Sunday, August 14, 2011

Ye-Ye's Funeral

I'm not sure but you might have heard that my grandfather passed away two weeks ago. I'm fine (in case you were going to ask if I was okay) and the event of my grandfather's funeral will be evenly distributed in three blog posts because I took SO MANY pictures. A hundred and twenty-four to be exact. Alright, it's not as much when compared to the amount of pictures taken at parties and tours but ever since I've slackened in blogging, it's hellot.

In the afternoon of August the 2nd, after visiting a dentist to get a referral to a couple of orthodontists, I cycled back home and quickly changed into black slacks and a white long-sleeve shirt. My aunt drove a long way downtown to Toronto's Jerrett Funeral Homes. Oh, what a surprise, they also post services on their website too. I just found out on my grandfather's obituary page that he is exactly 60 years and 8 days older than I am, I mean, I always knew his birthday but I've never known his birth year.

This whole process was very much a learning experience for me as for the first time, I was told that I couldn't wear colors such as red, brown, orange, yellow, and any bright and colorful clothes. Also, we had to be vegetarian for two days and we couldn't shower. I didn't understand why and my grandmother's explanation "It's good for Ye-Ye not good for you" didn't help. I've been to Buddhist/Taoist funerals many times in Malaysia and they were held in huge rooms of Chinese funeral homes where a dozen or so monks would chant and family members were distinctively fully dressed in their respective color of relation and gender. So coming into a rather fancy conference building that looked like a hotel on the inside was new to me.

Our room was the first room on the right upon entering.

A nicely set up welcome area with a guest book for visitors to sign their names and white packets each containing C$1 and a candy. A plain white envelope was for donations by guests which they would drop in the donations box on the left of the table (out of picture).

I knew that we write in guests books for weddings and stuff but I didn't know it applied for funerals too. I have so much to learn about social etiquette.

Now I was confused as to why were giving out money and sweets to guests when we were supposed to be bitter and mournful. I guessed that they were meant to comfort the people and reward them for coming.


Everything was explained thanks to the note standing on the table. It sounded rather superstitious to me but the world is full of fear and cautionary steps and conditions to alleviate the worry of bad luck clinging on or an entity's haunting. "Lucky number 8! A lucky rabbit's foot! A lucky four-leaf clover! A lucky jade ring! Lucky this! Lucky that!" I don't really believe in holy water either but all things can be blessed or cursed, holy or demonic.

We arrived approximately three hours before the start of the visiting time.

We placed food neatly on my grandfather's altar, made tea and bowed down three times with a joss stick. It was the only time I had used a joss stick since they burned one for me. The black box is what I believe to be a cassette player that gently let out chantings of "Amitabha".

They also offered the deities some oranges and a vegetarian dish.

We inspected the place, looked at Ye-Ye for the first time inside a coffin, wore a clip of colored thread rather than being fully dressed in it, and waited. My color was blue, my third aunt's daughter was green, but my uncle's son had black. It sure is complicated  :S

We did NOTHING for an hour, we just sat around except for my grandmother who weeped every once in a while. I wasn't very affected at that time, I was expecting his death. Pancreatic cancer. Last stage. Doctor's prognosis: Two weeks, no more than six months. With that estimate I prepared myself and strong ol' Ye-Ye lasted for two months after the diagnosis. It was not easy taking care of him of course, he needed the constant care and attention from Ma-Ma.

After an hour or so of sitting in the room, we were told there was a pantry downstairs. Since there was no one and still another hour before visiting time, we left to stretch our legs and take a peek in the canteen.

They had a vending machine selling pop drinks and a FREE coffee machine! Whoa, VAN HOUTTE?! We thought we hit the jackpot so five of us started pressing like mad, trying all the different flavors. It turned out to be crappy, it tasted so bad I was wincing everytime I had a gulp. Horrible, really. The funeral director told me after chuckling that it's "no Tim Hortons". This is no anything, not even noob-made coffee. But obviously we didn't complain, it was a funeral home.

