Damien on… The Day My Mum Died
Having retired to Thailand with my wife and mother, when Mum finally succumbed, we had to do things Thai-style. The first thing we did was go to the local hospital. They said if she was DEAD, there was little they could do. And since she was a foreigner, we’d have to report to the POLICE – a prospect that filled me with inertia.
But figuring we’d better get it over with, we turned up at the local cop-shop – however, since it was only around 06:00, there was just the one guy manning the desk. He said to come back after eight.
We did. And to be fair to them, they were okay. Long story short, six cops (thanks to over-manning, EVERYBODY has a job here – they just don’t get PAID much) turned up with a Police Doctor. Soon our house resembled a scene from “C.S.I.” with cops taking pictures – even my Mum’s finger-prints.
After satisfying themselves foul play was not involved, they went off to check out a stiff who’d been found dangling from a ROPE.
Then we went through hours of bureaucracy (it’s endemic, here) and finally managed to find a mortuary. In America, their coffins look like their CARS – and cost thousands. Here, a standard coffin costs around £50 (about $80) however for the poor, they do plywood coffins for £20 ($32).
Since it would be ash before the day was out and there was only me and my Lady (Mum’s friends were as old as she and lived half-way around the World) and Mum was now past caring, we decided on this option. So eventually two guys from the mortuary, dressed in jeans and tee-shirts, arrived at our house.
In Thailand, it’s considered unlucky for coffins to enter houses (they don’t even like SHOES) so they parked it on the veranda, in full view of the street, came inside, wrapped Mum in the sheet she was lying on, carried her through the house and unceremoniously plonked her into the box.
At this point, I didn’t know whether to cry or LAUGH. I suspect if Mum’s spirit was watching, she was doing the latter.
She probably guffawed when the monk who ran the crematorium insisted on the money for the fuel up front. Do people REALLY run off without paying?
And she must have cracked UP when the man hit the “go” button on the oven and out of nowhere, there was a CRASH of thunder and it began raining with BIBLICAL intensity.
It was like God was trying to put the fire out.
But he couldn’t. There was a porch over the unit. She was ash within the hour.
Well actually, that’s not strictly accurate. In England, they GRIND UP the remains into ash. But here in Thailand, you get what comes out of the oven. Including bits of charred BONE. Very macabre.
But there was one bizarre moment – in amongst the remains were what looked like a pair of DOOR-KNOCKERS. The monk presented them to me with a look of puzzlement. His look mirrored my own – until I remembered Mum had had artificial hips fitted some years earlier. I told my wife – who’s Thai – and she told him. “Oh,” turns out to be the same word in Thai.
I later posted some of the finer white powder to a friend back in Blighty, so he could strew it in the same arboretum as we had strewn Dad’s ashes, two years earlier (my friend lived conveniently near by). I included a letter to UK Customs, explaining what the white powder WAS.
I recall a tale of thieves who broke into a flat in England and while there, inhaled some white powder from a jar on the mantelpiece marked “Charlie” – which was the occupant’s late DOG. My Mums ashes were just as innocuous, but I didn’t want my friend to be JAILED while the lab tested them.
Altogether then, a bizarre day, but when you’re a Stranger In A Strange Land, it’s best to go with the flow. And while Dad’s do in England had set us back a grand ($1,500) Mum got converted to ash for less than a ton ($150).
Incidentally, Mum passed within hours of Mr Ray Charles. So if I’m wrong and there IS Another Place – and it’s reachable by bus – let’s hope Ray wasn’t driving.