Friday, November 5, 2010

korean funeral procedings

chilling.  that's the best way to describe the sobbing of my 3rd aunt, my grandmother's primary caretaker in the past decade or so, during the funeral.  as she lay the flowers on the coffin before burial, she broke down in the type of wailing you only see in dramatic films.  she kept saying that she was sorry, even though i don't really think she really had anything to be sorry about.  perhaps she was sorry for not being there during the actual time of death (she had gone home temporarily with us to take a short break and didn't think my grandmother would pass away so quickly once her blood pressure dropped), or not doing "enough" to keep her healthy for a longer period of time.  we probably all carried some sort of guilt, my father for not coming earlier to see my grandmother one last time when she was conscious because he had scheduled too much work, and me perhaps for not really being that close with my family in korea enough to really feel impacted.  the feeling of my grandmother passing hasn't really sunk in yet, and maybe it won't really, because it's not really an integral or everyday part of my life that will be missing.

when we landed at 3:30am on saturday, we quickly rushed to the hospital for a quick look at my grandmother.  she was comatose, pale, in the intensive care unit, basically being kept alive by the machines.  to me, it was almost as if it was already too late, the grandmother that wanted to see her favorite son (my father) had already fallen into unconsciousness and the plane of interaction between us and her could never be crossed again.  at 12pm, my father told the doctors to cease iv fluids that maintained her blood pressure, and a couple hours later, she passed away.  the wake process started almost immediately after which lasted until 4:30 am monday.  we all dressed in funeral garb, the men in suits and the women in traditional black hanboks.  some, like my father, stayed at the wake location the entire time, while others went back to catch an hour or so before coming back on sunday. 

sunday morning, the funeral managers (i don't know what to call these people, they weren't exactly just undertakers) prepared the body for burial.  our collective family sat in a room with a glass window, watching them clean the head, arms and legs of the body, and then wrap it up.  they then gave us fake money to place on her (so she could spend money in the afterlife), to which my mother and i declined.  after the body was made in a weird decorative mummification type thing, it was placed in a coffin, where it would lay until it was transported to the burial site the following day.

during the wake period, there were several periods where we would all collectively bow in front of a table filled with an assortment of food, first each son with spouse in order of birth, then the daughters with spouse in order of birth, then the son's sons in order of the son's birth, then the son's daughter, then the daughter's children, then all together.  the funeral manager guy would do some weird ritual of swirling some soju over these incense candles and then click chopsticks against a bowl, signifying that the deceased has eaten.  this process would repeat several times during the day.

after periods of meeting random people who had come to pay their respects (mostly friends of my father), and taking short naps in between, i was too exhausted to think much of anything during the actual wake.  when we finally all rode a bus to the grave site around 2 hours outside of seoul, i had almost emptied all thought.

the grave site was a large mountain that was pretty much dedicated to being a graveyard.  just from first glance, i'd say there have to be like at least 10,000 graves on it, maybe even a large multiple more.  it had the look of an ancient civilization lost long ago, with neat rows and rows of graves, graves as far as the eye can see.  that was where we finally buried my grandmother, and had the bowing ceremonial thing again with a small table of food prepared in front of the grave.  we started to then lay dirt on the coffin.  once a body is buried, it does give a sense of finality to someone's life.  the body is now physically separated from us, further representing a psychological severing of any connection with the deceased.  i surmise that it was this that caused my aunt to finally break down, and by doing so, brought emotion to the rest of the family.  it was strange to see my father comfort my aunt as a role as a brother, a role i never see him in.  it was also the first time i've seen him smoke a cigarette in my life.

after a day of mourning on tuesday, where it consisted of us just staying in the day and hanging out, we went back to the gravesite once more where we again did the bowing ceremony thing one last time.  we paid our last respects, and i wondered to myself what i was feeling again.  the grandmother i knew was the grandmother i left behind the last time i saw her over 9 years ago.  in my mind, perhaps i had already let go of her as she faded in my memory.  maybe that's why there was little for me to hold on to.  as sad as it is, there was a period of transition where i just "outgrew" her, when there was no real possible growth in our relationship left in the way that it existed, without any real physical interaction.

and that to me was even more chilling than my aunt's sobs for forgiveness, the realization of the coldness of my own heart.


danlim87 said...

Like how, I randomly opened your blog and read your recent two posts. I'm really sorry for your loss. I can only somewhat relate to what you're saying, but cognitively I understand 100% . And I find it rather interesting. I know people change and relationships change, but I don't think the core of who they are changes. Don't lose your hope in relationships with bro, whether that is with your friends or esp. with your family. Relationships is all we got in this world.

Take it easy.

badbanana07 said...

sorry about your loss, doug...anytime a family goes through a family tragedy it is pretty wearing emotionally. like how your dad smoked a cig.