Happily Ever Afterlife (#48)

Two weeks ago, I attended the wake of a friend’s father, who had passed away at the ripe old age of 92 years old. In Chinese custom, living beyond 80 years old is a testament of a person’s longevity. The passing is mourned with lots of red decorations to denote that the deceased had led a long and full life on earth.

This old man must have been someone quite important and influential in his village during his younger years. His 4 sons and 4 daughters (my friend is the ‘baby’ in the family) spared no effort and money in making sure that their father would be comfortable and well-accepted as a ‘rookie ghost’ in the afterlife.

After a two-hour drive and contributing towards the funeral expenses by way of a ‘white packet’, I heard the loud beating of metal and went behind the huge white tent to find out what the din was all about. A ritual of burning ‘money’ was going on under the intense heat of the afternoon sun. The burning of ‘money’ (made out of rice paper) equates to making advance deposits into an afterlife bank account in heaven for the deceased. His grandchildren were beating on empty metal buckets, empty tins, iron rods and anything they could lay their hands on to frighten away evil spirits, lest they came to hijack the ‘money’ while the ‘funds transfer’ was taking place. The beatings only stopped 45 minutes later, after all the “money” had turned to ashes. So you can imagine how much money was deposited in heaven!

In addition to burning ‘money’, other miniature items like houses, cars, houses and TVs are also burned to make sure the deceased continues to enjoy the same things in the afterlife. My friend and his siblings didn’t just buy their father a house – they bought a mansion made out of wood and paper. The entire structure was about 7 feet high, reaching all the way to the top of the tent, and flanked by a silver mountain on the left and gold mountain on the right. Accompanying the mansion were many servants, a luxury car complete with driver, a motorbike, a fan, a music player with speakers and a garden with lotus leaves made out of  ‘money’. I was told that a total of US$11,000 was spent on this funeral, and this is not referring to paper money!

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The 4Ms necessary for a good afterlife – Mansion, Money, Maids, Mobility!
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Maid cleaning the main entrance to the mansion
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Prayers and offerings are also made to the many gods in heaven.

Attending this wake actually set me thinking about what kind of funeral I would have after departing from this world. I’ve come to the conclusion that I am ill-prepared for death. There is a need to sit down and detail in writing how I want things to be at my own funeral, since I don’t subscribe to any specific religion. Sometimes, I wonder how those who have attained an advanced age view death. Is there Acceptance? Nonchalance? Fear? Turmoil? Denial? Serenity? I’ve not had the courage to ask in case the question is considered inappropriate. Guess I’ll just have to wait for my turn to get an answer.

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23 thoughts on “Happily Ever Afterlife (#48)

  1. Hi Helene – I know almost nothing about cultures in Asia, so it was very interesting to read this. I believe that after death comes new life so there is nothing to worry about, just the people who will be sad to see one leaving this world. I was curious about this so I explored stories of people who were clinically dead and but who made it back to senses again. They describe dying as wonderful, out-of-this-world feeling which makes perfect sense.
    – Ruta

    1. Thanks for dropping by, Ruta. I imagine that dying must be quite pleasant, leaving all the worries and cares behind. I cannot bear the thought of living forever, or for hundreds of years. I have enough worries as it is. The thought of death has never been an issue for me. I am more concerned about how I am going to die. Hope it will be a peaceful death and not lying on the main street, or by drowning or falling from a cliff. So gory, messy and alone! 😦

  2. No one and no bank sends funds transfers of such magnitude to myself, not even down here on earth…therefore if they want to send to me in heaven, I have no objection. Who knows it may reach me and what I can spend on 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 P/S: the colors of that mansion are very intricately thought out and designed, even the work that must have gone into the design is not a trivial issue at all!

    1. Oh yes, really fine work indeed. The mansion was very colourful with lots of reds and pinks as he led a long life. If he had passed on below the age of 80 years old, the colours would have been more sombre. I didn’t manage to get a picture of what was inside the mansion. I did not think it was polite to ask if the paper mansion door could be opened so that I could take a photograph of the inside of the mansion. It was fully furnished with everything you would find in a regular house on earth …and more! 🙂

  3. Do let me know once you have it all figured out. Though I guess by then I might be on the process of figuring it out myself since I think we’re almost the same age. That ‘funds transfer’ thing is too funny, though. 😀 I’d love to someday see something like that in person.

