Jamie's Phuket Blog

Thai funeral (wake) in our street

You'll often see funerals in Thailand. It's not like England where people hide away their grief, have a quick service, maybe a little party at someone's house after the funeral..no, here a funeral is a week long wake, with half the street taken up outside the family house. There was a wake in our village last month, and my mother took a walk down the street one day while I was at work. These are her words and photos.

I am sure that each family arranges things differently in Thailand, just as we do here in England; but there are are some constants that are part of every funeral. In Thailand a funeral lasts for days and anybody who ever knew the deceased is there at some point. Sometimes you wonder how they could have known so many people! The local monks supply a long awning and tables and chairs and large cooking pots so that every guest who comes receives food and drink. On the day I walked by, this funeral had already been going on for over a week.

Of course, being English, I was a little sensitive and felt I should not intrude, but I did manage to get a picture of the monks praying and chanting.

The street outside with monks praying

You can see many of the offerings that had been left by family and friends who had been there during the week. You can see also how far down the street the awning stretches, shading the chairs and tables which are outside the gates of many neighbours' houses.

On my way back one of the family saw me with the camera and invited me to come much closer. By this time the monks had finished the morning's prayers and were seated at tables.

Family members serve food to the Monks

Family members served lunch to the monks. The monks are forbidden to talk whilst they are eating.

Monk praying at the funeral

Soon I was joined by a young woman who could speak English and she was very eager to tell me about her father who had died. I found myself sitting amongst the monks with a glass of iced tea and some water melon. I had declined to eat a meal for I explained that Jamie's wife would have food ready for me at home, but it would have been unforgiveable to refuse food and drink completely. I sat with the woman and we talked of life and death and our different approaches, finally coming to the conclusion that whatever the faith, people want the same things from life and have similar hopes for after death. She then took me to see her father.

Again, I felt I should not be poking my camera into other peoples' grief and at first stopped by the swathes of black and white ribbon and flowers which were in front of the coffin.

Outside the house

But no, I was beckoned on. She wanted me to see him and share in their occasion. The coffin was inside a downstairs room - it could be seen from the road through the open doors and curtains. It was adorned with many flowers and lights and candles.

Coffin on display inside the house

And there was a big colour photograph of the woman's father. I imagine the family had chosen a favourite photo, rather than a recent one. He was in his 80s when he died and had been gravely ill for many months.

Photo of the deceased

This was the last day of the funeral "wake" at home. The next day was to be the burning of the coffin at the temple. That would be the 10th day of the funeral.

Jamie's wife explained to me that at funerals she had been to the coffin had been burned on a large funeral pyre. This leads to the rather gruesome sight of the body being revealed as the wood of the coffin burned and the mourners could actually see the burning of the body.

This is how it is done in Thailand, and I have a degree of envy for their ways, which contrast with our own in England these days. Death is such a difficult subject in our modern world and grieving and mourning is supposed to be a very private affair. People don't like to be seen to make a fuss. Here in Thailand, it's out in the open, a real celebration of life and death.

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