Jul 28, 2021
Grieving in the time of pandemic (Part 2)
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In its most basic context, the act of making an offering in Buddhist tradition enables one to practice generosity in giving, to express gratitude and respect, and to contemplate on the life sustaining law of interdependence. In Buddhist teachings, all of suffering is a result not knowing and not seeing. The offering of light dispels darkness, which is the perfect allegory for the illumination of wisdom extinguishing the darkness of ignorance.
By offering light to the Buddha, it not only pays homage to his achievement of enlightenment, but it also serves as a reminder for oneself to strive for the same through the Dharma. Therefore, if one wishes to develop Dharma wisdom, he or she should offer light. The act of offering of light to the Buddha is also considered meritorious and is said to create the karma for great wealth and blessings for many hundreds or thousands of lifetimes.
Although butter lamps are the traditional form when it comes to making offerings of light, Buddhist masters will be quick to dismiss the misconception that offering traditional butter lamps is the only acceptable way. Candles, lanterns and even battery or electric-powered lamps can also be used for this purpose. In fact, Buddhist teachers advocate that whatever light is clearer and dispels darkness then it is suitable to be offered. The most important thing is having the right motivation in making the offering.
For the benefit of the layperson, the metaphysical art of Feng Shui can basically be divided into two; namely Yin House Feng Shui and Yang House Feng Shui. In a nutshell, Yin House Feng Shui is the practice of geomancy for the dwellings of the dead (tombs) while Yang House Feng Shui is the practice of geomancy for the dwellings of the living (houses). It is interesting to note that the latter is in fact an evolution and derivative of Yin House Feng Shui as all practices of Feng Shui began with tombs before it was later applied to houses and other buildings.
The basis for both however is pretty much the same; that is to harvest the auspicious energies or “Qi” of the environment in order to bring about desirable and positive changes in various aspects of life. In Yin House Feng Shui, the bones of ancestors are said to have a direct link with their descendants. Therefore, to inter the bones of ancestors in tombs located on land with auspicious Feng Shui features are believed to help descendants prosper and achieve greatness.
The installation of Sheng Ji or “Living Tomb” is based on this principle of Yin House Feng Shui but it does not involve the bones of ancestors and the beneficiary is a specific living person. In lieu of bones belonging to ancestors, personal items associated with the intended beneficiary such as hair, fingernails, clothing, shoes, socks and sometimes even a vial of the subject’s blood are buried in the “tomb” instead, which is what lends the technique its moniker of “Living Tomb”. Through this, the natural auspicious energies of the land will be directly absorbed by the intended beneficiary to enhance wealth, health, vitality and longevity. The technique is occasionally deployed by Feng Shui experts for people with deeply flawed Ba Zi, extremely down on their luck or seriously ill with life-threatening conditions.
For this purpose, people will sometimes utilise pre-purchased auspicious burial plots. Instead of leaving the plot unused prior to using it for its intended purpose, they transform it into a Sheng Ji with the assistance of a Feng Shui master in order to reap the benefits for themselves while still alive. Occasionally, some may choose plots of lands not intended for burials but with excellent Feng Shui to execute this purpose.
Ancestor worship is a practice that occupies a supreme role in the religious and social life of Chinese society. Deeply rooted in the all-important virtue of filial piety, much of its associated rites have remained unchanged since Confucian times. Integral to the practice of ancestor worship are ancestral tablets – sacred objects in which the spirit of deceased ancestors are believed to reside.
Ancestral tablets vary in shape and size from place to place. Traditionally carved from wood, it is composed of three pieces – a square pedestal and two oblong upright pieces of unequal length. The longer piece terminates in a round knob that is set into the rear of the pedestal while the shorter piece is fitted into the front so that both appear as a single piece.
The outer surface of the first piece is inscribed with the name and year of the reigning dynasty, the title of the deceased, the deceased’s personal name and surname, and the name of the son who installs the tablet. The day and hour of birth and death as well as the place of burial are recorded on the inner surface. The inscriptions are in no way distributed in a uniform way on the tablet and can vary. Married deceased women may at times share a single tablet with their husbands or be represented by their own tablet.
The Chinese believe that a person has three souls. Upon passing, one stays with the entombed body at the grave, one moves on to the afterlife and one will take up residence in a dedicated ancestral tablet. Ancestral tablets were traditionally enshrined on an altar where they were venerated by the head of the family. Wealthy families may have a dedicated ancestral hall for this while others may install ancestral tablets on the same altar of the household deities.
