in front of the coffin and photos of the deceased inside the house.
The family of the deceased doesn’t cry or even seem overly distressed. It’s the strangest thing coming from countries where people cry at funerals to one where they don’t. At first it feels like something’s missing. Then people sit down at tables, food and booze is served, and the transition from funeral to wake transitions so smoothly they can hardly be classified as separate functions (and indeed, they aren’t here).
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A man at my university lost his son to the Nam Chi (river) a few months ago. The boy had been gathering shellfish on the banks with his friends, but got swept out in the strong currrent. His friend tried to save him and they both drowned. Tragic, right? It made me really sad just hearing about it at the funeral from the father, but I noticed how matter-of-factly everyone around me accepted this information, so I acted the same way. My normal reaction would be to try and console, or express regret, or…. I realized at that moment that it’s kind of better this way. I mean, the situation is obvious. Everybody feels crappy that it happened, but no lamenting or carrying on at the funeral is going to change a thing. If you don’t need the release of crying and being patted on the back being told its going to be alright, there’s really no reason for it, is there?
I don’t know if I’ve done the wonderfully natural and sincere atmosphere at Thai funerals any justice here; it’s quite hard to describe. I feel that a lot of what people attach to death back home is, quite frankly, bullshit. I’m just saying it’s nice to attend a funeral where all of that is absent.

3 Replies to “Thai funerals are chill”

  1. I have seen on the news here where some of the younger generation are starting to take pictures with their cell phones of the deceased and other goings on. I find it kind of tacky, but it is what it is.
    I just hope this new tradition is a Japan-only thing.

  2. I suppose it all depends on the specific event per cultural, religious, and personal belief systems of the people who are attending a funeral that creates a particular type of atmosphere. The last funeral I went to was for your cousin, who we all mourned greatly. It was different for each person and some of us moved through the stages of grief (Dr. Kubler-Ross; “On Death and Dying”) more easily than others. It is what it is.
    I can certainly feel how it must be really odd to witness a lack of strong emotional expression at a Thai funeral, especially when children die so tragically. Yet I know that many parents love and cherish their children, just as we do.
    Here in America where the fear of aging and the whole “death and dying” issues are a huge “away from”, it does cause a lot of emotional stress for a majority of my clients. The Buddhist Way of accepting death as part of the Life Cycle, is possibly one big reason for so many Westerners being drawn to meditative Buddhist practices.
    When I die, you have my permission to host a barbeque party with champagne, beer, yummy desserts at “Hollywood Forever” and enjoy good memories as I enjoy whatever I’m doing on the other side of the veil.

  3. after attending more funerals than I ever wanted to this year, I agree. Americans are far too dramatic. Emotional outbursts are almost mandatory at funerals – of all religious denominations here in the states. The inability of the people here to deal with death has to do with the lack of historical depth. We ain’t got no history to speak of here. Sad. Especially for people like me that get emotional by osmosis.

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