Facts of life

A few weeks ago, the spouse of the principal at our school passed away. She had been the one fighting cancer, so his diagnosis and quick plunge was quite unexpected. They had both greeted me when I arrived and together with their children took myself and the other new teacher out to dinner. The school is a family affair so it feels as if you are a part of their family.

In the Thai Buddhist culture, a vigil is held each night up until the cremation of the body. How many vigils one has depends on the wealth of the family. More nights of vigils means more money. I’ve heard that in the villages it is common to have 3-5 nights. He had 7 nights.

Each vigil is held at the temple. Flower arrangements that have been sent are arranged around the space. A monk talks to those gathered and then begins the chant. The ceremony each night is between half an hour to an hour long. Each guest is made to feel welcome with beverages and soup is served. Once you have gone to one vigil then your “duty” is complete. However closer friends and family will go to more.

On the eighth day, the cremation took place. The body was placed on an altar in the center of the complex where the crematorium was. We started off facing the monk and the altar in our vigil area and then halfway through we turned our chairs around to face the center altar with the crematorium. We were given paper flowers and walked up the steps to place them in front of the casket. We were then given a “souvenir” (their word not mine) with information and photos of the deceased. The top of the smoke stack of the crematorium features a small spirit house to symbolize the person’s spirit leaving the cremated body.

Unfortunately the crematorium at the temple was broken (this was known before hand) so the body was carried down and loaded on the back of a pickup truck to be taken to a nearby temple for cremation. A few days later they went out on a boat and scattered the ashes in the Gulf of Thailand.

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