The Lost Farewell

After under treatment in hospital for 17 days, a 72-year-old grandma on Sunday succumbed to the disease. Because it’s Covid-19, her relatives did not have much time to arrange a full Buddhist cremation ceremony for her. As instructed by the Public Health Ministry, the body of a person who dies of Covid-19 must be sprayed thoroughly with disinfectant and wrapped tightly before being discharged from the hospital for religious rituals.

So was the grandma’s body.

After reaching the temple, the grandma’s body was not unwrapped for ritual bathing but was quickly transferred to a cremation kiln, where only a few relatives of hers managed to come in time and attend a monk chanting. Since the first light was lit up to burn her body, it then took only around 40 minutes for her cremation to be completed, the time which was cut very short from the usual practice, which could last three to seven days to allow the deaths’ relatives to come to bid farewell.

Like grandma’s family, several more relatives of similar unfortunate souls who have succumbed to Covid-19 have missed their last farewells for their loved ones because of Covid-19 and restrictions.

Luang Phi Nam Fon (Phra Khru Palad Sitthiwat), the abbot of Wat Pai Lom (Temple) in Nakhon Pathom province, said that religious rituals cannot be held in full due to this particular circumstance function as they used to be. This is particularly true for a cremation ceremony of those who died of Covid-19. In some cases, relatives could not even come to attend the rituals because they too are infected with Covid-19, the abbot said.

“This case is still fortunate that a few of them could come and attend her cremation. In some cases, there were only me and our staff at the temple helping hold the rituals for the dead bodies alone. The cremation ceremony becomes sadder these days, but this is the fact that we have to live with, “said Phra Khru, aka Luang Pi Nam Fon.

Because people fear Covid-19, several temples become hesitant to hold a cremation ceremony for the deaths who died of Covid-19 too. But Wat Phai Lom has just stood against the trend, with the long belief that a temple is part of a community and therefore should serve it spiritually.

For years, the temple has been holding a cremation ceremony for the deaths for free if their relatives are poor. It’s the spiritual service that the temple has provided to the communities nearby and afar, and in this particular time, this is particularly important.

“The temple cannot reject a ritual holding for the deaths, especially during this time that we should be counted on by those who have lost their loved ones,” said Luang Phi Nam Fon.

Besides setting an example for other temples to physically and spiritually handle the deaths of Covid-19, Luang Phi Nam Fon has also tried using live streaming to extend the temple’s service to people. Through such live streaming, people can still simply connect to their loved ones and say their last goodbyes to them for one last time_somehow.

Luang Phi Nam Fon of Wat Phai Lom Temple is the one who has initiated live streaming in a cremation ceremony to soothe the souls of those who have lost their loved ones but cannot come to attend it.
Photo: Sayan Chuenudomsavad
Covid-19 and restrictions out of it have widened a gap between people in society and made their last farewells almost impossible in several cases. The temples as spiritual leader of communities have been trying to close the gap with the help of technology.
Photo: Sayan Chuenudomsavad
An experienced Wat Phai Lom staff wears the PPE suit while helping monks at the temple to handle a cremation service, which is part of the disease control measures against Covid-19.
Photo: Sayan Chuenudomsavad
The monks at the temple protect themselves with face masks and face shields but do not turn away from the ceremony with the belief that people must be able to count on them in this hard time.
Photo: Sayan Chuenudomsavad
Undertakers at the temple said at first they were afraid of being infected with Covid-19 from the corpses too, but as instructed by public health officials, they have learned how to properly handle them and the ceremonies for them. Now they said they are willing to do so to help relieve the pain of their relatives.
Photo: Sayan Chuenudomsavad
The dead body in a tight wrap is brought to the temple and cremated almost immediately once it has arrived, as instructed by public health officials.
Photo: Sayan Chuenudomsavad
It takes concerned staff only around 10 minutes to bring a dead body to the temple’s cremation ground. Things seem to be done in a rush manner during this pandemic.
Photo: Sayan Chuenudomsavad
Social distancing is instructed in one of the cremation ceremonies at the temple although they are in grief.
Photo: Sayan Chuenudomsavad
The main candle is lit for relatives to light their candles and set a fire on their loved one to send him or her away.
Photo: Sayan Chuenudomsavad
A candle and a Dok Mai Jan flower (a paper made flower) is set on fire to send their loved one away and bid farewell for one last time.
Photo: Sayan Chuenudomsavad
Covid-19 is restraining people’s association or even breaking social bonds in several ritual and cultural practices. Griefs without soothing become more and more common and people have got to learn to live with them.
Photo: Sayan Chuenudomsavad
From the first chanting word to the last minute when a cremation kiln is closed, it takes only around 40 minutes for them to be apart forever, a very short time for their last farewell, while much of which has been lost and stolen by Covid-19.
Photo: Sayan Chuenudomsavad