Funerals to most people are solemn, serious affairs. There’s a list of things we are supposed to observe, depending on which religious ceremony the funeral is being carried upon. Being Chinese, most of the funerals I’ve attended were Taoist ceremonies, where there’s a strict observance to rules such as offering of incense sticks to the deceased, payment of “bek kim” (white money), taking of a red thread as you leave the wake. stuff like that. At my grandma’s funeral, there was a whole bunch of kneeling and bowing to do. At Christian funerals, there’s a lot of standing and sitting during the service, followed by singing tunelessly to hymns you’re not familiar with.
If there were a rule book written about funerals, there would be a bunch of things one isn’t supposed to do. no chatting, no laughing, no fidgeting. I remembered at grandma’s funeral, while kneeling in front of the casket while the Taoist priest was chanting something, my dad was joking with my uncle the next time they must remember to bring cushions so it’d be more comfortable. I remembered joking with my cousin that it’s a good thing we were born girls coz our only duties at a wake were to serve drinks while the boys had to do most of the kneeling, as girls weren’t worthy enough to kneel. we laughed out loud before stopping abruptly, realising where we were.
However the funeral I attended this week was a slightly strange affair. Bryan’s grandmother passed away suddenly and we attended her wake and funeral on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. I had expected a 3-day affair but it was cut short to just 1. at first I assumed it was a modified Christian thing, but then I realised it was coz the entire extended family had to fly off on a trip to Bali the following day so the reasons were purely practical.
Everything else was as funerals should be; people showed up in funeral colours, service was held in a solemn manner. but thereafter, the uncles brought out the wine and in that one night, they finished up to 15 bottles of wine and 38 cans of beer, and i doubt anyone was drinking in sorrow.
and in the middle of all this, Bryan announced our engagement to all the cousins. I smiled at the round of congratulations, all the while thinking how grandmother was lying dead outside while we were sharing happy news. if that wasn’t odd enough, one cousin announced he got first dibs in our housewarming gift: a rice cooker. Even in death, life, and rice cooking, does go on.
The following night was the funeral itself. we showed up just in time to witness the end of the service before they loaded the casket into the hearse to be carted off to the crematorium which was about 20 minutes drive away. the minute the casket went in, loud christian music swelled around and over grandma, before the driver managed to climb into the front to lower the volume. Bryan and I tried not to giggle at that. when we got to the crematorium, the first thing most people did was to rush off to the toilets, to which Uncle D shouted jokingly, eh! you come all the way to Mandai just to use the toilet?! aren’t we supposed to show respect by sending the casket off first?
We stood around waiting for a good half hour because the other cousins were late. the funeral service people were goofing around, the relatives were chatting, the children were running around screaming. I watched amused that even in death, grandma had to wait for her grandchildren to turn up. if she could, she would probably be huffing and rolling her eyes.
when the last cousin finally arrived, we headed solemnly into the hall and the pastor continued the rest of the service. after that we had to put stalks of flowers on the casket before we had to shake hands with the immediate family members (the aunts and uncles) like the end of a wedding dinner. I whispered to Bryan, what do I say? I’m sorry? thank you for inviting me? So I just hugged every aunt and uncle and tried to smile as sadly as I could, coz it was drilled in my head that I had to act properly in such things. nevermind that this family was nowhere proper. at one point, the analogy to the wedding dinner was so firmly planted in my head that i caught myself mouthing “bye bye” to one of the uncles.
we then shuffled into the viewing hall where the casket was pushed for a final farewell. there was some sad hymn being played in the background while the family sniffled as grandma’s casket appeared slowly, before disappearing from view. the minute the doors close after her, the hymn stopped abruptly. it was as if the gates of heaven closed and the hallelujahing angels stopped. I looked around and saw that it was really one of the funeral service people who had promptly pressed the stop button on a portable player, unplugged it and was ready to go.
we exited the hall down a flight of dimly lit stairs where the cousins commented that it’s like leaving a movie theatre, except that the funeral hall stairs were much better equipped than the ones that GV (Golden Village) threatres tend to dump you into once the movie ends. now I cannot exit a movie theatre without thinking about Mandai crematorium. outside, we stood around chatting while an uncle dragged in 2 coolers of drinks for everyone.
these were just some of the funny stuff that happened the past 2 nights, things that usually aren’t supposed to happen at funerals. but i guess with this family, nothing should ever be done normal.