My First Lao Buddhist Funeral Experience
It hadn't even been 3 months before I had to go back to Laos again. I went in October 2016 so I could see my grandpa before he passed. In my last blog, I said I'd be back next year and I was right. 3 months later it was January 2017.
A Lao Buddhist funeral is basically Game of Thrones. A Lao Buddhist funeral held by my family is one big extravagant expense. The total cost of my Grandpa's funeral was almost equivalent to my student loan debt. Here's how that day went. (Maybe in another blog post I'll explain how my family can afford a funeral worth my student loan debt)
We arrived to Laos a day before the funeral. They held visitation a few days beforehand. The family was basically waiting for us to arrive. I went with my mom and my sister, and thank goodness because it made a 20 hour layover in Korea a little more bearable.
I've been to many Lao funerals in Minnesota, but let it be known that a Lao funeral in Laos is not the same! My sister and I woke up Sunday morning thinking the funeral festivities were underway but no. We woke early for no apparent reason. The funeral wasn't going to start until 3pm (Usually in Minnesota we try to get everything done by 3pm). All the boys, who were going to become novice monks had their head shaved at 7am. Then, we made "food for grandpa". The "food" was rice and beef jerky wrapped in a banana leaf. I'm assuming it was burned with my grandpa later. The time grew near 3pm and that means all the novice monks and the white nuns must be initiated in. I was a white nun for the day. The Monks go first. The ritual begins where they take off their clothes and put on the orange monk robes. All the white nuns at this point are dressed in all white. The white nun outfit is basically traditional Lao clothes but all white. We also must be "pure", so no jewelry, or nail polish, but make-up is fine. We're not that traditional. Once the monks are done then the same blessing happens for the white nuns.
Side note: I should explain why some of the boys and girls become novice monks and white nuns. It's the close family members of the deceased that choose to do it. It's to honor the deceased and lead them into the afterlife. My grandfather was very well respected in the community, and he's also the father of my uncles, who are the CEOs of Sisaketh Construction. A lot of the novice monks work for my uncle as well. There were a total of 40-something monks and 40-something white nuns. That's almost unheard of. It was like my grandfather was a celebrity. Even the President of Laos came to visitation!
After that ceremony, we're all ushered outside to leave for what you call a funeral home in Laos, it's just a big space to hold the funeral and burn the body. Before we left the house, they were performing an old traditional ceremony on my grandmother. My mom said they divorced her from my grandfather, so his spirit couldn't come back for her. For example, if my grandma were to find another man, my grandpa's spirit couldn't come back and mess things up because they're "divorced" now. It took me awhile to grasp that idea, because I don't really believe in all that stuff and I'm not very superstitious. It's really entertaining to hear my family talk about all their fears and superstitions.
We left the house, and because the white nuns had to be pure, we were BAREFOOT!! I was praying I wouldn't cut my feet on something and get a disease. It was so damn painful. We drove part of the way, but all the monks and white nuns had to be in front of the truck that was carrying my grandpa. And we had this white string attached to the truck and all the monks and nuns were "pulling" the body to the funeral. It's symbolic of leading the deceased into the afterlife.
I walked through rocks and it was painful, but we finally got to the funeral home and my initial reaction to everything was just "WOW!". My aunts (the wives of my uncles that own the company) literally went the extra mile and then added on 10 more miles in the decoration and design of this plot of land that is the funeral home.
Everything up until now has been hard to explain, and will be better explained with a video recap.