Pom is forty-eight years old and married to Pitchum, her doctor husband of twenty years. A week before I met Pom, Pitchum had been coming home when he tripped and banged his head. Knocked unconscious he subsequently was taken to the hospital in Korat, where he lay for the next week while surgeons waited to see a recovery. On the eighth day, the surgeon operated. This coincided with my arrival at school and our later meeting. It was after Pom’s departure I discovered the situation when meeting with the director. He asked me to take over her role temporarily, as they were short of teachers.
The ninth day of Pitchum’s demise was in retrospect one of the most harrowing. At the end of the school day, I responded to my hosts’ invitation to visit the ward with the other teachers.
Korat General Hospital. According to the locals, the hospital treatment is excellent, and I have no reason to doubt this viewpoint. My first impression is that I am on a movie set. Nurses and orderlies are zooming back and forth, carrying trays with medicines, or wheeling equipment. The wards are full, the corridors overflowing with those less critical, where relatives surround the trolleys and make progress through the hospital difficult.
Pitchum lies in a post-op area for those who have undergone brain surgery. His bed is the first one on the left as we enter, meaning I don’t have to pass those remaining unfortunates recovering from their traumatic experiences. I notice the chap in the next bed, the dark red splash next to his head catches my attention. This is a bag, connected by tubes from his brain, filled with seeping blood. I turn away and face Pitchum. Before me, I see the face of a handsome middle-aged man: wide forehead, high cheekbones, square jaw. The only sign of life is the slow rhythmic rise and fall of his chest. His feet and hands protrude, broad fingers and toes that show signs of a man who is no stranger to physicality. I only give a cursory glance as I once more draw my attention to his face. His eyes are closed but beneath the eyelids, they flicker. The bandaged head has telltale signs of his operation, visible from the patches of dried blood that have seeped through. His loving wife Pom is wiping his exposed body parts with a flannel, whispering to him as she removes the continuous stream of sweat that forms. I am moved by the love and devotion she gives, and I sense that Pitchum feels it too.
Within days, we receive news of Pitchum’s death. Over the next three days, the funeral takes place, an emotional event at which the community attends to give thanks for his life among them. I attend along with the whole school and chronicle the event in photographs. On the first day, the prayers for the departed attracts a constant stream of friends, colleagues and acquaintances. Evening climaxes in a feast, (prepared and supplied by the villagers and friends), a gathering of celebration for Pitchum’s life. The second day is more formal, one in which the monks from the temple partake, followed by another feast. On the third day is the funeral itself, where each participant follows the tradition of offering flowers and touching the casket as they pass. The final act is the cremation.
Funeral in Thailand
next – City of Korat