Posted by: rbbadger | February 3, 2009

Korean funeral

Tomorrow, after work, my colleagues and I will be journeying to Samsung Hospital in Seoul to pay our respects to our boss’s mother who died this morning.  Often, mortuaries are connected with hospitals.  And the mortuary proper is generally located in the basement of the hospital complex.  It is a bad time for this to happen, given that one of our teachers has been out sick all of last week and most of this week.  I don’t know what she has, but she has fallen seriously ill.  And we have the kindergarten show this week, too!  My boss is the eldest son in his family.  By custom, the care of his parents fell to him and his wife.  So his wife, who in addition to helping keep everything running at the school, had the care of her elderly mother-in-law. 

Anyhow, this will be my first experience at a Korean viewing.  From what I am told, these happen quite differently than they do in the states.  Embalming is virtually non-existent.  Indeed, from what the US Embassy tells us in the information they have for foreigners, they only list one mortuary which does embalmings and it is in Seoul.  So, there won’t be a viewing in the conventional sense.  The body will generally be present, but the coffin will be shut.  A huge photo of the deceased will be on display, trimmed in black crepe paper.  The burial will take place on Thursday and I’m not entirely sure where that will take place.  Often, with the exception of the Seoul Foreigner’s Cemetery (set aside for the Christian missionaries) and a few other cemeteries, families often have small cemeteries of their own located on the sides of mountains.  She was a native of Andong, home of some of Korea’s famous and infamous noble families, but she spent the great majority of her life in Seoul.  Cremation is becoming very common, as this is a small country and land is very expensive. 

From what we were told, we will be expected to pay our respects to the deceased by doing the special bows that are performed during the ancestral rites ceremony.  Then, we are expected to do the same to the family.  These aren’t the ordinary bows, but are the full-blown near-prostrations that accompany the ancestral rites.  Children and grandchildren are expected to perform these bows to their grandparents and parents on the Lunar New Year and Chuseok celebrations.  You can see what these look like by clicking here.  Some Christians see these as idolatrous and my boss and his family are very devout Presbyterians.  So things may not be the same as I have described.  Some enterprising blogger has put up a guide to the Korean funeral.  You can see it here.



  1. I read that blog you linked to about Korean funerals. That’s pretty interesting. I wonder how it really will be.

  2. Keep us posted on how that viewing goes! I’m glad you are showing your respect to your bosses mother. I love learning about other cultures traditions through you! Maybe Daddy and I should put in to go to Korea on a mission! Then we could see you! So glad you have a blog!!!

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