A Funeral


Last week was an odd one. Upon returning from taking Ann’s parents to the airport in Chiang Mai, we found out two of our neighbors had passed away (and we only have 6 houses on our whole street). We did not know one of them very well, though we knew the rest of the family. The other one was the father of our next-door neighbor, who we are really close to. Khun Buu, his father, had lived with them for over 20 years. He died at the age of 79. We were able to be a part of the whole funeral process, and I thought it might be interesting to describe it to you. The majority of the funeral is typical of a northern Thai funeral.

After Khun Buu passed away on Tuesday, the family immediately began setting up for the funeral ceremonies. The schedules for Tuesday thru Friday were basically the same. The days began with the family setting up for the day’s activities at the temple. They would prepare and serve a meal to the deceased by placing a plate of food near the coffin. They also provided lunch for any visitors that stopped by. Then, each night, they would serve visitors supper around 7:00. As people came to eat, the family would invite people to go inside the temple where the coffin lay. Visitors would often offer a flower arrangement with their names on it that would be displayed around the temple. They would also give the family a money offering to help with the funeral costs. The family would then ask visitors to kneel before the coffin and wai (put your hands together in front of your face and bow your head). Then, around 8:00, the more official ceremony would begin.

Here is a picture of where the ceremony happened.

The nightly ceremony consisted of 4 monks chanting (in the Bali language which 99% of the people don’t understand) and the family and visitors sitting nearby, holding their hands together in a wai the entire time. This nightly ceremony is called “suat mon.” The primary function is for the monks to tell the deceased that he/she has passed away. I was told that a person does not know they have passed away until the “suat mon” ceremony has been done. The family and visitors are there to “tham buun” (make merit) on behalf of the deceased. This means making merit in order for the next life to be that much better. At one point during the chanting, each of the 4 monks holds up a blue sign in front of them (you can see them on the right side of the picture above). The 4 signs say, in order: 1) “Go, no return” 2) “Sleep, no awakening” 3) “Rising up, not possible” 4) “Escape, no chance.” After the chanting, one monk would give a short “sermon” before ending the ceremony.

Saturday was the longest and biggest gathering for the funeral proceedings. It began in the morning with one more “suat mon.” People sat around tables that were set up for lunch. After the chanting, one of the monks gave a lengthy sermon. (I have to admit that this was impressive because the sermon was delivered in a chant as well.) The man next to me helped explain the sermon because it was hard for me to follow (both because it was chanting and because it was in the local dialect which I still am not great at). The thrust of the sermon was about the fact that we shouldn’t sweat that a body has died. The flesh is not what matters. The spirit is what matters. Death should not worry us. All people go through the same 4 things: 1) we are born, 2) we grow old, 3) we suffer, and 4) we die. So, the point is to not worry so much about it all. And treat the person next to you well because you ultimately are the same. You both will go through the same 4 phases. No one can avoid it.

After the sermon, the family provided another meal for all the guests. As people ate, they prepared to move the coffin to a new location. Once everyone ate, they loaded the coffin on a flatbed trailer surrounded by flowers. A group of monks held a rope “pulling” the vehicle/coffin while the family walked alongside.  The procession went to a nearby temple that has a crematory.

The procession arrived and walked around the crematory 3 times as everyone else watched from the sitting area. “General” guests sat on one side while “those who have honor” sat on the other. Both groups faced a line of about 25 monks sitting down. The monks then did a short chant. Once finished, “those who have honor” received a new monk robe from the family and then went and placed it in front of one of the monks. Giving a monk a new robe is one way to gain merit on behalf of the deceased.

Finally, the family prepared for the cremation. They walked over to the coffin, ready for the final ceremony. All the guests walked up to the family and offered wood-carved flowers that would be burned up with the coffin. Family members and the lead monk then dipped roses into coconut water and splashed it on the deceased. Coconut water is believed to be the purest of liquids, thus this is a way to “wash” the deceased one last time in order to offer his body up in purity. The coffin was then closed and pushed inside the crematory. Many guests then began to leave, while the family stayed around to watch for a few minutes. We then all began to clean up and get ready to leave.

Later that afternoon, I was invited to a small ceremony at our neighbors’ house. This involved 4 monks sitting in the living room, surrounded by family and close friends. The monks then chanted for about 20 minutes, with the purpose of cleansing the home of the deceased’s spirit. Then later that night, the family made a small fire in front of their gate. This was intended to keep the spirit of the deceased from coming home. They left a plate of food by the fire so he could eat but made sure he knew this was not his home any longer. All the proceedings ended with a dinner for friends and family at the home of our neighbors. This was a time to unwind after a long week.

What stood out the most to us, especially in relation to funerals in the States, was how the family was the host for everyone. They set up for everything. They provided the meals for everyone else. They made sure all the guests were comfortable. They did a great job of making sure everything went smoothly. But, we couldn’t help but wish they had some time to be served in the midst of all their serving.



  1. Beautiful description. I’m sorry for the loss of a new friend. But I’m so glad (and not at all surprised) both to see that you guys are able to develop these relationships with your neighbors in such a short period of time, and also that they’ve had people like you around as they grieve. We pray for you all every day.

  2. Thanks for sharing! What an interesting experience this must have been for you guys. I’m so grateful that you are finding ways to integrate yourselves into the lives of your neighbors. I’m just sorry this time had to be around the loss of a friend. You guys are amazing and we love you lots!

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