April 28, 2004

*grandfather's funeral and ceremonies

4.23.04 Chien Li Huang, Mother's father, Born 1910 (94 years)

(8am) Grandfather's Wake and Buddhist Ceremony, Cupertino - CA
The day started with all of us heading to the funeral home. It was such an amazing experience to see all the children of my grandfather - all nine of them - in one place at the same time. I think my mom had told me that this hadn't happened in about 30 years! This was because many of them not only lived all over the U.S. but also all over the world - Spain and Taiwan.

Twin Uncle #1 - Pittsburgh, PA
Twin Uncle #2 - Madrid, Spain
Uncle #3 - Taiwan
Uncle #4 - Near Pittsburgh, PA
Aunt #1 - Los Angeles, CA
Aunt #2 - Taiwan
Aunt #3 - My mom, VA
Aunt #4 - Los Angeles, CA
Aunt #5 - Cupertino, CA

Every time I'm with my family (extended), it always occurs to me that I discover new things that I never paid attention to before (surprise surprise). For instance, me, my bro and sis had always grown up calling the oldest uncle 'Dwa Goo', which literally translated means something like 'oldest uncle'. But for a large part of my life, I never really translated the literal meaning of that in my head. He was just forever 'Dwa Goo', could have been his first name for all I knew. But then, in the context of all nine siblings, the lightbulb suddenly went off! Oh, dolt! Oldest Uncle ... I get it.

Such a surreal experience to go around calling your aunts and uncles, not by their names, but by their position of birth. "Hey Uncle #4, nice to see ya!", "Yeah, Aunt #2 has a really nice dress on today"... it made me realize that I didn't really know what their *real* names were. It cause a little bit of confusion for all the cousins as well because we discovered we all called our rellys different names as well, either in English or Chinese. It took us a while to realize that often times we were talking about the same person. I guess this only happens in really large families though because I can't imagine that Brent would be calling me Aunt #2 of 2.

It was truly a beautiful and peaceful "wake" (I'm not even sure if wake is the right word for it) but there were two monks* there from the local Buddhist temple that gave the ceremony. My grandfather was in a very simple coffin surrounded by beautiful red and white roses - red, for the celebration of his life. It was really interesting as well for me because even in all the years I had done nursing training and been around the hospital and stuff, I had only once seen a dead body (a funeral of a friend of mine from school who was 25 at the time and I was so distraught about the whole thing, I didn't even make it up to see him).

framepicture.jpg    monks.jpg

It did occur to me that this wasn't really my grandfather, just the shell/vessel that we were all used to seeing and it actually made it better for me I think. There was comfort in knowing that this is how I saw him and had know him but at the same time, it wasn't really him anymore and his spirit was passing on beyond the body that it was in. I also thought - 'hmmm, so that's where I get my cheekbones from'.

It was also very sweet because my grandmother had added his favorite scarf to the coffin. I guess it is such a nice thought to think that wherever he was going to next, he might get a little chilly and require that scarf! (Same thing with his glasses, which she added later at the burial).

The ceremony proceeded with the two monks bringing Dwa Goo to the coffin and having him place a beautiful yellow silk tapestry on my grandfather. Even though the first born males are twins, Dwa Goo is older by 7 minutes or something, so the oldest of the oldest. Then the monks led us into the ceremony with amazing chanting accented with the beating of the a small wooden drum and tinkling sound of a bell ... and lots of incense.

They had prepared an alter of sorts for both my grandfather and Buddha. There were various fruits, Chinese food, offerings and incense. We were all individually able to pay respects to both by taking a single incense and bowing - three times - to both alters. We all lined up, men and boys first, women and girls following...


Things I'll always remember:
- Scarf inside the coffin
- Offerings to Grandfather and to Buddha
- Leaf in water
- Chanting
- Walking around the room and past the coffin

* they were both women so I'm not sure you call them monks, nuns maybe? Nonks? Muns?

(9am) Grandfather's Cremation and Paying Last Respect
This was also a really interested experience because the coffin was brought to the incinerators (literally right up to the ovens) and another altar was set up and we went through a shorter version of paying our respects (bows and incense). We also burned the money for his next life, and seeing as he was very wealthy, there was a lot of money to burn (no pun (?) intended).


There was one slight odd thing, on the money, which I suppose represented Chinese money, right smack on top were the words "Hell's Bank Note". I have to admit, that was weird. I felt kinda funny burning "Hell" money in honor of my grandfather, but I'm sure if I look it up somewhere, there will be a good reason for it. There was a brief moment, while everyone was scrunching the bills together (you're meant to fold each individual bill), that the scene took on this surreal "gambling" feel. Hordes of people gathering around waving bills of money frantically and throwing them into a center pit. Someone passing by could have mistook the whole scene for a cockfight or something ... except it was in a funeral home, by a cemetery, next to an incinerator, with two monks ... nevermind.

money.jpg     money_pit.jpg

I guess it was also a tradition that the family view the body being burned. It was meant represent the impermanence of life, things are always changing and nothing ever stays the same. I had heard that traditional monks sometimes left out the bodies of the deceased monks on mountain tops so that the birds could eat the body. This was also meant to reinforce the impermanence of life. Wow.

