The funeral practices observed may differ based on the religion of the deceased and whether the death is being observed in the city or in a rural area.
My particular experiences were based in the city with my very open minded family.
A Korean funeral typically lasts 3 days and usually begins right after the death.
The first 2 days are for paying obersvence with body prepping on the second day and the last is for the burial or cremation.
A Korean funeral in the city is held in a Jang Ryae Shik Jang. It is a building located near the hospital – in my case behind – and it solely for funerals. Kind of like a funeral hotel. Families can rent a space for the 3 days and even rent clothes. With that in mind be aware you won’t be the only group grieving.
- When deciding what to wear, don’t worry – black will work. Although white used to be the color for funerals, Korean’s have adopted the western black (though you may still see white in rural/traditional funerals). In the city, family members will often wear a black hanbok that has a trim of white on the collar. Try to avoid wearing any red and aim for black socks.
- Avoid wearing jewelry.
- Before arriving – or at the building’s reception desk – get a white envelope. It will have Chinese characters on the front of it. This is for condolence money. The money is gifted to the deceased’s family to help pay for funeral expenses.
-If you are attending a coworker’s family member’s funeral the typical amount to gift is 50,000 won ($50).
-If you have a more personal relationship with the deceased or are closer with the family the monetary sum should reflect that relationship.
-Also, write your name vertically on the envelope.
- Upon arriving to the designated room you may see huge floral wreaths. They may also be located inside. These are usually gifted by workplaces, business, organizations, etc.
You are not expected to gift these or any flowers, the money is enough.
- Remove your shoes before entering.
- Sign the guestbook and drop your envelope into the box.
- Upon entering the “mourning room,” you will see a small alter with a picture of the deceased with two black ribbons across the top corners of the frame. To the right of the room will be family members. IF they are traditional the family members will include the deceased’s sons and if any of those men have any other males, they will also be there. In more modern Korean funerals they don’t hold to this as strictly and there will just be members of the family.
Whichever is practiced, the main idea is that the room is never left empty. So, it is very common for the family to stay the 2 nights there.
- What comes next is up to you/your company.
You may just light an incense/lay a white flower.
And do a 90 degree bow.
You may do two full bows and then a 2 and 1/2 bow. Koreans do both based on their religious beliefs. Although tradition requires the full bow to the floor, Koreans who have converted to Christianity will only do a ½ bow as a full bow is considered “worship.” This is also because the act of bowing comes from Buddhist beliefs.If you are attending the funeral of a younger family member or younger acquaintance, you do not bow. Bowing, like when the person is alive, is for elders and peers. If the deceased is a younger friend, bow at your discretion.
- After you pay your respects to the deceased turn to your right and bow to the family.
Once again the type of bow depends on you. The family will mirror your choice.
- After paying your respect to the family you may approach them to shake hands, hug, and give words of condolence.Some phrases you could say to the family at this time:
안타까운 마음을 전합니다.
An-ta-ka-oon Ma-uhm-uhl Jon-hab-ni-da.
We are so very sorry to hear about your loss.오늘, 제 가슴에서 우러나온 가장 깊은 위로의 말을 드리고 싶습니다.
Oh-nool, Jae Ka-sum-ae Oo-ri-na-ohn Ka-jang Kip-un Wae-ro-ooi Mal-uhl Duh-ri-koh Ship-sub-ni-da.
I offer you my deepest condolences on this dark day.항상 생각하고, 안타까워 하고 있습니다. 어려운 시기 잘 이겨내시기 바랍니다.
Hang-sang Saeng-kak-ha-koh, An-ta-ka-oah Ha-koh Iss-sub-ni-da. Oh-ryo-oon Shi-ki Jal Ee-kyo-nae-shi-ki Bal-rab-ni-da.
Our thoughts are with you and your family at this most difficult time of loss.
- After you have finished you will exit the mourning room and be escorted to the dining hall.
Here you will be served a simple meal often consisting of rice, a soup, kimchi and side dishes.
There is also normally alcohol available…in mass quantities.
-This is to encourage guests to stay, laugh, and talk loudly to prevent the deceased from being lonely. They will often talk about the deceased but rarely about the actual passing. In my family’s case, the loud talking and laughing didn’t usually happen till the later part of the day.
-Family members and friends are expected to help maintain the dining area and serve guests who arrive to give their condolences
Extra Note: If you are the family member during day 2 you will attend the body prepping. This isn’t mandatory but as a family member you are probably expected to go with your family. During this time they will wash the deceased’s hair and apply make up. Once finished, you may approach the body and say your goodbyes, hold hands, etc. When you and your family are done they will wrap the deceased in linen. It will cover the head and the body. Then, they will lower the body in the coffin which is then covered with another material. Last, they will take a long strip of material and start wrapping it around the coffin to create handles that will allow it to be carried on the third day.
3rd DAY: LAST DAY
- On the last day the family will escort the body out of the building to whichever form of burial they have chosen. For my grandmother it was cremation so we were to escort her to another location to be cremated.
- The person leading the procession will walk carrying the framed picture that was in the grieving room. This is usually done by a male in the family.
- Behind the leader would be the coffin which is carried by the males in the family. Sons, son in laws, etc.
Behind the coffin would be the mourners which is the rest of the family and anyone who has been involved in the final stage of the funeral. Unlike US funerals, not everyone goes to this final part – it is usually those that are very close to the deceased.
- The procession will lead out to the bus which will take you to your location wether it be the crematorium or burial site.
- It really depends what the deceased has asked for but either way you will usually end up doing Jesa. A ceremony to honor the deceased.
If you are interested in Jesa you can actually attend ceremonies that are held to honor the deceased in general! Jesa isn’t just done at a funeral
I hope you have found this long post useful and if you have any experiences or suggestions that I didn’t include please comment below and share with fellow readers!