Offerings of incense, candle and food are made to show reverence to one’s elders or ancestors, as part of the continued practice of filial piety that extends beyond death. The Chinese believe that the spirits of the ancestors will continue watch over the family and bless them; therefore, great care and respect must be shown to spirits of the ancestors as the protectors of a family’s fortunes. Due to lack of space for altars and time to perform worshipping rites in modern times, ancestral tablets are nowadays commonly installed in temples, clan halls or memorial centres where caretakers will perform worship on behalf of the family.
There are people in their 20’s and 30’s considering pre-planning, while there are people in their 40’s and 50’s who may think it’s too early to even think about it. Majority are likely to hold the perception that those in their senior years should consider pre-planning because – for the lack of a better way to say it – they are closer to the “expiring age”. Who then is right, and who is wrong?
The answer may come as a surprise; nobody is wrong and everyone is right. The truth is there is no age demographic that makes one more eligible to pre-plan than the other (with exception perhaps for those who are still too young to earn their own income). To understand the rationale to this, one can ask: who should marry? The answer is simple: those who are ready. The same answer is also applicable when it comes to the subject of who should pre-plan.
Different factors may come into play for each individual considering pre-planning such as personal experiences, financial capability, mental awareness and concern for the welfare of their loved ones. The one thing these individuals have in common is readiness. As long as you feel mentally ready and financially stable to consider the idea, then you should pre-plan.
The topic of death is a delicate one and it is understandable many are uncomfortable to discuss it. However, one should contemplate on this question: which comes first, tomorrow or death? We can never know for sure, but death does not discriminate and neither does it wait. So when it comes to the topic of the best time to pre-plan, there is no better time than now when you are already thinking about it.
In fact, the common perception of waiting till we are older to do it may not be entirely correct. According to data from Knoema, the number of deaths in 2015 between ages of 25 and 69 numbered at 338.25 (thousand cases). In comparison, the number of deaths at the same year for those above the age of 70 numbered at 309.59 (thousand cases).
The conclusion that we can draw here is that it is never too early to pre-plan. The sooner you do it, the greater your peace of mind. Similarly to the question of who should pre-plan, as long as you are ready to explore the idea, then you can proceed to do so.
The words columbarium and mausoleum are sometimes used interchangeably but both terms actually refer to very distinct memorial structures. The mausoleum (or mausolea in plural) has always been associated with the interment of human remains and the term is derived from the tomb complex of King Mausolus, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The columbarium on the other hand was initially used in Roman times as nesting niches for pigeons and doves. It only came to be associated with the interment of cremated human remains when Buddhists in ancient Asia started constructing similar structures for such purposes.
Both structures are nowadays utilised as memorial structures but the columbarium is only used to house cremated remains. The mausoleum on the other hand, is designed to house whole bodies in general but can occasionally be designed to accommodate cinerary urns as well. Both columbaria and mausolea can accommodate from a handful of interments in a family setting to hundreds of interments in a shared or public setting. The term mausoleum can also sometimes be used in reference to specific collective burials in an enclosed indoor or outdoor setting as in the case of royalty, wealthy families or famous personalities. In Malaysia, mausoleum interments are generally only reserved for royalty or influential people such illustrious leaders or national heroes.
Some famous examples of mausolea around the world include Forest Lawn Memorial Park’s Great Mausoleum (USA), Frogmore’s Royal Mausoleum (UK), the Pantheon (France), Qianling Mausoleum (China) and Taj Mahal (India). Well known examples of columbaria are the San Francisco Columbarium (USA), True Dragon Tower (Taiwan) and Columbaria of Vigna Codini (Italy).
A columbarium is a construct used for the storage or final resting place of cremated remains in cinerary urns. They can be free standing structures, or part of a building with many niches resembling dovecotes. In fact, the term “columbarium” comes from the Latin term “columba” meaning “dove” which in the past was used to describe nesting compartments for doves and pigeons. The plural term for columbarium is called “columbaria”.
Columbaria nowadays are popular choices as final resting places due to growing popularity of cremation, economical in terms of pricing, and the increasing scarcity of land. Like cemeteries and memorial parks, columbaria can either be privately or publicly managed although most cemeteries and memorial parks nowadays will also include columbaria for added convenience and to maximise options in terms of choice.
Previously, columbaria are usually a part of religious complexes such as Buddhist temples and Christian churches as an extra benefit for local congregations or communities. Due to growing popularity and demand, columbaria are nowadays independent, elaborate structures reflecting cultural, religious or even fanciful themes. Privately managed columbaria may even offer the convenience of extra amenities and luxuries such as visitor’s centres, lounges and air-conditioning.
Upon cremation, the ashes or “cremains” are usually collected by the crematorium and returned to the family in an urn. At this stage, it is up to the bereft family to decide on how to memorialise their loved one. Professional bereavement care providers will usually offer a variety of choices depending on the options available at that locality.