I have to admit, it was a little bit shocking for me and I'm not sure I could handle watching the actual body burn. We got to see the coffin got into the incinerator and at the last, only my older Uncles could see it actually burning (briefly).

(8am) Burial

The day started early again with a brilliant blue sky. My aunts and uncles had chosen the burial place a few weeks ago, when my grandfather's health had begun to decline. It's situated very near to both my Aunt Hailey and her family (Aunt #4 ... check), and my grandmother's senior living home. It's one of these places that is very interesting because it has sort of "plots" of ethnic graves ... meaning, on one side is where all the Vietnamese are buried, another the Thai, another Japanese, etc. It's like a mini-representation of the Far East geography, but randomly scattered. I actually think it's called "Gate to Heaven" or something or maybe "Heaven's Gate" ... hmmm, wasn't that the name of the cult with the purple nikes? Better check with Marketing ...

The burial site has *excellent* feng shui. It's located with the back to the mountains facing the water. Perfect. I was really happy that my aunt could get that location because it really meant a lot to my grandmother and family that my grandfather would be located in a place with the right energy.

location.jpg   location2.jpg

I have heard lots of stories from my mom of burial spots gone bad. I think she had mentioned a great-great grandfather who, after he was buried, his family experienced many difficulties. A cousin was killed in a motorcycle accident, health problems arose, etc. It was decided that maybe the burial spot needed to be checked because of all the bad luck. Sure enough, it was discovered that the bones were in water (I guess the burial spot was too close to a water table or something like that) and that is very bad feng shui. They were promptly exumed (sp?) and things have been better since (apparently).

Believe what you will, there's something to be said for tradition and spirituality. And like in religion, mythology, stories ... people need to be able to find a reason, an explanation for why things happen the way they do. Maybe marching your livestock through blessed smoke during a Beltane festival didn't do anything except give them bovine-acquired emphysema, but hey, if it meant you'd get more peas and potatoes that year ... so be it.

Things I'll always remember:
- Taking two leaves at the beginning of the burial for protection and throwing them out the window as we left
- Driving in one direction, no backing up
- Throwing the dirt inside the grave
- Glasses with the ashes
- Once the burial was done, no looking back

leaves.jpg   nolookback.jpg

(11am) Buddhist Ceremony at the Temple

My Mom's added comments ...


I am so glad that you took the time to write down your memory and thoughts. I
would like to add some notes to explain.

1. It has been 58 years since all 9 children were under one roof at the same

Aunt Amy, #4 - She was 4 months old when we arrived Taiwan. My grandmother
raised her in southern Taiwan until 10 years old. She came up to Taipei to
re-united with rest of borthers and sisters. By that time Aunt Linda (#1) was
alredy married and moved to middle part of Taiwan. Also Da Koo and uncle George
left Taiwan. They were already in the U.S and Spain.

2. The yellow silk tapestry:
It was blessed few weeks earlier by monks at the temple. Da Koo, the first born
son is the one to place it onto grandfather for helping hime going to the West

2. The ashes in the glass was "earth dirt":
It was blessed earlier by monks at the temple. Da Koo spreaded onto grandpa's
hands and chest to help him going to the West Heaven.

3. Creminatation:

The first born son is to press thhe button to ignite after the gate was closed.
Nobody saw the fire.

4. Urn:

It is the first born son to carry father's ashes to burial site. The unbrella
was to protect grandpa from the sun until the urn was covered by the silk
tapestry. I am not sure what this means.

5. Grandpa's favorite rain coat (by London Frog) was also in the coffine. I
bought this coat and mailed to hime 35 years ago as a X'mas gift. (My first
X'mas in U.S.A in 1968). aunt Hayley told me it was his favorite coat. grandpa
has kept it for so many years. I was in tears when I heard that at the ceremony
and wished I had known this earlier.

6. Next year, may be summer time, Da koo plans to go back to Taiwan for bringing
mom's biological mother's ashes to the U.S.. Mom will accompany Da Koo. May be
uncle George and other aunts will go too. My mother's urn will be buried
alongside of grandpa's. This was grandpa's wishes.

Aunt Nancy (#2) had a dream when she was in Aunt Hayley house thanking her for
wishing to bring mother's urn to the U.S. re-joining with grandpa. She passed
away when she was only 40 years old. I was only 2 years old. I do not remember
any thing about my mother, except pieces of stories from relatives."

Posted by slin at 09:25 PM | Comments (2)