11 November 2009
My grandfather passed away this spring and it had been the end of a very emotional roller coaster for my mother. We all flew back to Taiwan on short notice from our various ends of the earth to participate in the Buddhist funeral rites.
The rites consisted of laying the body for three weeks while people came to pay their respects. The incense was kept burning 24-7 for his soul, resulting in a 24-hour vigil over the alter and body to ensure the incense doesn't die out, covered by shifts. For all the trouble, I am for once grateful that we have a large family to share the burden.
The day before the burial was a day of prayers. The local temple sent a monk to lead the family through the entire book of Buddhist chants. For many of us cousins raised and educated abroad, it was hard enough keeping up with reading the Chinese prayer book, but the Chinese was modified to reflect the ancient language of the original text.
The funeral itself, we hired a master of ceremonies to run the show. He did a masterful job, announcing in his booming but deferential voice, and discreetly guiding each and every one of us on where to stand, when to bow, what to do, all the while giving the audience the chance to pay their final respects. The burial was as family only event, although none of us were permitted to watch the coffin being lowered into the grave.
My grandfather was born a impoverished farmer, orphaned at a young age and then the father figure to a brood of siblings. He never finished third grade and grew up in an age of Japanese occupation. By the time I, his first grandchild, was born, the house has grown into a two level fixed edifice with plumbing and he was president and owner of a shoe manufacturing business. By the time he was forced to retire, he was the father of four daughters, two sons, all but one child married and blessing him with grandchildren. His company had grown to include two factories in China.
Ah-gong struggled with diabetes in his later years. Perhaps due to superstition, perhaps due to denial, he ignored the diagnosis until the family found out years later. By that point, his health has deteriorated and the family's focus was to slow down that downward spiral. His passing was heartbreaking and the first loss of this immediate family in many years. Ultimately, though, when looking around during the funeral, he was a well-loved patriarch and he left behind a large family as successful as they are diverse in personalities. His legacy already shows.
As the calendar year slowly winds to the end, our family is looking forward to turning a new page, learning to support Mum through her grief, and looking forward to a new year of hopefully more happy memories to fill our family chronicles. J and I are both going home for Thanksgiving, the first homecoming with all of us present in over a year and a half. It's time. To be thankful of who we have, memories to cherish, and bodies to hug.