- September 30, 2011
- Posted by: Dr. Elise Cohen Ho
- Category: Parenting & Family
Today is the day that we have the funeral.
We wake up early but it is a long time until everyone will be ready for the funeral.
Is anyone ever ready for a funeral?
We do not need to be at the funeral home for many hours and I want these poor girls to have a chance to be kids.
The girls, my daughter and four of her cousins, have been asking ever since our arrival to be able to go swimming . No one has brought a swimsuit so I take them shopping. I buy a swimsuit for each of them.
I am worried for the children today but I am thrilled to allow kids to be kids.
It is important before they have to experience this extremely rough and emotional day.
We arrive at the funeral home mid-afternoon.
As we prepare for the funeral to begin, my mother-in-law, Auntie and I prepare the strings that the immediate family shall wear during the period of mourning. The sons and grandchildren are all given black string to tie around their arms. My mother-in-law, sisters-in-law and I are given white string flowers to wear in our hair.
Our family is the only family here today and for this I am grateful.
Slowly our family enters the room where my father-in-law is awaiting his visitors. He is surrounded by a stunning array of flowers. There are gorgeous arrangements from each of his five children. The coffin is topped with an exquisite arrangement of perfect red roses from his loving wife. Surrounding all of these flowers are many arrangements. These are from various people who have touched the life of my father-in-law, or those of his children.
It is an honor to see all of the beauty that surrounds.
Nearby, there is a wonderful photo of my father-in-law. I recognize this photo but it takes me a little while to realize why. Then it comes to me. This is a photo taken when my father-in-law was at his happiest. He was at his happiest when he was with his grandchildren. We took this photo ten years ago during a photo session with my children.
We have been honored with a lovely memory for us to hold close to our hearts.
In front of my father-in-law is a table that has been set up with many of his favorite things. This is the Chinese tradition. Among other things that are on the table there are his favorite foods. These are Chinese Steamed Buns and coffee with apple filled donuts from Dunkin Donuts. There are also candles, paper ornaments and a lovely container that is awaiting the ritual burning of incense.
Our family lines up to pay our respects.
There is a tradition to this. For this reason I am not allowed to stand with my husband as he says goodbye to his father.
My mother-in-law is first.
It is horrible to hear the sobs racking her body. Behind her is my husband, he is the oldest son and he is now the head of the family. This is extremely important to the Chinese tradition and will now be the theme of the rest of our lives.
After this we are to light the incense. There is also a tradition to this.
Each family member lights three incense sticks and bows three times. My mother-in-law is concerned that this may go against my religion. I am surprised to hear that she does not want me to do anything that would make me feel uncomfortable. I think that this is kind of her but I absolutely want to participate in this honor. This is the family, not that I was born into, but that I chose and I will not disgrace their traditions.
The room has been opened to the funeral guests at some point during all of this.
I am not sure of when this happened. I have been sitting with the family as we mourn together.
We begin to receive people’s words of condolence. It is lovely to see how many people have come to pay their respects. Many people hand envelopes to my mother-in-law. These will hold lovely words of condolences and “bak gum” which is known as white gold. This is money given to the family to symbolize help and support. It is a great honor to receive this very special envelope.
We step outside. It is time to honor my father-in-law with the ritual burning of items that will go with him to ensure a rich afterlife. There is paper money, gold spirit money and silver spirit money. We have included lottery tickets in this tradition as my father-in-law loved to play the lotto.
Many gather around us to watch however it is only family that is allowed to partake in this tradition.
We keep the incense burning throughout the day. We visit my father-in-law many times. Sometimes we have private time. At other times there is comfort in having our beloved family members with us.
I sit with my mother-in-law holding her hand.
What else can I do for her?
I share a comforting look with my first brother-in-law.
He provides me with words of comfort when I should have been providing them for him.
I hold my husband and hope that he can feel my love supporting him in his time of need.
I love this family and wish that I could take all of their pain away.
My daughter, my father-in-law’s beloved daughter, weeps on my shoulder.
There is love and sadness around.
My two youngest brothers-in-law and I hug in a show of support.
I watch all of the granddaughters gather together to support each other. I see beauty.
They find comfort in each other. Together they go and visit their grandfather as he lays in his coffin awaiting their final goodbye.
I watch brothers come together. Love is clearly in view.
I watch the four brothers support their sister. Love is clearly in view.
The image of my father-in-laws five children standing together arm in arm saying goodbye is the image that I will hold.
The opportunity is now here for everyone else to say goodbye.
My husband is now the head of the Ho Family.
He is to make a speech about his father and to thank everyone for coming. As our guests leave, they are to take a special envelope that has money and candy inside of it. This money is to be used to buy more candy. The candy will provide sweetness when experiencing the bitterness of death.