I looked down at my phone and saw that I had 2 missed calls from Samara. I thought it was strange but I didn’t think much of it. But then Caleb said he had missed calls from Samara too. So I sent her a text which began a text conversation like this…..
T: Hey, We are in a meeting.
S: Can you leave and call me?
T: No. We are in the back of the room.
S: Have you heard from Teacher Naam Rin?
T: Oh no! Did her mother die?
S: No it was Teacher Gung.
My heart dropped, the noises of the meeting went to a silence. The news of Teacher Gung’s death was a shock. I was in absolute unbelief.
My first response was to act calm and normal, thinking, soon enough this meeting will come to an end.
But it didn’t! Tears started to fall as the news started to sink deeper. I quickly and abrasively exited the meeting.
GASP!! Fresh air, I was out of the crowded space. However, in that moment, I was hit with the harsh reality that I had to get to Teacher Naam Rin’s side. I quickly changed the plans for my day, and started to prepare a new plan.
My and Samara’s plan was to go to Teacher Naam Rin’s house to help prepare food, clean and/or do anything to assist them in this tragic time. But once we arrived to her home our plans changed.
Generally funerals are held at the deceased person’s home. The first thing that you do when arrive to the funeral is to “wai” or honor the person that is dead. You will go to the casket, bow your head, say a prayer, and light incense.
I would like to break from the story and take a minute to mention that Teacher Gung’s casket was super fancy. I mean, the “coolest” casket I have ever seen in Thailand. His casket was literally inside a large air conditioned box as the family wanted to preserve his body because the weather was so hot. This is quite unusual. I have showed this picture to lots of my friends and not one of my other Thai friends had ever seen one before.
I also want to mention that you are not culturally allowed to smile in pictures at a Thai funeral. And check out those antlers.
After our “wai”, we were lead into another room. A newly built and air conditioned office and lounge space. This super luxurious, escape from the heat was reserved for close family members. Teacher Naam Rin left us in this room with various other relatives and went on with the funeral preparations. Any offers to help were quickly refused with an insistence that we sit. So there we sat. And sat. And sat. And sat some more.
I learned so much in that LOOOOONG day of sitting.
It can be the most powerful act of love and sacrifice to just sit. To just be and to be present. Being present while others are grieving can move mountains in the relationship. This is what Samara and I did for 3 days. We sat.
The funeral ceremony has ended and a few weeks have passed since Teacher Gung’s death. Each time Samara and I go to study with Teacher Naam Rin we are confronted with his absence.
During my last study time with Teacher Naam Rin she spoke to me very seriously and said, in Thai, “I realized something important at the funeral. You are my family. We are comfortable with each other because we didn’t have to speak. That you could sit all day in my home, and be at peace, that means you are my family.”
I feel so honored to be called family by my Thai teacher. That she didn’t feel obligated to host or entertain me while she was grieving, but just let Samara and I sit with her family. I write this blog to not only to commemorate Teacher Gung, but to say: never under estimate the power of being present.