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Life in Chiang Mai


A Funeral diary

A two part series on Death in Chiang Mai

By Brian Brown
So as the funeral gathered pace, all afternoon and evening, people were arriving. One, an old lady of 97, has come up from the south – she is my mother in law’s step sister, same father different mother. I’m being introduced to so many people, there’s no way I can remember them. I don’t hear their names, so I just smile politely, wai and nod as if I understand. I think there will be a lot of quiet nodding in the next couple of days.
There’s now collecting much of the paraphernalia being used for the ceremony. Including some banana leaf boxes which are made to contain incense, flowers and other items. These are used a lot in Thai religious ceremonial – it was quite nostalgic, as Nang was a noted handcrafter for these; now someone else will have to maintain the tradition.
The ceremonial complexities are gathering pace; many ladies involved in tying flowers and leaves and incense sticks together. The construction of the ‘little house’ to hold things dedicated to Nang for use in the afterlife now going ahead. The erection of the catafalque is completed.
3.30 pm. A monk and his sound system start a prayer session. Notably, it seems only the senior citizens join in on this one; the younger ones are busy doing other things. After the prayer session, the cool-box is opened and the coffin moved outside and onto the catafalque. This is then festooned with a flower display; a florist and 3 assistants have spent some time in arranging this in the rice-house. Fortunately, this is covered in a very tall marquee arrangement, as the sky opens, and it is raining hard – well, it is the rainy season after all.
A 5 monk prayer session in the evening, many attending. The ‘little house’ next to the catafalque is complete and apparently gets approval from the crowd.
Saturday is the start of the final day. I was woken at 5.15 am, to make a little contribution to the ceremony. I had to wrap a little bit of rice and a piece of cooked meat in a tiny banana leaf parcel; this was food for Nang on her journey. All the family had to do this.
A slow start until the 8 monks arrived at 9.30am – then started a fairly long prayer session. All the time, people were arriving, to the point, just before midday, we were running out of chairs. Lunch was served, a fairly simple meal on this occasion; a spicy Thai stew with rice. Many photos taken in front of the catafalque, and also putting money envelopes into the collection box Straight after lunch, the tent over the catafalque was taken down, (with some difficulty) and it was wheeled out onto the road. By now, everyone was rounded up in the procession to tow the coffin to the crematorium. Everyone was given a straw hat, which made the procession quite festive. At the crematorium, presentations were made of items to be put on the catafalque. I was included in this as a family member and quite proud to do so. After another blessing by the monks, the coffin was put on the funeral pyre and family members went up and sprinkled the open coffin. Then everyone else went up and put a little flower decoration on the coffin.
The whole arrangement was then lit by a firework display and it was farewell mother in law. A very touching ceremony and a meaningful way of saying goodbye to the departed. I’m still in awe at my dear wife, her common sense, energy, firm decision making that went on unabated for 5 days was something I’ll not forget.

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A Funeral diary