Rants of a Weird Little Bird

Random stuff involving myself…and people around me. Hello, and goodbye. :-)

Atheistic Beginnings – Recollections from the Past: My Grandmother’s Funeral

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With the latest funeral of my aunt still fresh in my mind, I recall memories of a past funeral which occurred when I was still in primary school.

It was during recess time, when I saw my family members waiting for me on the first floor of my block, next to the general office.

“Grandmother has passed away, let’s go to Malaysia,” my father said.

Cold as it may sound, I don’t have a photographic memory of my grandparents. My paternal grandfather had died before I was born, and I don’t even have memories of what my maternal grandparents looked like, though I have vague memories that I was fond of my maternal grandmother, for she had stayed with us before when I was either in kindergarten or even younger, and she had passed away some time then.

My paternal grandmother was somewhat different, in the sense that I have more memories of her. She was said to have been a nurse during the Japanese Occupation, but unfortunately for me, she could not speak Mandarin, and I could not speak her dialect. Perhaps this is attributable to Lee Kuan Yew’s ruthless eradication of Chinese dialects, but that is another story…

Anyway, I was clever enough not to say a word but to return to my desk to pack up my stuff and leave, but when I was whisked away in my father’s car, I managed to blurt out something typical of me – factual, direct but extremely insensitive. My grandmother was very old, and had been hospitalised. She had trouble relieving herself on her own, and her already frail condition had worsened during her stay in hospital. Apparently she had requested to be discharged.

“So fast?” I asked. I can’t remember what my parents replied, but it definitely wasn’t a praise for stating the obvious.

Anyway, when we reached my uncle’s house, we saw nearly everything draped in white cloth – the television, the hall clock and a lot of other stuff. A Buddhist chanting blared out over the radio repeatedly, near my grandmother, who lay in her bed.

I remember two policemen visiting our house to issue a death certificate, and my parents whisking all of us kids away so that my grandmother could be dressed in the funeral robes and placed in the casket, and after that, it was a trip to the funeral parlour.

At the funeral parlour, the casket was displayed with the glass panel opened so that we could see her face. A coin had been placed between her teeth, and her face had been made up.

I remember asking my father several questions, which are remarkably quite similar to what I had seen in another atheist’s website.

“Dad, will we all die?” I asked.

“Yes,” he replied.

“Will you die?” I asked.

“Yes,” he replied.

“What about me?” I asked.

“Yes, but that will be quite some time to come,” he replied.

I took it all in quietly. It seemed quite surreal that some day or other, I would end up getting made up, dressed in the clothes my grandmother was wearing and be exhibited in a wooden case.

“Grandma’s sleeping,” my uncle explained to me. I knew she definitely wasn’t sleeping, because if she were, she would still be at home and would eventually get up and speak in the Chinese dialect which I couldn’t understand. I nodded and didn’t say a thing.

I have scant memories of the next few days at the funeral parlour, except that I had to burn lots of joss paper, wear some weird kind of robe and whatnot, and kneel and kowtow to visitors sometimes. Before having my lunch, I had to offer three joss sticks to the huge facial photograph of my grandmother, telling her to have her lunch.

Also, I recall a monk telling me to drop two twenty-cent coins so that one ended up tails and the other heads, but can’t remember what it was for. It took me three tries to get that permutation.

Finally, I also witnessed the burning of my grandmother’s personal effects, and cowering into my father’s arms when the heat from the burning chamber scorched us…and a bizarre thing which occurred when my grandmother’s body was due to be sent for burial.

My relative told us that people born in my zodiac year were not allowed to witness the burial ceremony. I remembered kicking up a fuss, and even crying at being left out. Criminal as it sounds now, I thought that it was going to be something fun, but I was furious that I had been left out simply because I had been born in the wrong year.

As such, while everyone else was viewing the casket being lowered into the grave, I was the sulky nine-year-old sitting alone in my father’s car alone, wondering what on earth everyone else was doing.

Perhaps it was during this funeral which my reaction towards organised religion and superstition had formed into something which I had treated with disdain, but there were other stories which helped shape my religious beliefs (or lack thereof) into what they have become today, which will be touched on in other blog posts.

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Written by aweirdlittlebird

February 11, 2010 at 5:35 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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