Sunday, November 7, 2010

Long weekend

I reacquainted myself with MineSweeper on the 14-hour plane ride over.
We arrived in Seoul at around 4am on Saturday, 10/30.  Once we'd gotten our baggage, we were greeted by my dad's younger brother, who drove us straight to the hospital.  ICU visiting hours were at 10am and 7pm (for half an hour at a time) but they let us in because we had come all the way from the United States.  We saw my grandmother briefly.  She was in a coma (since Wednesday) but my dad spoke to her and told her we had come.  My dad and my aunts claim they noticed her take a deep breath after my dad announce his presence, as if she had been waiting for him to come. (He was supposedly her favorite child).

We went back to the family house nearby to drop off our luggage and rest for a bit, and woke up in time to return to the hospital for the 10am visiting hour.  We were met by some of my dad's other siblings.  We stayed there for 30 minutes and then went to the waiting room.  My dad wanted to speak to the doctor so we waited until around noon when the doctor was available.  The doctor confirmed what our family knew, which was that my grandmother was being kept alive by the machines, and they decided to take her off the IV.  We all went to lunch nearby and then came back.

My aunt who had been my grandmother's caretaker had spent most of the past few days at the hospital so she decided to take me and my brother to the house to rest for a bit.  We had only been there for a little while when we got the call.  We rushed back to the hospital to find the rest of our family around our grandmother, who had flat-lined.  We went back into the waiting room while the staff took all the tubes and needles out of her, and then went back one final time to view her.

Then came a whirlwind of funeral proceedings.  My uncle had been looking at different spaces to hold the wake.  Traditionally, the wake was held at the home of the deceased, but now people would often have them at spaces on the hospital grounds designated for such ceremonies.  So we walked to the funeral parlor on the grounds and began the wake, which would last two days, until early Monday morning, when we would go to the grave site to bury the body.

During the wake, one side of the hall held what could best be described as an altar with a photo of my grandmother, food for her to consume, and rows of chrysanthemums.  Other people and companies sent displays of chrysanthemums as a sign of their condolences. 

Here I am in Korean funeral garb, in front of my grandmother's altar.
The other side of the hall (there were multiple spaces side by side for different parties) was a banquet space, with tables and a kitchen for serving food and drink to the guests.  The family members notified other kin, friends, and coworkers, of my grandmother's death, and people started streaming in.  They would stop on the altar side, and give an envelope of money to the greeters (usually my cousins).  They would take off their shoes, come up to the altar and do a ceremonial bow which involves crouching and placing your hands on the floor and then leaning your forehead right above the hands until you're kneeling, and then standing up.  Then the visitor and a family member or two manning the altar would bow to each other.  The visitor would then cross to the banquet hall on the other side and socialize with the family member they had come for. 

At meal times, our family would perform the ancestral rite where food that was meant to be consumed by my grandmother was left at the altar.  We would each take turns offering rice wine and doing the ceremonial bow, according to Confucian rank.  We were supposed to stay at the funeral parlor for two straight days but we went home late at night to take a shower and get a few hours of rest. 

On the morning of the second day, the family gathered in a basement room to watch as the body was prepared.  It was a little creepy as in the States, you always see the body after it has been prepared.  The sons were asked to confirm the identity of the corpse, and my uncle remained in the room with the preparers to hold my grandmother's head in place while the rest of us entered an adjoining room to watch through a glass window.  They swabbed the body with alcohol and then wrapped it in what looked like white tissue paper.  Then they clothed the body in the manner of how they used to prepare the bodies of queens.  They dressed the body in ceremonial dress made of what looked like sackcloth, securing it with knots that resembled chrysanthemums. 

Before they wrapped up the body, we were invited to view it one last time.  I touched my grandmother's face and her face was cold but surprisingly soft.  Then they finished wrapping her up, putting 12 fake bills on top of her body that were arranged in the shape of the tree.  We were each invited to place a bill in the appropriate slots.  They were to buy her passage into the afterlife. 

Once they were finished we came back upstairs to the funeral parlor, continuing to receive guests.  My brother and I were pretty bored since we weren't expecting any guests, so we snuck out a couple of times.  We also took naps in the back room.

Doug eating ramen because he didn't like the food they served.
Taking advantage of the iPhone's other camera lens.
My mom and her friends.
Mom and Doug.
I sketched my brother because I was bored.
We snuck out to McDonalds.
On Monday we gathered at 4:30am to perform the ancestral rite, and then the car was loaded up with the casket.  Members of the family aren't supposed to carry the casket so my uncles had asked some of their friends to do it for us.  We all got in a bus and headed to the grave site, a couple hours outside of Seoul.

Waiting for the burial ceremony to begin.

The pallbearers picked up the casket and brought it to the grave, where the workmen were waiting.  We waited until I think 10AM (in Korea there is a certain time of day that it is considered the best to bury the body).  They lowered the casket into the grave and started to pack the casket into the grave with dirt.  Once the casket had been packed, we each dropped some dirt into the grave.  They then filled the grave.  Once the grave was filled we were asked to pack the dirt with our feet.  People were crying.  Then we performed the ancestral rite again.  We were invited to eat the food before cleaning up and going home.

The cemetery.

On Wednesday, two days later, we went back to the grave site for the final send off.  We performed the ancestral rite and removed our mourning clothes to be burnt.  Then we all had lunch together.  When we returned to the family house, we looked at old photo albums for photos of my grandmother.  Here are some photos we unearthed:

Me and Doug in our first trip to Korea.
My dad at age 20, looking strikingly similar to my brother.
My grandparents with my uncle and my dad (in my grandmother's arms) along with two unknown girls.
My brother and me, playing with my aunt's old dog.