Thai Funeral

I left right after my class ended on Wednesday (1:00pm) for the bus station in Bangkok (Mo Chit) to travel to Phitsanulok.  I arrived at 7:00pm and it was pouring outside.  Jet’s cousin (Toon) picked me up at the Phitsanulok bus station and we left in the rain to the south-eastern part of town where the temple that Jet’s Grandmother was.  There were a few family members and friends there, perhaps 100 in total, for the ceremony that began at 8:00pm.  I did not expect to arrive in time for the ceremony, so I had to rush and change into my only set of clothes (black pants, white polo shirt) that I had prepared for the funeral.  I had only anticipated attending the ceremony on Thursday, but I attended the ceremony on Wednesday night and on Friday as well, so the one set of clothes had to last for those three days.  Ben was happy to see me when I arrived at the temple and he just ran around the temple the whole evening.  The first thing I did was pay my respects to Jet’s Grandmother and then meet and greet the family members that were there.  The ceremony itself was very similar to every other Thai ceremony at a temple that I have attended before as there were chanting, gifts presented to the monks by dignitaries/honored guests, then eating lots of food – all lasting for about 1 hour.  I suppose this same ceremony took place every night since Jet’s Grandmother died on Sunday.  Jet’s Grandmother was placed in a very expensive and beautiful casket, but I was not able to see it because it was being stored in an equally beautiful refridgerator-casket.  There were lots of flower wreaths all around the building and Jet’s Grandmother’s casket which were all very beautiful.  There were also musicians playing Thai music all week long at the temple, which Jet told me was for her Grandmother so that she would not get bored.  Interesting.  We ended the night at around 10:00pm and Jet drove Ben and I back to her house for the night, leaving her Mom behind who wanted to sleep at the temple overnight with Grandma.  Here is a short video with some clips from that evening.

At 8:30am Thursday morning we dropped Ben off at the daycare/pre-school and then headed out to the temple for the final day of the funeral.  Lots of food was waiting for us and all of the other guests for breakfast when we arrived, so that is the first thing we did.  While eating, I was asked if I wanted to become a monk for the day as this is something that is customary in Thailand when family members die.  The process would have involved me shaving my head and eyebrows, dressing in a robe as a Thai monk, and then taking part in a separate ceremony before the funeral.  I was interested as this would give honor to both Jet’s Grandmother and her family, but I was not allowed to participate in the end as I needed to repeat the chanting that takes place during the ceremony and no monk there wanted to take the responsibility of helping me along.  From what I was told, the chanting was about the five rules that all Buddhists must follow (no killing animals, no cheating, etc.)  The chanting itself is not in Thai, which is what I had always thought, but in what Jet described as a Hindu or Indian language.  All Thai’s seem to know these chanting very well and Jet practiced one line with me that I just could not repeat for the life of me.  After the monk initiation ceremony took place (I believe there were 7 or 8 that participated), there was a regular Thai ceremony that took place before lunch followed by a lively exchange between three monks that sat apart from each other on very high chairs.  The first part of the exchange I suspect was routine chanting from one monk to the next, but the second part involved questions asked by one monk to the next talking about things like what it means to be a mother, a good person, etc. that might be similar to a homily in a Catholic mass.  Jet told me that this exchange was terrific as it was both funny and entertaining and everyone seemed to enjoy it.  After this ceremony, we ate some more (with all of the coconut ice-cream that you could eat) and meeting and greeting more family members and honored guests until the final ceremony at 4:00pm.  For this ceremony, all of the monks that were currently living at the temple arrived in single file to participate.  Since there were 80 monks there (in addition to the 7 or 8 newly made monks), this was very impressive.  Almost as impressive was that there were over 1,000 people that attended the final ceremony.  The ceremony lasted for about a half hour and seemed very similar to every other Thai ceremony I attended (chanting, gift giving by dignitaries/honored guests).  Here is a short video with some clips from the things that happened up to this point during the day.  The procession of Jet’s Grandmother from the refrigerator-like casket to the oven then began, leaving the temple and having some of the family and guests walking around the building housing the oven three times before placing her casket in-front of the oven.  At this point, there were traditional Thai dancers that performed for Jet’s Grandmother, which Jet told me that both her Grandmother and her Mother really liked.  Here is a video with some clips of the funeral procession.  Then Jet’s Mother began giving the Eulogy, talking about everything Jet’s Grandmother had done in her life.  What I didn’t know was that the entire land where the temple was built and all of the monks were housed was donated by Jet’s Grandmother several years ago.  One of Jet’s Aunts also spoke, and from what I gathered, she read a poem for Grandma that must have been quite emotional.  Here is a video of what she said.  At this point in the funeral, all of the dignitaries that attended (politicians and other important guests) walked up to Jet’s Grandmother’s coffin and placed a small wreath of paper flowers in her open casket (paper to help things burn well), followed by all other guests placing a single paper flower into the open casket.  While this was going on, another one of Jet’s Aunts (Jet’s Grandmother had 10 children, 8 girls and 2 boys … 7 girls and 1 boy are still living) was tossing around handfuls of coins for good luck, which all of the children ran after and collected.  After everyone paid their final respects, the final part of the ceremony took place, placing the coffin inside the oven for cremation.  Here is a  short video of this part of the ceremony.  After the coffin was placed inside the oven, everyone began to leave.  By the time we left (probably around 5:30pm or so), there were only a handful of people still there.  Jet’s Mother asked me to grab one of the bottles of water as we were driving out of the temple, which I had thought would be for drinking.  Jet’s Mother stopped the car in front of the oven, got out of the car with Jet and I and we walked up to the oven, one of the doors was opened, and we all splashed some of the water inside.  Jet told me that this was so her Grandmother would not be too thirsty in the oven.  Interesting.

