Life and Death

Can you believe it there are still more weddings and funerals. Today they are back, however, and with a new sense of urgency. The contractor realizes that he has to get this phaze of the work done before everybody goes home to plant rice. The guys in the next phase of work are not farmers and lay floors all year long.

We actually met the main guy the other day when he came by to check out his next job with us. He and his wife work together and from what I have seen do very good work. Well, that kind of wraps up the work situation for today but did notice something when re-reading what I have written to-date.

I have made several very brief references to death and funerals. Actually death is a very big part of life when you live up here. Maybe it is just a peculiarity of my family but I was never exposed to death and funerals. I was of course told that my grandparents died but that was about it. Since living in Thailand and especially since getting married I have become much more familiar with death and how it fits into life.

Over the last three years my wife has lost all four grandparents, an aunt and her father. Several other relatives have been in the hospital from time to time. In particular the experience of my wife living in her father’s hospital room for his last days and caring for his needs was eye-opening and inspirational. One couldn’t exactly call him a “good” man as he had made her life very difficult over the years. Yet there she was cleaning up his messes and caring for him even when he didn’t know she was there.

In the final stages of liver cancer, doped up on morphine, he was not very aware of his surroundings, just his pain. As gruesome has the whole process seems, it does make a lot of sense. It provides ample time to adjust to the inevitable and for a sense of closure.

After caring for him and watching him suffer, he basically died in her arms around midnight and with in a couple of hours the family had taken his body home to bathe and prepare. He was kept in a chill-box for three days while all the relatives came to participate in the various rituals and ceremonies. All culminating with the cremation followed 100 days later with a merit making ceremony.

What looks like pure chaos is actually a well practiced dance. Perhaps that is due to the remarkable frequency of these events. There are so many people around and so many detailed preparations and so much noise that one has little or no time to sit around feeling sorry for oneself and it helps keep the family connections close, while easing the pain of loss.

Being around all this sparked a desire to spend more time with and gain a greater understanding of my own family. I guess I had always known what people in my family did, but didn’t know “why” they did it, so didn’t have a real understanding of who they were.

You see, understanding someone’s motivation is a major part of my knowing who someone is. Unfortunately, perhaps, I am talking about my parents, too. I don’t place a lot of value on the “resume” as it were. That just tells me what your job is or what you do for money. That is your professional life not your personal or family life. It doesn’t tell me who you are.

Don’t know for sure how much I was motivated by guilt, love or curiosity but I spent a lot of time with my parents over the last few years and still stay in daily contact over the phone. That is the best I can do from the North of Thailand. Perhaps I had some vision of sitting with them and gaining some insights into life or relationships during long meandering and philosophical discussions. You can guess how far I got with that. In the end I did get what I was looking for, just not the way I had hoped to get it.

As we age there is a thinning of the veneers that cloak what lies beneath. This allows for glimpses of those core emotions that sometimes drive us forward and sometimes hold us back. Anyway I now have a greater understanding of my family, however distant, and myself.

I have often asked myself how much of an effect living in Thailand has had on me. Am I who I am because of living here, for so long, or am I living here because of who I am? Still working on that one...