Plus, they had complimented us with coffee condiments in such a neat manner. The bum part was that I couldn't put any milk into my drink (dairy was included in vegetarian diet ban). So I tried Splenda for the first time which proved its potent sweetness and enhancement of flavors... of all kinds, even the month-old staleness of the coffee powder.

Ya, ya, I'll stop complaining about the coffee now. Shortly after sitting in the lower level, a few relatives arrived early. The monk came around the same time and started explaining the praying procedure to my uncle. My dad is the older son and he should have been the one holding on to the... house on a stick? I'm not sure what that represents but anyways, his being in Malaysia made my uncle the bearer of the stick and leader of the family mourning. 

We had to prepare money lotuses. It's just hell money arranged in the somewhat shape of a lotus or some flower. Perhaps it's just a fancy way of piling the notes. I don't know why they call it hell money when my cousin told me that Buddhists don't believe in hell or heaven. Netherworld cash would be a less confusing term.

You know what other kind of notes were inside the pile? It made my face stone with disbelief. Guess... actually you can see it already.












 U.S. DOLLARS. USD is officially hell money. 

This is the first time I've ever seen this. Back in Malaysia, I've folded the yellow papers with a silver square in the middle into gold nuggets. This is TOTALLY different from the Chinese funerals I've attended before. Do they actually believe they can use American dollars in the afterlife? Why not British Pounds, it's worth more. I'm not being sarcastic. I really wanted to headwall myself with all this ridiculous thinking. I understand the hell money part, just not the earthly currency.

By 7pm, everyone who intended to come came. The ceremony started soon after and they watched us, my family and I, stand in lines, bow and  march around the altar. My relatives took a video but I'm not gonna ask if they posted it in on Youtube so that I could share it on my blog. But the picture below was before our participation, the monk was hitting on the wood block and reading off a book to chant prayers for my grandfather.

At that time, I was also starving and pissed off. "How can they expect us not to eat this whole time? Seven bloody hours already, I've chewed on four pieces of gum and they won't let me drink milk but for some reason my uncle can give milk chocolate to my cousin. That's fair." I was very much in a bad mood, that's what hunger does to you, it makes you extremely irritable. Also, my uncle told me I couldn't eat chocolate but there he was, at the funeral home, giving M&M's to my toddler cousin. I don't care if he's just a child, you don't contradict yourself especially if this mourning procedure is so important. I followed the rules to give respect to your religion and my grandfather.   

Aiya, whatever. I'll let it go for now.

To satisfy my painful growling stomach, I asked my aunt if I could eat and she gave me twenty bucks to buy food from any stores on the street. I couldn't go to Tim Hortons or else I would have definitely bought Boston Cream doughnuts. My elder cousin suggested biscuits when we saw a Popeye's restaurant and we bought a dozen of that with a large cup of mash potatoes. We brought it back and I munched on two biscuits and half of the mash potatoes. But I became angry that I ate the biscuits because months before I told myself that I wouldn't eat these biscuits again but my overwhelming hunger gave me no choice but to eat whatever I could. 

When the visiting hours was over, we went to Richmond Hill Food Court, I believe it was called. A typical Chinese hawker-like restaurant. It was my first time going there and I was shocked by the price until I saw the portions. They were HUGE.

I guess it's more of a restaurant for families and large groups of people to share the food with like a Chinese seafood restaurant. Why, of course, they also served seafood. For the size they give us, the $8-12 price for the regular dishes seem reasonable. Seafood (which none of us ordered since we were vegetarian) was around $16-22.

The dinner marked the end of the first day of my dad's mourning at the funeral home. We were all exhausted and slept as soon as we could for the next day of cremation in the morning.


Sue Me said...

My condolences to you and your family, Lil Zoe. Stay strong :)

Zoeyve said...

Thanks Suling, I will!