On Friday morning, Jet left with her Mother at 6:00am for the temple for the next part of the funeral process – taking the remains of her Grandmother out of the oven.  Part of the ashes were put inside a monument that lined the front walls of the temple grounds, which is also where part of the ashes of Jet’s Grandfather were placed when he died some 15-20 years ago.  I arrived at the temple at around 9:00am after Jet’s Father took me to drop off Ben at the daycare/pre-school and I arrived at the point where the family were discussing how to split up Grandmother’s remaining assets, namely a large plot of land nearby the temple grounds.  After this, we all headed over to the Nan river (a very large river that runs through Phitsanulok) with the rest of Grandmother’s ashes wrapped in a large white bed-sheet.  Although they were only ashes, they were quite heavy (perhaps 70-80 pounds) and smelled a little like a pot-roast.  We ate lunch next to the famous temple (“Wat Yai“) next to the Nan river where the “most beautiful” Buddha statue (as considered by most Thai’s) is located.  We had arranged a large boat to take us out on the river at 3:30pm, so we spent the time waiting, talking, and walking around the Thai temple.  We each also bought several lottery tickets in case Jet’s Grandmother would give us good luck.  After I had walked around the temple with Jet, one of Jet’s Aunt’s (the one that spoke the poem I recorded from the ceremony on Thursday) took me back to the temple to teach me how to properly bow in the temple.  I was glad that she took the time to show me this as I don’t recall that anyone ever showed this to me before.  Bowing before the Buddha statue, while on your knees, consisted of five distinct motions, from the wai you make with your hands to your forehead, to the lowering of the hands to the ground in front of you, to the bowing of your head, and then raising back up.  A little after 3:30pm our boat arrived to take the family out on the river.  We did not go far out (maybe 5-10 minutes) before the last part of the funeral took place.  Everyone had taken their shoes off once they got on the boat and sat patiently while the boat went out on the river.  Once we got to a good spot, everyone lit some incense (or “punks” as I always knew them as) and placed them inside the opening of the bed-sheet.  Some final words, chants were spoken by Jet’s Mother while everyone was touching at least one other person.  After this, the bed-sheet was opened a little further and the ashes were spilled out into the river.  Once all of the ashes were gone, a woman that sold fish, eels, mussels, etc. that came aboard with us gave us those items to release into the water for good luck.  After this was finished, the boat turned around and returned to the point where we were picked up at.  The very end of this process, once the boat had secured itself next to the shore for us to get off, was that we threw coins into the river as we walked off, which I was also told was for good luck.  While we were getting off of the boat, we noticed that Jet’s Grandmother’s ashes were just passing us by on the river.  Here is a brief video of some of the things that happened on the river.  We all then said goodbye, and that was the end of my experience watching and participating in a Thai funeral.  I will add pictures of this amazing experience in the next day or so.

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4 Responses to “Thai Funeral”

  1. Julie Schoening Says:

    Andy, thank you for sharing this experience. We are glad that you, Jet, and Ben could be there with Jet’s family during this difficult time.

  2. Kristin Says:

    There are so many coments I want to make about this, where to start. First thank you for being brave enough to tape this, I’m sure people were giving you some looks. Most importantly I will NEVER be able to smell pot roast again without thinking of grandma. THe christmas lights were a intresting touch. When they were having the procession I noticed many people coming from the sides to join, who were these people. I am sad they did not let you become a monk, I would have loved to see the new haircut. Bringing grandma’s ashes on the boat and dumping them over was intresting. I guess a lot of people do that, the water was not the cleanest. For the most part I think it was a very nice way to honor someone who ment so much to so many. The water at the water at the end, Jet’s mom sleeping over night so grandma wouldn’t be alone, and the playing of music so she would not be bored are all intresting .

    I hope Jet is handling her grandmothers death well. I know that teaching will keep her occupied. Tell her to email Nanette, she has been trying to get a hold of her. Have you two gotton any time together yet? Take advantage of all the date nights you can while you are there. When you get back it won’t be as easy to get that alone time.

    Take care and I’ll talk to you soon.

  3. Bar Fridge · Says:

    bed sheets that are made of flannel fabric are the best type of bed sheets “;;

  4. thailand lottery, Says:

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