I haven’t been to many funerals or memorials. In the last ten years, I’ve been to three: a friend’s mother, my grandmother and now recently an old college friend. The one that I remember clearest however is that of my grandfather’s when I was eight . I did not care for the old man. He was remote, silent and prone to anger.
He had a huge traditional Chinese funeral and it felt like it lasted for days. His casket was placed in his living room. Tin-roofed temporary shelter was built in the garden with hired tables and chairs and people kept turning up all through the days and evenings. It felt like a party to me even though I was old enough to understand that it was a sombre occasion. Still, I did not trust some of my relative’s displays of grief. I did not believe that anyone could love him.
He was cremated in a Chinese-Buddhist temple some distance from town. Afterwards, my grandfather’s ashes were brought out and placed on a stone table around which we all gathered. Using long heavy chopsticks, every family member, children included, sorted through the pile for solid debris and placed those within an urn. It did not take long as there were many of us. Unlike Chinese banquets which the bone-picking ritual bore a disturbing similarity to, no one spoke.
Many years later at my grandmother‘s cremation, no one spoke either but this time the crematorium was shiny and modern and there was no ritual at the end. Maybe crematorium fires had become much hotter. Or maybe it was no longer something families did together . I did not ask, I preferred not to know.