When I have been informed of the death of a relative, a friend or an ex-colleague or the death of their parents or someone closely related to them, I always attend the funeral wake, unless I am not in town. It does not matter to me whether it is my birthday, or an anniversary date or the first fifteen days during the Chinese New Year or that I have to attend a dinner function, I will make it to the funeral wake.
It was at such time that they need the comfort of seeing an old friend or a familiar face. And I have to bid the final farewell to the deceased as I would not be able to see him/her, no more.
There is a saying in Chinese: It is most painful when a white hair person will to bid the final farewell to a black hair person. (白头人送黑头人).There were a few occasions that I attended the funeral wake of grieving parents sending off their son or daughter. They either died in a car accident, taken ill suddenly or over some freak accident, simply been caught at the wrong time and the wrong place.
Their initial reaction when faced with the sudden departure of their loved ones is one of shock and disbelief. Yesterday the son was alive and well and today he laid stiff in a casket coffin laced with lavender and white lilies. Lying serenely in the tight confines of the wooden elongated octagonal box with a rectangle glass opening, his cadaverous face still has an impish smile, the eyes closed in a perpetual state of eternal rest and the body covered in soft white satin.
Kith and kin, relatives and friends from near and far came to say their last goodbye. For some mourners, small rivulet of tears that slowly trickled from their puffed and swollen eyes were quickly wiped away with a white handkerchief. They kept their sobs to a whisper. Those who attended the wake would feel the silent immense grief in their hearts.
Such heart wrenching scenes would leave one numbed. Suddenly, one would realize that a life could be as fragile as a gossamer’s thread, so easily broken and never to be joined again.
The grieving parties will not have the space and time to grieve during the wake. They have to attend the rituals of the religious ceremony of sending off the dead. When the funeral wake is over, when their friends go home or when all one carried back from the funeral home is the photograph frame of the deceased, the full import of the loss suddenly dawns on them. It is really sorrowful and painful when one has the luxury of time to grieve.
At first it is self-denial, refusing to accept the situation that the loved one has left us. Then one will take numerous guilt trips, blaming oneself for the sudden death, imagining and creating a number of ‘ifs’ situation where the deceased would not be in such a place when he met his death. And the whole nightmare repeat itself again and again.
After a long while, time still heals but it will never be the same again. Most parents never recover from the death of their children.
My cousin passed away many years ago when he was 49. His mother, my father’s sister, was 87 then. At her age, she was healthy and an alert woman. At the funeral wake she refused to acknowledge the death of her beloved son. She sat outside with friends and conversed normally. She refused to go inside to view the coffin. Her mind refused to accept the reality. She was in a state of denial. It was so pitifully to see an old lady in such great pain. I cried too.
One year later she died of grief.
My parents also have sent off my eldest brother and a sister too, when they were quite young. The wounds though healed over time, but the memory lives on forever.
So in my daily prayers, I pray that my mother does not outlive me and I do not outlive my children.