Why Do Large Numbers of People Attend Wakes and Funeral Services in Malaysia? – The Rituals and Practices that Matter

Way back in March 1991, my father, Victor Morais passed away after a brief illness. My mother, brothers, sisters and I were at the Assumption Church in Petaling Jaya for the funeral service that was conducted by the parish priest.

There were also close to six hundred plus people in the church who had made the effort to attend the funeral service. Among those present were of course Catholics, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs and others from the community. Some Muslim friends paid their respects at home during the wake for my father.

Amazed by the Large Turnout

A few weeks after the ceremony, I met with a good friend and colleague from London who had attended the funeral service. He remarked that he was truly amazed by the large turnout for the funeral service. He went on to add that my father must have been somebody famous and well known. Yes, my late father was a well known journalist, editor, writer, author and publisher of biographies of some top personalities in the political, business and professional world in Malaysia. He was also the person who started the Who’s Who in Malaysia biennial publication as its editor and publisher. He went on to publish this Who’s Who in Malaysia regularly for many years. But that was not the main reason for the large turnout.

Attendance at Wake and Funeral Service is the Norm

Here in Malaysia, it is the norm for many people to turn up, initially for the wake, once they hear that someone they know has passed away due to old age, illness or accident. These individuals may include relatives, friends, colleagues, business associates, college or university mates, neighbours etc.

It is considered the socially correct, decent and honourable thing to do by many. It also reflects, to a large part, on our keen sense of community and humanity! We all have to face this reality one day. We need to come to terms with this aspect of gracious living and interacting with others in society with a dose of sincerity and empathy during their time of sorrow and sadness.

Difference between a Wake and a Funeral Service

A wake in this instance is a time for visitation, to view the lifeless body with proper respect and to say a quiet prayer or two for the repose of his / her soul. It also offers one an opportunity to offer condolences to the immediate family of the recently deceased.

A wake is also a time for the commemoration of the dead. You share stories and memorable snippets from the past, recall particular instances of happy moments and shared experiences and in general recall a life that was well lived.

A funeral service for Christians, on the other hand, is a formal ceremony normally conducted in a church and also by the graveside or crematorium. It is usually conducted by a religious minister.

For Whom the Bell Tolls: John Donne

“ Perchance he for whom this bell tolls may be so ill, as that he know not it tolls for him; and perchance I may think so myself so much better than I am, as that they who are about me, and see my state, may have caused it to toll for me, and I know not that ”.

John Donne went on to state perceptively:

“ Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells toll, it tolls for thee!”

It is my belief that Malaysians here believe very much in this philosophy so well articulated by John Dunne and that is the main reason why so many Malaysians, to their great credit, honour the recently deceased by their attendance at wakes and funeral services. It is a great, humbling and necessary act to carry out.

I thus have little sympathy for some individuals who deliberately stay away from wakes and funeral services because they ‘ do not like to attend such sad ceremonies ‘ or simply because they ‘ do not like to view dead bodies ‘. I do wish they would grow up and get real.

If we can all so readily welcome the arrival of babies with joy and happiness, then by the same token, we must gracefully and willingly pay our respects when we hear about the passing of someone we know… be it relative, friend or neighbour. Occasions such as these are timely reminders for us of our own mortality.


2 thoughts on “Why Do Large Numbers of People Attend Wakes and Funeral Services in Malaysia? – The Rituals and Practices that Matter

  1. Well articulated. Ironically some are too busy that time has become elusive that they never find time to visit while the person is around,but they will surface when the inevitable happens! Yes paying yr last respects is commendable but improve on it by doing it while life is still around. Just as there is an entry so too must there be an exit. Just enjoy the interlude as this basic reality applies to every facet of human life. Enjoyed yr article master. Cheers. Nalliah

    Date: Tue, 17 Feb 2015 13:38:32 +0000 To: skvrover51@hotmail.com

    1. Thanks for the feedback. Appreciate it. I am in full agreement with you that in addition, we ought to find the time to visit friends, colleagues and relatives from time to time. This used to be the practice in the past ( forties, fifties and sixties ) and then came the advent of television. The practice slowly died!

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