  4. Rituals after one dies are for the living. I had not thought about that until my own parents died. After my father died, my mother received much support, love and appreciation for herself and her recently passed husband. I did not understand at the time how much longer she would need our support. She knew she had the undying love of her children and friends, but she never recovered mentally from his death.
    Unfortunately, it is easier for someone who has experienced death of a loved one to feel best what another feels upon losing someone.

    As I look back, it took my recently deceased 90-year-old friend quite awhile to come to grips with the fact his body was slowly dying. His spirit wanted to live.

    I do know that I am not ready to die myself, but it has helped me learn to to appreciate each day. And to not put off cleaning out the closet, so no one else has to do it!

    1. I read a research article some time ago about what life events cause the greatest amount of stress that lead to illness. The most stressful event that came out tops is grieving for the loss of a spouse!

  5. I think of the past six months I have attended several funerals, I think Chinese people always want when traditional family can leave lively hope dead relatives in another world can have money to eat and clothes to wear, and perhaps such a scene our mood is comforting, perhaps.

    1. Yes, it is always comforting for the living relatives to know that they have made provisions and performed the required rituals for their loved ones’ smooth transition to their new homes in the afterlife.

  6. This post was very interesting, I love learning about culture and traditions 🙂 You should do more of them, it’s so nice !

    As for the thought of death, I’m so scared of it. I don’t think I’ll be ever ready to face it to be honest.

      1. Once we reach a certain age in our lives, I guess it’s quite natural to talk about death especially with close members of our family. Nowadays, the undertaker takes care of everything and there are many funeral packages to choose from e.g. Christian Package, Taoist Package, Buddhist Package, Hindu Package, Muslim Package, etc. Just like choosing a Bridal Package or a Meeting Package. They can also arrange for professional mourners, a monk or pastor to perform the last rites, depending on the religion of the deceased. There is also a selection of coffins, flowers, mourning clothes and footwear to choose from. For one of my beloved aunts who passed away many years back, the religions followed by members of her family were so diverse that they got a Buddhist monk, a Christian pastor and a Hindu holy man to perform her last rites – at different times of the day, of course! Yes, funerals have become commercialised, but it does take away some pressure from the bereaved families during a difficult time.

      2. In the case of a Chinese funeral, the body is kept for 3, 5, or 7 days before burial. During that time, at least one member of the family (usually the male) must remain awake throughout the night to make sure that nothing happens to the body.Relatives and friends who want to pay their last respects can come at any time within those days. Some visit only in the late evening and some stay long into the wee hours as a sign of solidarity and support for the family.So having an external party to see to the logistics (replenishing meals, titbits and drinks, clearing the tables, adding joss sticks, tidying the altar, etc) allows the immediate family to get some rest, shower and take part in the prayers, chanting and rituals that can last anything from 30 minutes to 60 minutes (or more) each time. 🙂

  7. A dear friend recently passed away at the age of 90 years. He had no heirs or family (an only child). In the last few years, we discussed a number of times, what he wanted done upon his death. He insisted on no ceremony (he loved visitors while he was alive), no speeches (as a WW II POW, he said he had heard too many generals ramble on), wanted to be cremated, and his ashes strewn in the woods above his old house in the country (his parents had paid for a burial plot next to their burial plots).

    I did receive phone calls from a few of his still alive friends who wanted to know about any funeral. I told them what my friends wishes were, and we talked on the phone for quite awhile. I’ve since heard from a number of people in our small town who told me the nicest things about my friend. I will admit, it was reluctantly that I carried out his wishes. My daughter kept insisting that I not change what I promised I would do.

    My friends ashes are spread above his old house, where he would often sit and watch the few cars go by. I feel good about what I did. I still miss him. I am glad we talked about what he wanted.

  8. Loved this post! I’m not sure if we can ever prepare ourselves enough for death. The more I think of it; the less sense the oddities of life makes. Maybe, that’s the beauty of living. Don’t think of the end or you may waste out opportunities to experience ‘life’ in it’s entirety.

    1. Ha! Ha! It is the knowledge that I will leave this world one day that has made me all the more determined to live life as it should be lived! As for those places that I have little chance of visiting during this lifetime, bloggers such as yourself become my eyes. Thank you for sharing your travelling experiences.

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