After all my years in Thailand I still believe one of the biggest culture differences between here and home (the USA) is what happens when somebody dies. The anthropologist in me wants to share the gory details with you, but the Internet communicator says, "Keep it short and to the point."
The point is this: In Thailand when someone dies in the village the whole village is involved from the washing of the body to the gathering of the ashes after the cremation.
Death is an undeniable reality of life. Everything is passing. In the USA, at least in the cultural mainstream in the Midwest where I grew up as officiated at hundreds of funerals, the emphasis is on remembering deceased persons as they were and as the survivors prefer to remember them. The body is handled and arrangements are "undertaken" by professionals out of sight and as far from
sensibilities as possible.
Nothing could symbolize this more clearly than how the body is presented before it is disposed of. A village funeral usually includes nights of chanting and a sermon by a Buddhist priest. On the final night the body is situated in a wooden coffin on the cart on which it is to be moved to the cremation grounds. The coffin is covered with flowers, as in the USA, but there the similarity ends. The cart is enclosed in thousands of little colored lights, many of them blinking in wave-like patterns. The deceased
is being sent away with the highest honors the village can muster.
By contrast, the typical wake in Illinois is muted, pastel and subdued. The corpse is made to look as "natural" as possible, as if merely asleep. The casket is meant to look as comfortable as possible for the sleep may be a long one. All of this is reinforced by a religious emphasis on the transition that is taking place.
These are two very different concepts of death. Neither is better than the other. Neither is how things will be a few generations from now. The point is that cultures differ. That's the point.
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.