Attending a funeral and comforting the family

Just after breakfast this morning my fiancee got a call that her grandmother passed away today. Very sad news indeed. She was a very kind woman to everyone and welcomed me to their family without reservation. They were very close to each other and this has hit my fiancee very very hard.

Of course I will be doing all I can to offer up support and comfort, but I am very unfamilier with Taiwanese customs when it comes to the passing of a loved one.

What should be expected in teh days to come?
We will be leaving for Kaohsiung to be with the family Friday and over the weekend. As a foreigner and an outsider to the family I want to be as little of a burden as possible. Is there anything I should know I should do that is customary for Taiwanese? A gift I should bring to teh family, ghost money, etc etc? I am cluless and want to help in anyway that I can.

My prayers are with the Wu family in their time of sadness.

Tell your girl you are there for her and ask her what you should do.

honestly, probably the best thing you can do is be there, and do what you are told (wait till MUCH later to find out the why’s).

it may not seem typical of what you are used to, but that’s the way things go. also, differences do occur depending on the family - hakka, taiwanese, waishen run …

Agreed with the above poster - just be there with them and follow instructions; many of the family members will be following instructions, too. They won’t expect you to be familiar with their rituals, but be respectful and reverent. Your girlfriend will be there to help you understand what’s going on.

A side note: traditional Chinese funerals can be fascinating cultural experiences. My wife’s grandmother died earlier this year, and, though it wwas a sad occasion, I was captivated by the different cultural aspects of the funeral, from the reading of the Sutras and the placement of cremated bone fragments into the urn to the offerings of food and ghost money to the deceased and the final ritual cleansing of each attendee with a sprig of wormwood dipped in Great Compassion Water.

It might also be best to ready yourself for a few surprises. Gran’s funeral might go on for a week or more. Probably better if you didn’t keep asking, “is she in the ground yet?” Your lass will know the score.

If you’re really lucky, there could be strippers and quite a bit of partying, although that’s more likely when the old boy departs and not the old girl.


Derek -
Make sure you have some clean, pressed white shirts to wear.
Black trousers also.

Stay out of the way.

Yep. What he said.

the old timers of the family will know the drill and will pretty much rule the roost in terms of what happens, when and who does what. just do as told. as a non married member of the family you will most likely not be asked to do too much. again it depends on what religion your family is and what their background is.

so, as others have said… just be there for your girl. everything is usaully pretty easy until the burial happens. there may be some wailing. some of it is real some is even possibly hired hands doing the job to help the spirits.

What should be expected in teh days to come?

Is there anything I should know I should do that is customary for Taiwanese? A gift I should bring to teh family, ghost money, etc etc? [/quote]

A white envelope, bai bau, the contents of which should not be too much so as to prove “insulting” to the family. Most offer between $1100-$1400, though as a soon-to-be member of the family, offering more would not be insulting. This should, ideally, be offered at the cremation/burial service, but if you are not going to attend that, it can be offered now.

As for what to expect, I assume that you will not be going to the actual funeral, but to the showing or visitation where everyone comes to pay their respects. Traditions and beliefs vary, but commonly, they perform what is called the Chi; seven non-sequential days of rituals and reciting sutras that are determined, as is the actual date of the cremation, in consultation with a geomancer’s instruction as to which dates are most auspicious. This is the reason that the actual cremation, or funeral in our thinking, can be up to 30 or 40 days after the passing.

You will pay your respects. They will most likely have a picture of the grandmother with her pai hwei and an urn for incense in front of it. The pai hwei is the effigy where her soul resides over the course of the “seven” days in preparation for transcendance to the pureland. You will take a single stick of incense, light it, stand in front of the pai hwei with the incense held high and give a silent avotion for the wellbeing of the grandmother’s soul. In your case, it could just be a prayer or a wish that the gods take good care of her through her transition and that she be kept safe from peril. When you are done, bow deeply three times and place the unlit end of the incense stick into the urn in front of the pai hwei.

I don’t think they will ask you or you will be expected to do more than this. They might have monks and family members, usually four or five, reciting sutras as part of the Chi. If this is the case, a trip to the store to pick up some refreshments for everyone might be a good idea, because sometimes these rituals can go for 6-7 hours at a time. All depends how devoted they are.

Just be sensitve to the family’s needs and emotions. More than anything you can ever say or do, this is what they will appreciate the most.

My deepest and sincerest condolences for your fiancee’s loss.

If you need any more info, pm me.

Excellent and practical overview. I’d nominate this as a classic post to be stickied or archived somewhere people can find it.

I went through this a little over three years ago. It was even a little more bizarre for me because we had just been married and my wife’s mother wanted us to be around but we were not to go anywhere near the coffin as that would jinx our marriage.

So I just kind of sat around for a few days waiting to be told what to do. When things needed to be lifted I volunteered but otherwise stayed out of the way. My wife’s grandmother was 98 when she passed so it was as much a “celebration of life” as a funeral. How old the grandma was and how she died will play a part, as it does everywhere.

Ask your girlfriend about the white envelope. You may not be required to do that depending on how close you are with the family.

Never assume anything because we all know what that leads to.

80 years old is the traditional dividing line it seems. Someone who has reached 80 is seen to have achieved “chang shou” - long longevity. For example, at funerals for people 80 or above, pink envelopes are given instead of white.

It may have something to do with the fact that the Buddha lived to be 80; it may be something to do with 8 being a symbol of completeness and its multiple of 10 being a symbol of roundness. Does anyone have more insight into this tradition?

We left for Kaohsiung Wednesday night so that my Fiancee could see her grandmother one last time. It has been quite a sad yet culturaly enlightening experience. It has also allowed me to bond more with family members.

Im helping with the paper water lillies and ghost money. The funeral rights will go on for one week. The actual funeral will be next friday. I will be in Kaohsiung until then. I have witnessed A LOT of ritual stuff, my fiancee says it is Taoist. They were wearing sack cloth clothes and white garments.

Thanks everyone for the advice. I really appreciate it.

As the other posters said, do what you are told. This is probably the one area in Taiwan where people can get pissed off if you make some kind of cultural gaffe.

Look serious and avoid too much happy chit chat with your SO. No smiling, laughing, or humming even when you are away from the funeral itself. This is a period of mourning.

Three years ago my father-in-law had a massive heart attack and died in my wife


I’d like to hear more. I know that my own experience was so confusing in so many ways, the grief and loss that I was feeling notwithstanding, that just reading the few lines you have posted here has already given way to a feeling of identification.

Sincere thanks,

Okay CK, I wasn’t sure about this, but here it all is. It’s a bit grueling, but if it helps anyone in dealing with the whole funeral experience or offers a cultural glimpse into something few foreigners ever see and fewer locals talk about, then it’s worth it. I also hope you’ll add and comment - I’ve been told I had it fairly easy. If I hadn’t written it down throughout and shortly thereafter, I think I would’ve repressed most of it.

Pt 2 - Praying


PT 3

PT 4