Thursday, 8 April 2010

A Korean Funeral

I had never been to a funeral before. It’s not because I purposely avoided them, rather, I have been fortunate enough not to have lost a close friend or family member. Today marked the breaking of my “funeral-less” life.

I walked into school today to find everyone dressed in black and donning tiny ribbons. The founder of Bunam Middle School had passed away the night before, ending his lengthy battle with liver cancer. He was the founder of our school, and worked as the school Principal for many years before handing the position over to his son (our current Principal). Without him, I wouldn’t have been given the opportunity to work in this community and experience the unique culture of rural Korea.

After class, Mrs. Jeon and I drove to Cheongsong to attend the funeral. It was held in a small community hall directly beside the hospital where he had passed away. His position within the community meant that his funeral attracted more than just family and friends. People from all parts of the community, from the store-owners to laborers, were in attendance to pay their respects.

The first thing I noticed when I walked in was the food. I should’ve expected it now that I’m familiar with Korean customs, but it still took me by surprise. There were tables upon tables of food being waited upon by several busy workers. The funeral had a “revolving door” type feel to it, with people coming and going as they pleased. Across the dining area was a small room with his coffin placed against the wall under his picture. Groups of ten to fifteen people took turns entering the room, facing his coffin for a brief moment of silence, then bowing in unison. Two family members remained in the room at all times to exchange a few words with people before the next group entered. Immediately outside of the small room was our school administrator who was put in charge of handling the donations for the family. I donated 30 000 Won (~ $ 25.00 CAD), and was handed a small envelope containing a 10 000 Won bill (~ $8.00 CAD) as a token of thanks.

Following the prayers and the donations, Mrs. Jeon and I sat down at one of the tables for dinner, and she explained to me the sequence of events for the funeral. There had been a “wake” the night before, but only close friends and relatives were allowed to attend and help with the grieving process. Today was the community “banquet,” which is held for the purpose of celebrating his life. The celebration is to help uplift the spirits of the grieving family using the pleasantries of food, drinks, laughter, and friends. Tomorrow, his coffin will be driven to the gates of Bunam Middle school, and his picture will be carried around the playground in front of the school population. The staff and students will then say their final goodbyes, and the coffin will be driven to the site of his tomb (accompanied only by family members), down the street from the school.

All in all, the whole funeral process wasn’t as depressing as I thought to would be. The energy of the banquet was definitely uplifting, and aside from a few tearful family members, everyone who attended maintained very positive demeanors throughout the entire event. I really enjoyed the “celebrate life” mentality over the “mourn death” mentality, and I can only hope that my funeral will be as uplifting for my family and friends.

- Ken


  1. I've attended both kinds of funerals and must also admit that the celebrate life and eat lots and lots is definitely my preference as well!!!

  2. I think it's lucky(?) to have experiencing a foreign funeral culture and understanding their grief sharing... truly, it's everyone's part of life.. thinking about my own death(Sam doesn't like to have a conversation about it)... deep me down in every directions... too serious... then watch this:)
    (surprised kitty)