Annyong, Lindsay here.
We had some sad news here on Friday when we found out our dear friend Lucy lost her father very suddenly to a heart attack. She and her boyfriend, Chris, immediately drove to her small Korean hometown two hours away to stand vigil for more than 24 hours.
We followed suit on Friday to support Lucy. It was our first funeral in Korea and we weren’t sure what was expected of us. But we did a little research and talked to some of our other Korean friends and learned a little about it before we left.
Hopefully you readers will never have to go to a funeral in Korea. But, if you do, here is what we learned:
- Wear black. Just like back home, it is most respectful to wear dark colors. My friend Lucy wore blank hanbok (Korean traditional dress).
- Give money as a gift. Normally, people give W50,000 ($50) per person as a gift to the family. There is a large box in the mourning room where you will put your money envelope in, with your name on it. This money helps pay the funeral costs.
- There is a round-the-clock visitation ceremony for the first 24 hours. This is in a small room where there is a photo of the deceased. The family, or at least the sons of the family, stands vigil here for every person who comes to pay their respects.
- In this room, as a visitor, you walk in, put your money envelope in the box, and then step up to the mat in front of the photo. Take off your shoes before stepping on the mat. One person in your visiting party then steps up to a table where there is food, incense, and soju (Korean alcohol). One person lights a stick of the incense and fills a cup with the soju and then waves the cup in a circular motion three times. Then, this person steps back with the rest of the party and bows two very deep bows to the photo of the deceased. (Start the bow by standing up, then lowering yourself to your knees, then bowing with hands stretched out on the floor in front of you. Hold here for a few moments before standing up all the way. Then bow one more time, the same way.)
- After bowing twice to the deceased, turn to the oldest brother (or family member standing closest to the photo), and repeat the bow one more time. (Only once to the family.)
- After this short, formal homage to the deceased, you can collect your shoes and walk out to a group eating area, where you can drink soju, beer, and share in the abundance of food as you celebrate the life of the deceased or comfort the family.
Other interesting points:
- Superstition has it that pregnant women should not attend funerals in Korea. I had heard this before we left so I checked with Lucy to make sure it would not offend her family in any way that I attend. It did not. It’s more of a superstition that it will be unhealthy for the baby, especially late in the pregnancy. (Our little one has continued to kick during and after the funeral to let us know he’s doing just fine. 🙂 )
- Koreans do not say, ‘I’m sorry for your loss.” Once, I said this to a woman who told us her parents had died earlier in her life. She stared at me blankly, confused. In passing consveration, if they did not just die, it’s common to say, “Ahhh, how could it happen?” ( 어떻게?!?). But in a formal setting, one Korean friend said I could say, “고인의 명복의 빕니다”. 명복(Myeongbok) is the luck when you arrive at the world for the dead. We believe the more 명복 in that world, the better. So you wish that her father would get lots of 명복 in the next world.
고인의 명복의 빕니다, Mr. Kweon.