Chinese family’s funeral interrupted after missing Malaysian flight

Without a body, we cannot have a funeral, burial, or send off to the afterlife.

March 15, 2014— — The majority of the 239 people on board Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 were Chinese or ethnic Chinese, and in a culture that values ​​ancestry and rituals from life to death, , It’s unbearable that the body has not been found.

“It’s terrible, it’s just terrible,” said Joy Chen, a cultural icon who splits her time between Los Angeles and her “second home” Beijing and author of the popular Chinese book “Don’t Get Married Until You’re 30.” Told.

“In Chinese culture, both the living and the deceased are members of the same family,” said Chen, 44. Although you are separated from your ancestors, they are still a part of you. ”

International authorities still do not know exactly what happened to the Boeing 777, which disappeared while en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8 local time. As families wait for news, conspiracy theories are fueling rumors ranging from terrorism to a possible hijacking and even the pilot’s suicide.

Malaysia Airlines said at least 152 of the passengers were Chinese. And their families face the possibility of their centuries-old cultural traditions of funerals and burials being destroyed.

The grief of a family who missed their Malaysia Airlines flight is compounded by the unknown.

Chen, who is Chinese-American, said the Qingming festival, where families return to “clean the graves,” is an important ritual that would be nearly impossible without the bodies.

When Chen’s family immigrated from Maryland, they embarked on the complex task of dismantling and relocating her deceased 10-year-old grandmother to the West Coast. They also transported her grandfather’s body from Taipei.

“Families of my generation thought, ‘Let’s leave her alone,’ but my parents joined me in the West and cleaning graves was even more difficult,” she said. Her family fought a legal battle with the state of Maryland, which claimed it was a public health risk, and ultimately had her grandmother cremated and flown to California. “She was ours, may God rest her soul. It was pretty amazing.”

The Japanese people show resilience even after the tsunami.

Not knowing where a plane is – whether it landed in a remote location and the passengers might have survived – is a concern in East and West alike.

“The hardest thing for humans is dealing with the unknown,” says Ann Rosen Spector, a clinical psychologist from Philadelphia who specializes in grief. “If you look at science, religion, logic, it’s about explaining the unknown. We always want to complete the circle. Every time another piece of information takes away hope, a scab is peeled off. Something like that.”

“They have nowhere to vent their anger and pain, and they hold out hope that something else will happen, that some miracle will happen and they won’t die,” Spector said.

Chen said that for Chinese families, the possibility of a funeral without a body is incomprehensible.

“When a person dies for the first time, it’s very important to have a body,” she said. “The wake lasts a whole day or more. The body is cleansed and dressed and all her friends and relatives gather to pay their respects. Then there is a funeral procession and everyone goes to the grave.”

In China, grieving families may even hire professional mourners to join the funeral procession. Families burn banknotes at graves so that their deceased loved ones will have money left over to use in the afterlife.

“That’s why this is so scary,” she said of not having bodies to bury. “In the Chinese tradition, death is not just the end of life, but a departure to another world, because the family continues to maintain the relationship with the ancestors. We always live among them and rely on their help. I’m looking for it.”

The Malaysia Airlines incident has increased confusion and anxiety. “There is no certainty,” Chen said. “From this life to the next, we have not had the opportunity to pay our respects. We cannot acknowledge and respect them as they depart for the next world.”

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