One funeral. And a wedding.

It wasn’t as grim as we thought it might be, the funeral for our friend. Ten days after she slipped away in her sleep, we were able to farewell her properly yesterday. The ten days had been filled with administrative consular matters, thankfully handled seamlessly by others. Our involvement was to help pack and sort belongings in order to hand her rented room back to the landlords as quickly as possible. A sad task, of course, but her instructions were clear and there was little tossing of goods, just a lot of sorting. It was all complete in a few hours and all we need to do now is dispose properly of a decade’s worth of medications. Even that is in hand with negotiations underway with our recycling company to send to a hospital incinerator.

The only crematorium for Westerners is a couple of hours drive away in the southern part of the island. We had not had need to go before and had been warned it wasn’t a joyous experience. Nor was it, but also in its rawness there was an honesty that sanitised Western appproaches to death have lost.

The complex has a separate section for each of the official religions of Indonesia. There is no option for agnosticism or atheism. All we saw was the Protestant area and first impressions were not good. The carpark is littered with rubbish and the grounds are overgrown and neglected. Nobody we asked knew who was responsible for maintenance of the graveyard or the wall for ashes. Government or private, we have no idea. We saw no Western names on gravestones – all Indonesian Christians, born or converted from other islands. Very few Balinese-born are Christian – this is a Hindu island. The fine weather and the happy sounds of children from the school next door were antidotes to the depressing atmosphere.

The service was held in a typical open-sided balai building, which meant a cool breeze and sparrows flitting in and out. No fancy seating, just benches, and toilets to the side which were not the worst I have seen, but not the best either. No celebrant or minister, just friends speaking and reading messages of remembrance from those who could not be there. A friend, Bayu, brought his cat. It was very informal and all the nicer for it. A playlist of her favourite 60s music, compiled by friends in California, sent her on her way and certainly helped during the next hour or so.

A western cremation has soft music, hushed lights and curtains drawn across the reality of the disappearing coffin. Not so here. Doors were opened, and the coffin carried down a few stairs to the awaiting blue furnace. We could, if we wished, watch it be put inside. That certainly underscores the finality. Eventually the doors to the furnace area were shut and the waiting begun. A sign indicates that the process takes up to one and a half hours. Then the ashes can be collected once cooled. Fifty-five minutes in this instance. Perhaps she was impatient to get to the beach.

And so it happened. Another drive, the ashes detail handled by the funeral home (whose service was exemplary) to Matahari Terbit beach in Sanur where a waiting boat took her out to sea in the company of five very close friends and a Hindu priest. One kilometer offshore she left us forever. She left as she wished, on her own terms even in death. Silently, peacefully in her beloved Bali and while she still had independence. This very different cremation was in its own way quite lovely, and an honest approach to death. At the wake (after the wedding) many of us commented that this is what we would want too. Not that we are lining up!

A rush back up to Ubud to pay our respects at the wedding – it’s a good thing that Balinese weddings go on all day. We’re glad that we did. But that is for another post.

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