The way we see things

Buddhist Funeral Customs

November 10, 2011 by Bobb Drake

There's nothing like death in the family to remind you of all the things that we "thought" mattered so much – things we've been obsessing about that are suddenly meaningless, things that are now just molecules or energy transfer, just the Second Law of Thermodynamics at work.

Grandma passed away the other day. We got the first of several calls from overseas in the middle of the night.

The first logistical thing that happens when someone passes away is that the telephone begins to ring, and doesn't stop ringing for days. The first metaphysical thing that happens after a death in the family is the desire for an intelligent guide – to provide us a grief schedule, and despite how diverse our individual psychological needs, assign a system of known values by which to understand and wind/unwind our feelings.

As a family, we knew we needed to make Buddhist funeral arrangements, but we were unsure about the specifics, especially when it came to the first few days. Google didn't solve much – some web resources describe the process in brief and general terms, but for the specifics, I got in touch with various friends whose families also chose Buddhist funeral rites for their loved one(s). These friends said one of two things – that our observations would depend on family history and choice, and secondly, that a Buddhist temple would provide us with all the necessary guidance.

We did find a place and have negotiated a schedule. There will be offerings, prayers, movement, energy...I learned that Buddhist funeral arrangements are very structured and go on for many days, with specific guidelines for what to do and what to wear, what offerings to make and on which days – the magic numbers being days 3, 7, 49, and 100. Many of our close family friends will take part in the rituals as if they were blood relatives.

It's been helpful to have something for the body (hands, especially) to do while we are re-navigating, remapping, and most of all, remembering. We remember my grandmother as beautiful, independent, and courageous. I can only hope to become half of the wonderful things she'd been, and half of the ways that she blessed.

What funeral customs are unique to your culture? To your family? How do you remember your loved ones in everyday ways?

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