The most popular memorial option is to place the urn at a columbarium – a permanent structure or building that is built specifically for this purpose consisting of many repositories or niches resembling dovecotes. The urn is placed within such a niche and occasionally families will place other things together with it, such as favourite items associated with the deceased or decorative and religious objects. The niche is then covered in a variety of ways. Some columbaria will employ the use of lockable door or glass covering which is inscribed with the deceased’s name and details. Others might seal the niche permanently with an inscribed stone covering or tile.
Despite cremation, families may still choose the option of burial below ground in an urn garden. An urn garden is a burial ground designated for the burial of cremated remains only. Unlike a standard burial plot, an urn garden’s burial plot will contain a below ground compartment or vault big enough to accommodate an urn or two. A headstone or marker will then be installed at the plot to memorialise the deceased.
Some families may choose the option of scattering the ashes (usually at sea or a favourite spot associated with deceased). For some cultures and religions such as Hinduism, this option is usually preferred although some land scarce countries might also encourage this practice. No permanent markers are erected after the ashes are scattered. However, families can still celebrate the memory of the deceased during selected anniversaries through personal or memorial prayers.
Bereavement care providers are generally professional establishments that engage in death care, burial preparation, funeral and memorialization of the deceased. In the past, these establishments were traditionally known as “undertakers”.
Depending on the size of the establishment, bereavement care providers may provide a different range of services. A small family owned establishment for instance may provide basic funeral services such as organising wakes and funerals, body transportation services, sale of products such as caskets and urns, and burial services. Larger enterprises may provide a larger range of integrated services aside from the ones mentioned above such as pre-planning, death reporting and documentation, body preparation services (e.g. embalming, restoration and cosmetology), funeral parlours, post funeral services, grief counselling, operation of private memorial parks and other value added services.
Whichever option you choose to go with, there are always pros and cons. A small family owned establishment may at times have a community-based track record that goes back several generations and therefore can be counted upon to provide personable service although with limited range of services. Larger enterprises on the other hand can offer wider range of professional-level services although at a higher cost. The most important consideration here is that you and your family must be comfortable with the bereavement care provider.
Owing to the unpredictability of death, bereavement care providers are generally on call 24 hours a day all year round and will be ready to assist at just a phone call. An understanding service representative or consultant will be more than willing to meet you in a place of your choosing.
To save yourself time, you should make a list of all your needs and enquiries. A good and experienced bereavement care provider service representative or consultant will listen to them attentively and guide you through any enquiry you might have in a respectful and courteous manner. If you wish to get a good feel the product and services they offer, it may be more sensible and beneficial for you to visit their facilities to ensure your own satisfaction and peace of mind.
Some service representatives may suggest services and products. You are well within your rights to decline if you feel they are irrelevant or unnecessary. At no point should you feel pressured into accepting anything you don’t feel comfortable with. A truly professional and sincere representative or consultant knows not to be pushy during a time of loss and tragedy.
Funerals tend to be very spiritual in nature and are generally dependent on the deceased’s cultural and religious background. The customs and practices may vary from place to place even for similar religions. Regardless of these differences, funerals are usually structured in a similar manner consisting of three distinctive stages: a beginning, middle, and an end. Each stage is intended to engage living participants to acknowledge a major change has occurred for the deceased and all involved, and to provide an opportunity for mourners to collectively grieve.
A typical funeral would include:
VisitationOften termed as a “viewing” or more commonly, a “wake”, this is when guests come to pay their respects to the deceased whose body is presented in a formal setting at home or a funeral parlour either in a closed or open casket. Visitations can occur any time before the funeral service and can last for days. It is also an opportunity for guests to offer their support for the bereft family by spending time with them.
Funeral ServiceThis event is the culmination of the visitation period when the final religious and ceremonial rites are performed in preparation for the deceased’s final journey. Depending on religious and cultural practices, it can take place at home, the funeral parlour, a place of worship or at the grave site.
Committal or Interment ServiceThe final stage of the funeral, the committal or interment service involves the procession bearing the remains of the deceased to the final resting place of choice. If burial is chosen, this typically placing or entombing the casket in a cemetery or memorial park. If cremation is the choice, the remains are cremated at a crematorium with the ashes collected in an urn for scattering or interment in a columbarium.
The funeral is an important step in grieving and coming to terms with the passing of a loved one. In some ways, it can be more important for those left behind than the one who has passed. A sensitive and professional bereavement care provider will work closely with the bereft family towards achieving this aim. A well-arranged funeral not only celebrates the life of the person who has passed, but also provides proper closure for grieving families.
