Thursday, February 17, 2011
Reflections on the Death of a Friend
AT the funeral parlor he was surprised to see so few there. Before the coffin, there was his 80-year old mother and the wife of his younger brother. No one was entering or leaving, only a few childhood buddies drinking and talking together. Usually on such occasions, whether the relationship was comfortable or uncomfortable, there would be many paying their respects. He recalls that his friend did not like to mix with others, preferring to live by himself, drinking by himself and, in death, not surprisingly, was also by himself--his death mourned by few.
The writer, accustomed to seeing many people at funeral homes and seeing so few on this occasion, got to thinking about his own funeral. How many will be sad to hear of his death? The answer he feels will depend on how much concern he had shown his neighbor. Was he more interested in taking care of his own needs than in being concerned for others?
It wasn't that his friend did not love his neighbor or was unconcerned for others; only that he neglected to do what he should have been doing. Since the writer also feels he has not been very active in loving or serving his neighbor, he wonders how the funeral parlor will look like at his death. But then reminds himself that death is the same for all, that we came into the world with nothing and will leave with nothing. At the funeral home, whether we have many or few coming with their condolences, what does that mean? he asks. What difference does it make to have many or few to pay their last respects?
The accepted process of handling death and dying has changed greatly in Korea in a short period of time. Many private funeral homes have been built, and most of the hospitals, and some churches, have mortuaries; waking in the home has mostly disappeared.
Being part of a community will help determine the numbers attending our wake and funeral. As our writer said, numbers are unimportant but since the writer is a member of a Church community, I'm sure those who read his article will remind him that the funeral parlor at his wake will be bustling with fellow Christians, singing the office of the dead, eating, and remembering his life in the almost festive nature of our Korean Catholic wakes.