Death Rites

Photo Credit: Rosenred_BJD Flickr via Compfight cc

A friend of mine told me an interesting anecdote the other day. An aunt had recently passed away. At the wake, there was a funeral service held by the funeral home itself. The representative, according to my friend, was “extreme born again” and as she delivered a fiery sermon, one of the cousins, who belonged to another sect, got up and went outside. As he did so, another cousin whispered, “Oh look, he left because his Jesus and her Jesus don’t get along very well.”

After that came a mass composed of old people wearing yellow, and my friend wondered if his aunt would get confused as to which heaven she was supposed to enter.

I replied that some Filipino-Chinese customs were more bizarre as there would be a mix of Christian and Buddhist or Taoist beliefs — as well as perhaps some folk beliefs. Imagine a priest or pastor delivering a sermon while at his back is an altar with incense and a food offering for the deceased. A really elaborate funeral affair would have a paper-mache house, cars and other property that would later be burned so that the deceased would have these in the afterlife. There is also the constant burning of paper symbolizing money, for the deceased to spend in heaven.

Strict adherents of feng shui would check your birth dates at the door. If your Chinese zodiac sign conflicts with the deceased, you won’t be allowed to enter and view the corpse, even if you are a relative. I learned about this a few years back when I had a student whose brother had passed away and she wasn’t allowed to go to the wake.

Some still adhere to the practice of hiring mourners to wail loudly at the burial procession, to show the deceased how sorrowful everyone is at their passing. And then there is the ritual of wearing only white clothes for certain period of time (a year, if I’m not mistaken) after the funeral.

The interesting thing is that when I talk to some friends who follow these beliefs, I learned that most of them do so not because they really believe in the practices, but because that is what is expected of them by the community. In other words, they don’t want to be seen as ignorant or rebellious of the social customs around them.

This got me to thinking what it would be like on my own funeral. I’ll probably break so many customs and traditions. For one, I will forbid any religious services whatsoever. Eulogies and poetry-reading are acceptable. Anyone can come wearing whatever they like, even the color red. There will be jazz music playing all day long.

My own idea of a death ritual is it should be a celebration of a life well-lived, the perfect dessert to a satisfying meal. I see no purpose in burdening others to follow elaborate rituals or threatening them with eternal hellfire.

I do not know what lies beyond death, or even if there is life after death. What matters is that I have fully lived and loved in this one.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Email me at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

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One thought on “Death Rites”

  1. You missed out an important point. During the lives of our family and friends we celebrate their BIRTHDAYS – we are happy that they were born, to live a more or less satisfactory and joyful life and to help others. I still do, even though my father died 55 years ago. But it would appear that this is ‘wrong’ – what is normally ‘celebrated’ here is the day of their death. Why? Are we happy – should we be happy – that they have died and have entered that ‘other, better’ world? Surely they are still ‘alive’ to us as long as we remember them.

    To (slightly) amend Mark Anthony’s speech in Shakespeare’s ‘Julius Ceasar’, “the GOOD that men (and women) do lives after them, the EVIL is (or should be) buried with their bones.”

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