When referring to burial or cremation, this usually relates to the final stage of the funeral involving the disposition of remains. In burial, the remains are interred whole below ground in a cemetery or in some cases, a crypt or mausoleum. In cremation, the remains are incinerated and the ashes are then collected in a cinerary urn. It is then left to the family to decide on the final disposition and the choices are generally interment in a columbarium, burial at a burial plot or scattering (usually at sea).
Between the two, cremation is generally the more economical choice. In recent years, cremation has been gaining in popularity, surpassing burial as the most popular choice. However, one important factor to take note is that certain religions or denominations do not permit cremation while some actually encourage it. Less religious individuals may take environmental impact into consideration but both burial and cremation have its pros and cons when it comes to this topic.
Ultimately if religion is not a factor, burial or cremation is deeply a matter of personal choice. This is one of the reasons why it is always important to keep your loved ones in the loop about your final wishes. Whenever possible, pre-plan to avoid leaving the difficult decision of what to do with your loved ones.
The Chinese imperial dynasties and nobility of the past were known to pre-plan decades ahead; hence, the idea of pre-planning is not actually even new among eastern cultures. It was thought to be an auspicious and culturally respectable thing to do. In the past, the imperial elite went as far as constructing their tombs years ahead to safeguard political power and secure dynasties through spiritual beliefs.
Among the ordinary folk, the younger generation would gift their elders with coffins to wish them longevity and good fortune! The coffins would be kept at home as a reminder to appreciate life and one’s own mortality, as well as a symbol of filial piety. When the time came, these coffins would actually be put to use during funerals and interments. Though it may seem foreign to us today, such practices are actually still observed in some rural parts of China.
As life expectancy improved with modern medicine and healthcare, people became less accepting of the idea of pre-planning and began seeing it as more of a taboo and “tempting fate”. Such ideas are nothing more than superstitions at best and it doesn’t change the fact we will eventually expire.
Although less traditional or culturally significant in present times, pre-planning is done out of consideration and care for loved ones and is considered a prudent exercise rooted in logic and economic sensibilities. Thankfully with education and exposure, the negative perception associated with pre-planning is beginning to shift as more and more are beginning to see its importance.
Funeral planning is a complex and sensitive matter. Whether as a pre-plan or an immediate need, knowing where to begin and deciding what needs to be done can be daunting for many, especially for those who have never been directly involved in the planning of end-of-life affairs. With over 30 years of experience in providing award-winning bereavement care services and products, Nirvana Asia understands this challenge.
Nirvana Life Plans aim to ensure the funeral planning process be as hassle-free as possible by combining our best services and products in convenient, pre-arranged plans. The plans come in different price ranges to address every budgetary concern and are suitable for multi-denominations. Nirvana Life Plans can also be personalised according to individual needs.
Aside from making the process of pre-planning easier for our customers through our Nirvana Life Plans, Nirvana Asia has dedicated service personnel in multiple internationally-certified branches nationwide and a wide network of professional authorised agents who are ever-ready to lend a helping hand.
According to a general survey, there are three primary concerns among family breadwinners. Matters concerning their children’s future top the list. This is followed by financial pressures of the next generation. In third place is the occurrence of unpleasant incidences such as loss of income, critical illnesses and worse still, loss of life.
Life is uncertain; but death isn’t. That is the universal truth that is shared by all regardless of age, status, race or gender. Anyone who has lived through the unfortunate passing of a loved one will know how devastating it can be. Aside from having to deal with the trauma of losing someone dear, there is the additional stress of dealing with the financial and logistical details.
What would the deceased have wanted? What sort of religious service is appropriate? Do you choose burial or cremation? Are there adequate funds to cover the entire process?
If providing answers to these questions feel difficult before death occurs, imagine how it would be like when it happens. This is exactly why pre-planning is important for both yourself and your family.
Pre-planning can be thought of as a preparation strategy of everything connected to your funeral in and pre-paying for it in advance as a pre-need funeral contract. Depending on your wishes or that of your family’s, the arrangements can vary in cost and details.
Most pre-need funeral contracts like Nirvana Life Plans usually cover the entire process from the moment of death to the funeral, such as type of funeral and religious services, duration of the wake, management of remains or even preferred casket.
Depending on the range of services offered by the bereavement care provider, the choice of final resting place may need to be managed separately. Nirvana, being a convenient one-stop bereavement care provider, is able assist in this aspect aside from its comprehensive pre-need funeral contracts as it also manages an extensive selection of private columbaria and scenic landscaped memorial parks in various nationwide and overseas locations.
When someone passes away, pre-planning will empower the family to set the required actions into motion without having to concern themselves with difficult financial decisions and unfamiliar details. Different individuals may have different needs and choices; the most important thing here is their families can proceed with confidence that they are acting in accordance to the wishes of the deceased. This will give them the freedom to cope with loss and say goodbye.