For me, as most of us non-nationals living here in Saigon, the word funeral only evokes ideas of dreadful sounds emanating from a tent set up halfway in the street and haltering the flow of traffic. They can be bad enough to drive by, god forbid having one posted outside your own window. Three days of disturbances can seem like an eternal punishment at times. There is, of course more to the story than just making noise, as it can tend to seem sometimes.

Recently, I had the opportunity to get an inside look at the last funeral rites of a Catholic woman whose family granted me special access to photograph. The day began at 4:30am to leave District 7 in time to find and arrive at a very back alley location somewhere in district 11 for the prompt 5:30am start. I managed that, but there was another issue. My eyes were functioning as if all they wanted to do was close again. I have never been, and probably never will be well suited for these initial hours of the day. However, once I took out my camera, both my eyes, and the other congregants attending the ceremony quickly warmed up to the idea of photography, and I began to capture what was unfolding.

Yes, there was the noise of the band marching through the alley before dawn, but upon this new perspective from the inside, it seemed more justified when you see the real, powerful emotions coming from the departed’s loved ones.

In this case, it was a fairly short march from the home to the church just around the corner, so the band had minimal duties. Once she was lying in the house of God, the minister and the family proceeded with all the proper formalities. Upon completion, the casket was loaded in the van of the mortuary corps, with the family walking behind it through the allies until the junction of a main road. At this time, they all loaded up in vans and on motorbikes, with the immediate family in the same car as the deceased, and began the trek to the crematorium on the far western edge of the city.

Somewhat fortunately, they arrived there first, and did not have to wait in the usual lineup of other funerals and families to use the facility and say their final goodbyes before the casket was lowered into the flame room. While obviously the emotions of the woman’s daughters were running high previously in the church, when the time came to say the final goodbyes, they reached a peak of grief, as I believe most of us would. The ceremony here was a fairly short one; a few words were spoken by the family and a minister, and incense was laid at the base of the casket. It was lowered until out of sight. The family, having said and done all they could, returned home to begin living again as normally as they could.

To read the original article, head over to Oi Vietnam.

Tearsheets from an assignment covering A Vietnamese Catholic funeral.
Tearsheets from an assignment covering A Vietnamese Catholic funeral.