Attending a funeral and comforting the family

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

And after STG’s excellent and (from what I’ve seen) accurate narration, even more so.

I dont know what you guys are talking about everything being so somber. No smiling, laughing, etc???

The family has been so talkative while sitting outside the “ceremony room” where the grandmother is. We spend the whole day there chatting about everything and even having english lessons with the kids. We talk about the grandmother and good memories, and share stories from the past. All are done with smiles, laughs, and the occassional cry. But I would say the mood is more respectful happiness than a mood of somber and quietness.

We still have 7 more days until the end of the funeral. I will keep posting more as the days go by.

Welcome to Taiwan where every family has their own version of Taiwanese culture.

Seriously. This goes for funerals, weddings, folk cures, and geomancy.

derek, you mentioned a while back that this should be an interesting experience. Absolutely.

Thanks for the description smell the glove.

I participated in my wife’s grandfather’s funeral in Chiayi a year or two ago and it was fascinating. I began writing a summary afterwards and had intended to post it here to share, but I never completed it. No strippers at this funeral, but lots of people covered in hooded outfits burning incense and bowing. Four funeral professionals led the ceremony, making odd snake-charmer like music, with the lead professional chanting something and mock sobbing, all under the tent that had been erected in front of the deceased’s now vacant house.

Everyone had a different colored/shaped hood with or without little ribbons, depending on whether you were a child, grandchild, niece, son-in-law, grandson-in-law, etc. I was given a hooded outfit in line with my relation and was told when to move forward, light incense, etc. People completely accepted me into the fold without undue staring or comments; it was easy to follow their lead and of course everyone was focused on teh dead man and the ritual, not on the one foreigner.

The most interesting part, I felt, was when the mourners, myself included, all took turns getting on our hands and knees and crawling into the house where teh coffin rested, in a circle around the coffin, heads down looking at the ground, and back outside again.

I was also asked to jump up in a blue truck where a mountain of ghost money was piled and help a few guys to undo the bundles, separate out the sheets and fold them so they burn better, and throw them in the immmense burn barrel, before they made a huge bonfire of it.

After many hours (my wife allowed me to fly down for just the last half of the ceremony; the entire thing must have been extremely lengthy) of the bowing, incense, weird music, fake sobbing and burning of ghost money, we finally formed a procession, with all the cars behind the truck making the loud funeral music, with the key relatives piled in the back of that truck, and we all headed out to the crematorium.

After a short visit there we returned to the deceased grandpa’s house and all the children (my wife’s parents, aunts and uncles) ate hearty bien dangs and chatted, neither drunken and exuberant nor somber and gloomy. He was very old, his death was a long time coming and I think there was some relief it had finally happened and the necessary rites had been performed so people could close that chapter and move on. They then cleaned the house, swept clean the front area and hosed it down, and the funeral cookies, sodas, fruit, etc that had formed part of the decorations were divied up between relatives to take home.