Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Instructional: How to handle a dead body

The same way it doesn't make a jaunt through the pasar ramadhan more romantic, attending a wake on a rainy evening does not make the event more poignant.

This is because:

a) It's not a bloody movie
b) It's bloody reality (which means there isn't anyone like Arthur!Inception around to give you a saucy "kick")

If anything, it annoys you because you have to contend with the cold rain trickling down your neck, fogged glasses and worry that you will disrespectfully trek mud up and down your aunt's porch as you pay your respects to her deceased husband.

My uncle, who was the fifth of my mother's six brothers (true story), died after being struck by a second heart attack, the first of which took place maybe 2 hours prior. At least, that's what I gathered from my aunt's recollection. 

Aside from deciding that mourners gathering around to express their condolences to my bleary-eyed aunt and cousins was a horrible spectacle akin to rubbernecking at an automobile accident, I also learnt how much it costs to organise a funeral. 

A minimum of RM18,000* will ensure that Nirvana Memorial Services (NMS) handles everything from notifications to peanuts to purification rituals. RM20,000 more will get you a better hearse and cortège arrangement and 200 SMS notifications instead of 100. Also: more chairs.

My role at the funeral was to observe quietly and marvel at how NMS have refined the postmortem ritual down to a well-oiled operation. Points of interest included:

- Everyone younger than the deceased has to wear a white sash, knotted on the left and accessorised with a red ribbon to ward off bad energy.
- Uncle #2 kicking up a prolonged fuss when he discovered that my grandfather's name was written on the banner instead of his brother's, not because he cares, but because he's a bitchy old man whose sole purpose in life appears to be kicking up a fuss.
- Turning away when the coffin was brought out to ward off bad energy.
- Uncle #2 being led away to prevent emission of more bad energy (kidding).
- If you don't know when to bow, take your cue from the monk/nun at the altar.
- The monk/nun announces the departure of the deceased, presumably to the Emperor of Heaven (or Hell), chanting out his name, dates of birth and death, and, um, his address.
- They do love them marching bands at Chinese funerals, don't they?

After paying our respects at the home, mourners proceeded to the NMS crematorium across town. More observation ensued:

- If only places for living people were as peaceful and inviting as the memorial park.
- Buddhist funeral chanting, dry ice and a benevolent image of Buddha from whose third eye a green laser emits to play across the coffin as it slowly rolls in to the cremation chamber makes for major eye-rolling.
- Being a stone-cold killer scribe counts for nothing as the finality of death virtually hits you across the face with a two-handed backhand of horror thanks to the protracted farewell that eventually takes its toll on your battle-hardened self (so that's why it goes on so long!).

A great way to end the afternoon was to have everyone reminisce about the deceased over a catered lunch (we did, sorta). Unfortunately, death is serious business, and an offer to tour the memorial grounds soon became a sales pitch for those who were interested in "investing in the future". I would say something clever here but I'm much too hungry right now.

* this price excludes the cost of a cremation urn and a "unit" in their columbarium


Snuze said...

First, my condolences to your family on the loss of your uncle.

I have only been to one Buddhist funeral and was surprised that I was given ang pow for it (apparently cause I was crying buckets). It was my Form 1 English teacher's funeral; I didn't expect the tears and had no hanky/tissue paper handy to wipe my face.:p

Malay funerals are much cheaper; you pay for someone to dig the plot, register and get licence for the grave as well as the funerary preparation and person to wash the body (tukang mandi mayat). ~ RM 800? Thereabouts.

I participated in the preparation of my grandma's body for the funeral and thought that it was a wonderful way of getting closure. The good thing about Malay funerals is that there is always something to do; sometimes it even got the air of a merry and boisterous kenduri rather than a solemn affair.

Snuze said...

Props for the Arthur!Inception inclusion! *swoons*

Angela Gripesalot said...

Thanks. I actually didn't know how my mum would react; we're not very emotional on this side of the tracks.

The funeral actually took place last month but I wasn't sure if I could write this without sounding insensitive/flippant.

Here is a pat on the back for your reaction to your teacher's funeral - *pat*

We received ang pow and sweets too, I think the sweets were to ward off... bad energy (BLAH). We also had to step over burning charms and mandi (more like rinsing) bunga after paying our final respects.

I guess you pay for the appearance, and I know a municipal council cremation costs ~RM500, so that's probably what I'll go for.

I'd prefer a happy funeral too, but I guess that never enters the equation when you have a sudden death like my uncle's. We weren't that close but my relatives were quite shaken and vowing to hang out together more often, only they tend to squabble a lot, so I doubt that'll happen :P

And no, I couldn't resist an Inception reference!

Snuze said...

Re my teacher's funeral, I really didn't expect to cry; after all, I haven't thought of her for over 10 years. I read about the funeral in the alumni newsletter and thought to just drop by and pay my last respects.

Yeah, post funeral everybody "saw the light" and vowed everything under the sun and when the tears dry up, you recall how much you detest X and would like to pull Y's spine out and return to the status quo.

A happy funeral would be great. Have a wake where people drink toasts to the dead and reminisce the naughty stuff. Keep all the happy thoughts and forget and forgive if possible. It looks good in foreign films, but we Asians would be appalled at the idea of laughing at a funeral, no?

All for the love of Arthur and Eames. ♥

Angela Gripesalot said...

i prefer being nice at arm's length meself :D

and a happy funeral... anyone outside the immediate family has no business being judgmental, is what i say!

in my case, everyone is to have canapés and hors d'oeuvre-s at my funeral and anyone who doesn't like it can suck it >:D