White Lanterns

I realised today that in many ways, I stop to consider outdated superstitions way more than my parents do.  Case in point: today, my dad was showing off his new purchase of white lanterns from Hội An, Việt Nam, and the first thought that so auntie-ly popped into my head was: “Aiyoh!  Not pantang meh?”  Where in the world did I inherit this pantang gene from?  Must be from reading too many Catherine Lim novels when I was younger.  Whatever.  Anyway, this reminded me to stop being so unnecessarily superstitious, and inspired me to break a pantang larang to blog about cynspiration that hit during my walks by Kingston’s lakefront last week: what happens after I die.  I know, I know: “Choy!” right?  Whatever.

I know this is not the most original of things, but seeing all the memorial trees along the waterfront made me a little melancholic for all those people I don’t know, and the loved ones they have left behind to deal with their death.

My late 婆婆 (paternal grandmother) was very superstitious about all things death-related, and so she never attended any funerals, no matter how close a friend or relative the deceased was, and always warned me not to even glance at, much less walk through any wakes being held at the HDB void decks, and certainly, she never talked about death, much less how she’d like her funeral arrangements.  But even in my teens, my friends and I had to come to terms with the death of our friends; departed through suicides and accidents.  Perhaps because of this, I grew to believe that accepting the inevitability of death, but letting it come at its own mysterious pace, is the best way to embrace life.  And so, as unfeeling as even my loved ones sometimes misconstrue me to be, I remain dry-eyed at funerals, precisely because my heart celebrates the life lived, not mourns the life lost.

I realise that when I go, I want it to be a celebration of the culmination of a life well-lived, and not a mourning for my loss, and this helps me want to live every day better.  But I also realise that if I follow my grandparent’s superstitions and never talk about how I’d like it to be when I go, it could very well go the other way.  Even Việt Nam‘s late President Hồ Chí Minh was placed in a mausoleum instead of being cremated; the latter of which is widely believed to have been his wishes.  Why do the living always think it necessary to make things grander than the deceased would have wanted?  Okay fine, in Uncle Hồ’s case, there’s the issue of a tangible national symbol…but I digress, again.

I’ve always thought funerals were for the living, not for the dead, so for most of the details, I leave it up to the person who’ll end up stuck arranging it – do what makes you happy.  All I ask is to keep it simple, and for that, a few simple things.  I want to be cremated.  I want my ashes in a box (unfinished wood, cardboard; whatever’s convenient for that place and time) and if possible, I’d like my box of ashes to be buried under a tree sapling, unmarked.  No, no dusty, high-rise columbarium for me, thank you very much.  If anyone should feel a strong need for a place to remember me by, to that I say: “Go play amongst the trees.”  That’s all.  My desires are as simple as that.  Please?  Whoever’s gonna end up being the one doing this for me, you can be sure I love you very much, and thank you.

And with that, I end my morbid talk for the day.  Have you broke the pantang and thought of how you’d like your arrangements to be?

White Lanterns image by Jungle Boy on flickr.


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