Lying in State: After Peep's grandmother passed away on 5 October 2010, she was given a traditional Lao Buddhist funeral. Prior to being placed in her coffin, she was dressed in nice clothes, was adorned with jewelry, and coins were placed in her mouth. The closed casket was then kept in her house for a period of three days over which mourners arrived to give condolences, as well as present the family with traditional flower wreaths. The wreaths were placed around the coffin, which was also flanked by a large photo of grandma. Visitors were then offered food by the family. While it is typical to keep visiting hours for three or four days, it may be extended to as many as seven if guests are travelling from far away.
Morning of the Funeral: On the day of the funeral, we first went to grandma's house. There, all the male relatives wishing to become a monk for the day went though a ceremony to enter the monkhood. This is typically done by young men to show respect for the deceased. They went through another ceremony directly following the funeral to exit the monkhood. The other mourners dressed all in white. Following the ceremonies at the house, the body was transferred to the temple. The funeral goers lined up in a long procession, with the monks at the front of the line, and escoted the coffin onto the temple grounds. This can be done from the home, but since the temple where the funeral was to take place was a fair distance from where grandma had lived, we first drove to the temple, then walked back out and marched a short distance down the street before reentering the temple. Having been a member of the People's Supreme Assembly, First Legislature, and also a member of the Committee of the Lao Front for National Construction, a military honor guard was present for gramdma's funeral.
The Funeral: Once her casket had been placed in the courtyard and the mourners were seated in the surrounding pavilions and tents, the eulogies were given. Following the eulogies, the family members approached the coffin to spray it with perfume and lay flowers on top. The rest of the funeral goes followed their lead, giving each of the family members a word of condolence before heading back to their seats. This process takes quite some time because Lao funerals tend to be well-attended. The coffin was then set ablaze and allowed to burn. Typically, the flower wreaths gathered over the previous three days would be placed next to the coffin to be burned along with it. However, due to the large number of wreathes received, well over three hundred, and the threat of the fire spreading to the surrounding wooden buildings on the temple grounds, this was not done at grandma's funeral. The burning of the body was the final aspect of the funeral for the day and select members of the family keep watch over the remains as they were allowed to cool overnight.
Disposition of the Remains: The day after the funeral the family gathered in the morning at the temple to sift through the ashes and collect the bones of the deceased, which were washed and placed in a funerary urn. The jewelry worn by grandma and the cold coins placed in her mouth were kept by those fortunate enough to find them. Once the majority of the now shattered bones were collected, the remaining ashes were arranged in the shape of a body. Candles and incense were burned over the ashes while monks conducted prayers nearby. The ashes were then collected and taken down to the bank of the Mekong. There, we boarded a boat and sailed to the middle of the river to scatter the ashes. Peep and I returned to Savannakhet following the ash scattering ceremony. A couple of days later the bones were permanently interred in the same stupa holding the remains of Peep's grandfather.
Memorials: As is tradition, a memorial ceremony was held by the family one month following the funeral. The family assembled at the stupa and prayed with a gathering of monks. This ceremony may then be repeated annually, based on the desires of the family.
Violent, Sudden and Accidental Deaths: Deaths occurring through violent, sudden or accidental means are handled differently, as was the case of Peep's aunt, who died suddenly and unexpecedly of lung cancer, even though she was quite young and hadn't been a smoker. Since it is considered unlucky to have died under such circumstances, the body is not placed in the home prior to the funeral so as not to impart that bad luck on those still living there. Instead, the body is kept at the temple and watched over around the clock by members of the family. The rest of the funeral is conducted like other funerals.