February has been a month of great sadness and shock, but also joy and amazement, as we said goodbye to the mother of a dear friend of ours. We are so grateful to Almighty God that she herself decided to became a Christian last month, only weeks before she was taken ill. She was baptised in the hospital ICU the day before she died, February 6.
It was wonderful that she could have a Christian funeral. With the exception of her daughter, none of her close relatives are Christians, and she herself had always been a very dedicated follower of traditional folk religion.
The period of mourning was about 3 weeks, and on Friday evening we went to the family home for a service of readings, prayers and sharing, as we prepared for the funeral the next day. All the family was gathered…….
After the service we had a wonderful meal together……
Rev. Lily Chang and I stayed overnight with the relatives and everyone was up early the next day for the preparations. The family went early to the funeral home to wash and dress their mother’s body. We arrived in time to pray with the family, then we all accompanied the body and the family to the Chung-Li City Mortuary.
The whole area there is like one big funeral city with lots of funeral homes and all kinds of businesses set up to help relatives deal with everything. The funeral was held in one of the funeral halls there at the mortuary. The body was placed at the back behind the curtain and we all gathered there first for prayers.
It was an extremely moving funeral. The family all wore black robes and we followed the funeral liturgy…..
The children shared some words of testimony, and so did 2 of the grandchildren ~ they shared about their memories of their grandmother. Such brave little girls and so composed….. later the family sang one of their traditional indigenous songs and the same 2 little girls danced too.
Then the committal……
……… and the local government dignitaries lined up to pay their respects…..
Then we all took a flower each and went behind the curtain to put the flowers on the body. More prayers as everyone knelt before the coffin; everyone was crying as the coffin lid was brought down and the coffin shut. There was a great sense of finality, of saying farewell. We all accompanied the coffin as it was pushed around the block in the rain to the crematorium.
There were a few other funerals also taking place that day but they were mostly other Christian funerals. Non-Christians in Taiwan always wait for an auspicious day on which to hold the funeral, and Saturday was not one of them.
At the crematorium we had some more prayers, then moved round the back to the ovens. Kneeling before the coffin for final prayers, everyone was crying as we watched the coffin being pushed into the oven, the door shut and the button pushed. It seemed that everything was now over, finished. We had said everything we wanted to say, cried all we wanted to cry, and done all that we wanted to do.
The family disrobed out of their black and we all went off to one of the local restaurants in funeral city for lunch, their mother’s final chance to host everyone to a nice meal.
The ashes were scheduled to be ready in about 90 minutes, so by 1:30pm we were all back at the crematorium. Most of the visitors to the funeral had gone home by now, leaving just the family and us. The bones and ashes were laid out on a tray. After prayers, one by one each family member used chopsticks to pick up their mother’s bones and place them in the urn. The crematorium man then finished arranging all the ashes in the urn and placed the jawbones and then the skull on top. He glued the urn closed and wrapped the urn in a white silk cloth and gave it to the son to carry. We all got into cars and drove the 30 minutes up into the mountains of Da-Xi to the place where people store the ashes.
The ashes of the other deceased members of the family, including 2 of her own sons, are all in the same building complex, so the family wanted everyone all in the same place. Although it is a Buddhist Pagoda and Temple complex, there are also a few Christians there too.
Up we went with the ashes to the 5th floor of the new building next to the pagoda. We had been allocated a place right at the top. After prayers and Bible reading…….
……….the son placed his mother’s ashes in the space allocated, plus a small cross. A cross on the window shows she is a Christian.
Then we all went outside for a group photo, and back to the family home.
A very moving and incredible day, the Holy Spirit there comforting, encouraging, strengthening and leading us. Taking part in the whole day with all the family together gave everyone a real sense of support, of unity. Also a feeling of completeness and finality. At every stage, every time we moved the body or the ashes, the family would talk to their mother and tell her what we were doing next, where we were taking her. It was sad and joyful all at the same time. Quite a send-off indeed. She was a very lively and gregarious woman in life, but with a complex and difficult life right from the beginning. Now she is at peace and free from worry. Praise God indeed!