We held a Taoism style wake for mother. It lasted for 5 days, 4 nights.
The whole affair was loud and oddly vibrant. Family and friends gathered to pay their respect. There were a lot of chanting from the priests and playing of traditional Chinese instruments. Plenty burning of joss paper and incense sticks; the smell produced had a strange calming effect. It was an assault on all my senses.
During one of the nights, the Taoist priest did a ritual which involved a lot of spinning around and breaking of ceramic tiles. In the darkness of the night, he created huge pillars of fire by jumping over a metal basin with burning joss paper while simultaneously spitting a mouthful of flammable fluid right on the fire. For an over-weight man of his age, he was surprisingly nimble.
To be honest, at one point I got a little annoyed about the whole affair. All the bizarre rituals with priests twirling around accompanied by traditional Chinese instruments played at a deafening level, it felt like they were making a mockery out of my mother’s death.
How can one be laid to rest with so much going on?
One evening, I found an unfamiliar man lingering outside the wake, staring in as though looking for something. Wondering what was he up to, I approached him.
The man told me that he stays around the neighborhood, and he was frequently served by my mother (mother used to work in a nearby food stall). Although they did not know each other well enough to be considered friends, he finds mother to be a extremely pleasant and friendly. Due to her long absence from work, he was left wondering what happened to her.
He was just walking by when he saw the picture of my mother we displayed. After offering his condolences, he went in to pay his respect.
After the wake, we cremated the body of my mother. At the ultra-modern, cold crematorium, the Taoist priest asked me to say some final words before the cremation.
I clammed up, refusing to say anything. It was not because that I have nothing to say, I had (and still have) plenty of things to tell my mother. Still I kept my mouth shut, as though by saying these “final words” I would truly lose her forever.
After failing a couple more attempts at getting me to speak, the Taoist priest gently reminded us that it was time to proceed and instructed us to take a step back from the casket. The raised platform which my mother’s coffin was placed on was fitted with a lift and with a press of the button, the coffin started descending to the floor below where the crematorium staff waited.
We were ushered to a private “Viewing Room”. Behind its large glass windows, was a narrow room about 3 floors high with walls of dark wood and smooth concrete.
Looking down from where we were (the second floor), we could see 5 mechanical conveyor belts, each leading to the entrances of 5 individual crematories. This is where family and friends have their final send-off for the recently deceased.
As I stared at the coffin containing the body of the woman whom loved and cared for me all my life, slowly moving along on the conveyor belt towards the entrance of the crematory, I broke down completely.
Things (and life) continues after that. Exhausted from the sleepless nights, I was mostly in a daze, my mind unable to process (or remember) exact details. Generally, there were payments to be made, appreciation have to be shown to family and friends who supported us.
To the Taoist priest, my mother’s spirit had been laid to rest. To me, it was merely the start of a long road to recovery.