Sunday, 1 May 2016

Sky Lanterns and Polo Biscuits

I've been thinking a lot about death rituals recently.
I promise you, this is not remotely as EMO or morbid as it sounds - merely further proof that I have inherited Dad's insatiable curiosity about EVERYTHING.

We have been enjoying a delightful spell of most un-Irish weather (i.e dry), so Mum, Ms. Amused and I have spent the last several days out in the garden, doing a major spring clean.  The hours of manual labour have given me plenty of time for reflection, and as this week is the third anniversary of Dad's death, it's only natural I suppose, that I have been looking back on the anniversaries that I marked in Korea and comparing them to this year's experience.

I have been repeating ad nauseum for the last five years that the Irish and Korean cultures are ridiculously alike, and one of these endless points of intersection is how both countries deal with death and funerals. Now, while Koreans don't get comfy round the corpse the way we do, (then again, who does?) they match us point for point when it comes to eating, drinking and telling stories, and also in the fact that if you knew the deceased at all, or any of the family members, you go to the funeral - no invitations needed.

As Dad's first anniversary approached, I was feeling nervous about how I would handle it, so far from my family and everyone who knew him.
Two things helped me through:
One - my amazing, fantastic and simply heaven sent ex-pat family. They didn't know Dad, but they knew and loved me and they way they gathered round and nurtured me just blew me away.

Two - The Korean tradition of 'Jaesa'.  On the anniversary of the person's death, the family set up a table of food for a memorial ceremony. (More about this in a later post) Of course, not being a Korean, I wasn't going to set up a Jaesa table, but it was such a comfort to have a short hand for talking about my Dad's  anniversary.  With my Korean friends I only needed to say that "Sunday will be my Dad's first Jaesa." and they immediately understood that this weekend would be tough for me and that I wanted to take some time out to do something to remember Dad.

In Ireland, the whole family would go to a Mass offered in Dad's name, then we would visit the grave and go back to the house for food.
In Korea, I had to get a little creative and I hit on the idea of sending up Sky Lanterns.  My darling friend Dr. Doolittle met a guy outside McDonnells and bought a pack of ten.  Then I started to fret whether or not I needed an official permit.  Happily, that was sorted out in no time. I reached out to an Elder Lemon in the ex-pat community, who put me in touch with the Foreign Liaison Officer with Ulsan police.  Who not only gave me the necessary permission, but even offered the roof of the police station as a venue.
Part of me regrets that I didn't accept the invitation, as I know that Dad would have gotten a huge kick out of it, but it was the first anniversary and I was feeling vulnerable, so I wanted to keep it private.

So instead, Dr. Doolittle and her boyfriend, with FDA and I, drove out to Jinha Beach just after sunset to startle some seagulls.



It was different and intimate and exactly what I needed.  AND, thanks to the magic of time zones, I was sending up the lanterns at the same time that the family were gathering back in Ireland.

This year, for the first time, I was marking the anniversary at home, with the whole family.... in fact, with the whole village.  It was wonderful to fall back into the utterly familiar process. It started with Maura in the Post Office, who remembered that it was Dad's anniversary, then it was the folk group at Mass, who gave me the space to sing Dad's favourite hymn. It was all the aunts and uncles and cousins, who gathered to mark the day with us.
It was going home afterwards to a feed which included Dad's favourite biscuits, Jacob's Chocolate Polos.

 It was just so good to be home for it all.

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