In South China they have what is called "Saluting the Tomb". The family will cover the grave with red rice and peeled eggs. This honors the departed.
The people of Vietnam worship their ancestors. They often erect elaborate family tombs. Every year the entire family will go to the tomb and polish the bones of the dead. They bring food for the living and offerings for the departed. Once each year, they make thousands of little paper boats and light them with a candle. The boats are then set adrift in rivers and streams to light the way for those who have departed. The sight is beautiful and quite spectacular.
The mountains of Korea are covered with millions of small grassy mounds, much like a miniature versions of the Chocolate Mountains here in the Philippines. Each mound is a grave. Annually the family will visit the grave and leave food for the departed.
In India they often burn the body. It is customary for the wife to commit suicide by throwing herself on the funeral fire. I find it interesting that the same expectation is not made of the husband. The Taj Mahal, one of the most beautiful buildings in the world, is actually the tomb of a princess.
Every country has its own way to deal with saying goodbye. In America and the Philippines elaborate graves seem to be the fashion. I never understood exactly why I am not aware of any religious connotation.
I went with my wife's family to her father's grave. The family had to travel from all over Oriental Negros to a little fishing village. I watched as they scrapped away the dirt and debris from the simple concrete slab. Candles were burnt and many knelt and cried. Later we ate and her brother began to drink. The more depressed he got the more he drank. He loved his father very much. Later that night he had a motorcycle accident and almost joined his father in that graveyard.
There are a lot of negatives to this style of honoring the departed. A few that come to mind are:
- Graves perpetuate pain. Visiting the grave is a painful depressing journey.
- Often the family must travel halfway around the world to honor and care for the dead.
- When the family is poor they can not afford a fancy grave or the constant maintenance. They
feel guilty about neglecting to honor the departed properly.
- Graveyards are often vandalized and are a haven for hooligans.
- Few people want to live next to a graveyard. This devalues the surrounding property.
- Sometimes people will try to remove the graveyard causing all types of problems.
- Most graveyards are ugly and not maintained. There is no joy in a graveyard.
My father knew he was dying. He planned his departure with sensitivity and love for those left behind. First he authorized the doctors to give his eyes to someone who needed them. Every time I see someone with blue eyes I am reminded that somewhere, someone had their life improved by my fathers dying gift. My father requested his body be burned and the ashes placed in the Rogue River. Our family had many joyous years living, working and playing beside this beautiful river.
My military service prevented me from being by his side when he died. I could not afford to travel half way around the world to be at his funeral. But thanks to my fathers planning, I am never far from him. When I have troubles and I need to talk with him; I merely walk to the nearest river or beach. There, surrounded in beauty, I sit quietly and we talk.
I am not priest or pastor but I do not think God wants us to build ugly pain filled shrines to those who have past on. We should glory and celebrate their life, but not perpetuate the pain of their death.