September 21, 2009

Home at last

We arrived back in the Bay Area yesterday afternoon. When we picked up our dog from Ms. Candy and Civil Engineer's house, they'd made us dinner to take home. We'd had grand plans for cooking a wonderful meal to celebrate our homecoming, instead we ate and fell asleep by 7 pm.

So . . . Korean funeral customs. No one told us the 'uniform' for men was a black suit, white shirt and black tie. Jrex and our Chinese-American brother in-law both had the black suit, but Mom K was very upset when she saw their colored ties. Of course, she saw them right before we left for the funeral home, so there was no time to go buy ties.

It was an open-coffin/viewing service on Friday night. We got there early to set up photos of and by Dad K. When we went up to look at the body every single one of us thought they'd put the wrong guy in the room. After two months in the hospital, his hair was long, so they'd slicked it back Italian-style (Staten Island has a huge Italian population. You do what you know!). They'd over-padded his face, puffed his lips and coated him in medium-brown makeup. When we compared notes later, each of us checked a different body part to confirm it was Dad: I looked at his stubby hands, Jrex checked for the caved-in skull (where they'd removed bone after his head bleed), Mom looked at his ear (which had worn away during his time in the hospital), YJ looked at his nose.

After a two-hour service (in Korean), Mom stood and gestured for all of us to come forward. I put a hand on my Dad's leg (I was fairly sure whatever was going on didn't include him). We all muddled forward and eventually were lined up according to age/rank on the far side of Dad's coffin. People began to line up and we realized it was a receiving line! Each person there stood or knelt in front of Dad's coffin, then came over and hugged Mom (many of them weeping profusely), then shook Jrex's hand, shook my hand, shook YJ's hand, shook Brother-in-Law's hand and then bowed their way down the rest of the relatives. Each time I glanced to my right, it looked like a wave as all fifteen relatives bowed in return. Thank God MN mentioned the two-handed shake in earlier comments! At least I knew to do that much.

THEN it turned out we had to go back on Saturday morning to do yet another Korean service with a different set of pastors doing sermons, prayers and benedictions. AND another receiving line. After that, Jrex had to walk out ahead of the body while carrying a photo of Dad. When we got in the limo to go to the cemetary, Mom K made Jrex ride in the front seat of the limo with Dad's picture: no one was allowed to go ahead of Daddy.

We rode in respectful silence all the way to the crematorium. Once there, each of us were given a rose as we walked in. Jrex placed Dad's picture among the flowers at the foot of the coffin. We added Dad K's Bible, a wooden cross he'd made and a stained glass butterfly that my Dad had given Mom K after he arrived Friday afternoon. Then there were more prayers, another sermon and a hymn. Next each of us put a rose on top of the coffin. Then we each went back up to bow in front of the coffin. The funeral director started to freak out that none of us were leaving and asked Jrex to have people start filing out from the back of the room.

After that we gathered at a local Asian buffet for lunch. Each time key guests arrived or left we had to get up, bow, say hello/goodbye, walk them to the door, bow again and then return to the table to eat. After a while, Brother-in-Law and I played the 'We're not Korean' card and just let Jrex and YJ handle the family greeting.

I'm glad I went back for the funeral and I'm very, very glad it's all over.

During the receiving line, directly across the room from me stood the enlarged photo of Dad K. It was a portrait I'd taken of him during our Yosemite trip last year. He's grinning and the strap of his Nikon camera is showing beneath his jacket collar. I kept looking at the picture and tearing up. As much as he drove me CRAZY, he was also generous with his time, loving beneath his gruff exterior and very full of life.

While we zoned out during the ceremony at the crematorium, I watched Jrex looking at his Dad's photo. I leaned over and whispered in his ear, "He wasn't an easy man, but he was a good man." Jrex nodded in quiet agreement.

I'm so glad that Dad K is now finding out how much he's loved without all the life pain that scarred his ability to give and receive it during his life on earth.


Inkling said...

Again, what an intense experience. You have taught me much about what it looks like to grieve in another culture, even though the bonds of faith are the same. I know it will be a process for JRex and your whole family. And as much as I hate it when people say this to me because I don't know if they actually mean it, I really am praying for you. And if you find it cathartic to keep writing, we're hear to listen. But if you'd rather store it up silently in your heart, that's okay too. We're still just here.

jooliyah said...

i've been meaning to comment. i'm sorry for your family's loss. i'm glad it's over for you too. sounds like there's finally real closure. and the way you wrote about him, seeing into the heart of your father in reminds me to do the same.

sounds like you did great at the funeral. yes, the receiving line after the funeral service....i've been on both ends of it and i appreciate the way it allows the family and the attendees to touch bases with each other. oh. and yes. whenever i or our family is hosting any sort of korean event (weddings, funerals, birthday parties) i never expect to eat with all the helloing and goodbying and please eat more-ing.

Aimee said...

Thank you for sharing. I agree with Inkling... write more as you want/need, or keep it to yourself.

Very profound and moving. I'm not sure what to say, so I'm gonna sign off before stumbling. (((Hugs)))

Rachel said...

As hard as it must have been for his family to let him go, I hope they find comfort in knowing he is at peace.

Oh, the funeral customs. I remember all that so well. I didn't know about the white shirt/ black tie. I remember the receiving line and the two services. We ate at a buffet too.

Lil'Sis said...

Thinking of you all and wishing you well. Glad you made it home safe and sound. I'll continue to keep the family in my prayers.

Snickollet said...

Wishing for peace for the whole family. What an intense time you've been through.

Asianmommy said...

I'm so sorry for your loss.

Sam said...

That is one hell of an intense funeral. It's so so - like extravagant. If he knew I bet he'd be happy to have had such a fancy funeral.