This will be a long post, but I need to recap the last few days, just to process it myself, so writing it down helps.
After the service there was plenty of food, but I didn’t feel much like eating. I went and patted the cat that hung around the area, waiting for scraps. There was a lot of sitting around while people ate and talked. Felt kind of weird to be sitting in a room with a coffin in it, eating and drinking. I ate a lot of kueh lapis…kind of the only comfort food I felt like (it doesn’t taste as pink as it looks).
Then yet another message from the pastor, and we all took a flower and laid it on the coffin. Unlike Australia, where there is usually a curtain or at least some doors that close on the coffin, at this place you just stand around and watch the coffin go into the actual furnace.
We went out for yum cha at this surreally empty mall (it was still quite early in the day). We had so much food, and it was delicious. My cousins and I sat together; even though we’re all in our late 20s and 30s, we will always be at the kids’ table, being clowns.
So then it was time to go and collect the ashes. In four hours. So fast. I assumed that we would just go pick up an urn. But no, that’s not the Chinese way. This next bit might be a bit morbid sounding, but it is how they do it here. And I actually found it quite fascinating, when I stepped back and observed it. It completely demystifies the whole process of death and dying.
Back at the crematorium, there was a table with two metal boxes on it. In one box there were the remains of the coffin. In the other box were Mama’s bones. Beside the boxes was a piece of newspaper with pieces of bone the attendants had separated; these were fragments of skull, set aside because they were the most special pieces.
Each family member had to select some bones with chopsticks and put them in the urn, then pieces of skull. The attendant ground down the contents of the urn with a stick (that was pretty much the sort of thing they muddle mojitos with), then he went and ground the remaining bones into ash in a machine, and the family poured the ash into the urn together. Of course everyone photographed the entire process.
I’ll spare you the photos of the bones themselves, but this is my dad (in black) and his siblings in the last stage.
Afterwards I got in the car and said to dad, “well that was weird.” And he said, “what was?”
The whole trip has been an eye opener in terms of cross cultural experience, made weirder by the fact that this is half my culture and yet I am so unfamiliar with it.
It has been a strange time of catching up with family, of remembering my grandmother, of trying to bond with my young half siblings, of eating. Dad and Janice have kindly put me up, but my dad and all the kids are unwell and I’m starting to feel a bit headachy myself…I’m hoping it’s just tiredness and I’m not getting their colds!
|Me and Ethan|
|Celine, me and Ethan…somehow I didn’t manage to get a pic with Matthew!|
Tomorrow morning I get back on a plane and go back to Australia and straight back to work on Monday. I’m exhausted. I’m not really emotional, just tired and dazed and a bit spun out from everything that I’ve been a part of these last few days. I wonder if it will hit me later. Hopefully the plane is not full again and I will be able to sleep the day away.