I come from a Malaysian Hakka Chinese family. Eleven years ago, I lost my maternal grandmother in Malaysia. It was one of the hardest and richest times for me as I experienced being together as a family in the midst of a Buddhist funeral ceremony.
Just like the Māori, the Chinese are a very collective and family-oriented culture. When it comes to mourning the loss of a loved one, this is done in community. My immediate extended family spent five days camped out together at the family home, sitting with the body of my grandmother, eating, sleeping and meeting friends and family that came to pay their respects. We all wear white (not black) as a symbol of mourning. In the midst of the sadness and grief was the sharing of life and memories of childhood and our grandmother’s love for us. This is something I will treasure and was the richest part of this time for me.
Depending on the religion of the family, there are many customs, rites and rituals to be followed. For us, that meant there were Buddhist rituals and practices that the whole family were required to perform. The greatest challenge during this sad time was processing the eternal consequences and how to live out my faith in a way that still showed honour and respect to my family: it is important in my family and culture not to bring shame or loss of face to the family. The Christians in my family chose to stand together with the family during these different rites each day, but not participate in certain practices. Our desire was to honour and respect my grandparents and elders of the family on such a public family occasion, whilst acknowledging Jesus as Lord.
The process of grief will vary between us. Beneath some practices and rituals are values, which stem from the way we each view the world. Yet, in the richness of diversity, Jesus remains the source of truth and life. How this message is received will depend on the message-bearers, us, putting it into the appropriate context.
Story: Shireen Chua
Shireen Chua works for OMF NZ in Auckland and is part of Auckland Baptist Tabernacle.
Photo Credit: cosma/shutterstock.com
Cover Photo Credit: Kevin Carden/lightstock.com