Can I go to work in mourning garb?
Eva Ow, NV Care funeral service master of ceremonies | Translated by: Colin Kwan
A friend recently asked me some questions; she asked “Hey, what is mourning? Can we still go to work after mourning? Will I be judged?”
I thought about this for a while, but I didn’t know how to explain it at that time because I didn’t really have a deep understanding of its true significance. However, can the question as to whether one can go to work after mourning be explained from a traditional or a modern perspective?
I thought about it for a long time, and I thought we should first understand the significance of wearing mourning garb before deciding whether to go to work or not.
I searched the internet for some time, and according to an online personal library, to wear mourning garb means that when an elderly person dies, the children and grandchildren should wear sackcloth and cover their heads in white to express mourning. According to the protocol, the closer the blood relation, the darker the colour scheme of the garb; the more distant the blood relation, the lighter the colour scheme. In funerals, flashy clothes are not to be worn, and family members will wear mourning garb made of sackcloth and mourning pins, which is called “upper mourning garb”. The colours of mourning garbs are white, black, blue and green. Sons, daughters-in-law and daughters are the closest relations and are required to wear white garments made of cotton. To wear a mourning pin, which also means “filial piety” is to wear a small piece of coloured cloth pinned on top of the shirt sleeve. If the deceased is male, it is worn on the left sleeve, and if the deceased is female, it will be on the right sleeve. To put it simply, wearing mourning garb is also a symbol of identity and the relationship with the deceased.
Is it possible then to go to work during mourning? There is no definitive answer to this question, and I can’t find any definitive answer online either. In my opinion, it is not that I can’t go to work because I’m in mourning, but there are many things to do during the funeral period, including laying out the body, setting the spirit tablet, preparing for the wake and funeral, encoffinment, obituaries, hosting the wake, prayers and chanting and hosting the farewell ceremony before the funeral and burial and cremation. These things may seem simple, but are daunting for a family member who is dealing with the pain of loss.
I remembered when my grandfather passed away, there were many things to do during the mourning period. For example, the children and grandchildren had to burn joss paper next to the casket, and they had to ensure the fire kept burning slowly. The bereaved family must also maintain a vigil by the casket 24 hours a day until the day of the funeral. In addition to that, the ritual chanting is quite lengthy, from the afternoon until some time after 11.00 p.m. Although there are breaks during the ritual chanting, the body and mind are already exhausted. If I had to think about going to work at this time, I would need to be made of steel.
As time changes however, many rituals have started to become simplified. In the past, most funerals were held at home; but nowadays many choose to host it in a funeral parlour. Even if there is an overnight vigil, few family members will choose to stay simply due to the presence of many people at the multi-hall funeral parlours. Hence, once the ritual chanting is done, they go home and return the next day. Because of this, many of the rituals and customs have gradually changed in accordance to the progress of society.
Returning to the question of whether or not we can go to work, the simplification and convenience of the rituals no longer tire out the bereaved family, so some do go to work in the morning and come back in the evening to pay their respects. Some may not have such a close relationship and will not experience much of an emotional impact; so they will choose to attend the funeral after getting off work. During these processes, there may be a number of relatives and friends who will remind us of the mourning rituals in the past. However, as long as you do your part, you don’t have to pay attention to what others might say.
In conclusion, there is no right or wrong when it comes to going to work during mourning, and wearing mourning garb purely has to do with the thoughts and sentiments for the deceased.
Nirvana Care’s Emcee Department is responsible for conducting funeral ceremonies according to the family’s respective background, customs and rituals, as well as language and culture. We ensure the smooth flow of the funeral process, including the viewing, sealing of the casket, paying of respects and the funeral procession. The funeral emcee is also responsible for interviewing the family to obtain information in order to celebrate the deceased’s life, help write eulogies and memorialize the deceased together with the family.
About the author
Eva Ow Yann Shan was a former administrator in NV Care’s Emcee Department before becoming a master of ceremonies. Eva specializes in administrative workflow and is responsible for the department’s administrative affairs – arranging and guiding the team in the administrative process. Eva has been officiating for several years with a solid stage presence and is fluent in Chinese, English and Cantonese.
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