Cambodian Funeral Ceremony :: Rest In Peace Ma Tom


As with all traditional Cambodian ceremonies, my Ma Tom’s funeral ceremony was a full day event that began early in the morning.

(Ma = Grandma, Tom = Big or Older in Cambodian)

The funeral took place 7 days after her passing and, during those 7 days, family members from Chicago to Philly made the journey to my Aunt’s home in Virginia to gather, pray and prepare food offerings for the ceremony.

The monks arrived around 10am and led the reciting of sermons before breaking for lunch. Following lunch, we all went to the funeral home to pay our respects to Ma Tom before she was then cremated.

In Buddhism, we believe in the cycle of death and rebirth and that cremation allows the soul to part away from the body and to go to hell or heaven in order to wait for reincarnation.

I initially started taking pictures of this day because my cousin, Vibol, was running late (he usually takes photos at family events).

But then I continued on, even after he arrived, because it helped me to cope and distance myself from the reality of the situation.

(I’ve always been kind of stoic when it comes to emotions… Preferring to deal with my emotions in private as quietly as possible.)

The day was tough and so very much real.

And behind the shield of my camera lens, I was able to make it through in one piece.

^^ White is the color is mourning in our culture.

^^ Traditionally, at least one person from the deceased’s family shaves their head to symbolize their grief. In this case, my uncle chose to shave his head.

^^ As part of the ceremony, we had a funeral procession to the crematorium in which we walked the casket around the funeral home three times before making our way to the final destination…

I went back and forth, unsure as to whether I should share today’s post… But then I came across this Buddhist quote:

“You only lose what you cling to.”

And it truly resonated with me.

Soooo today, I let go by sharing memories of a day that was beautiful in its own heavy way.

I’ve always found beauty in maintaining and observing the traditional rituals associated with my Cambodian culture and felt that the funeral ceremony embodied the beauty and history of my Ma Tom’s life.

Rest In Peace Ma Tom.

I pray your next life is a great one with a family who loves you just as much as we do.

xo, Setarra

  • Gosh this is so beautiful and touching Setarra. You captured the raw emotions and sanctity of this day through your words and images. Thank you for sharing x

  • Whitney

    Thank you for sharing. This is absolutely beautiful. We lost my grandma last fall so I understand the sentiment of distancing oneself and dealing with it later. I love that you honor your heritage and traditions. I admittedly don’t know much about Buddhism, but I think this is a beautiful way to honor a life. Hugs.

    • Thank you Whitney. Sending lots of *hugs* right back. xoxo

  • Sorry for your loss Setarra. It’s been almost ten years since my grandmother passed and it sometimes feels like yesterday. From your photos it was a beautiful ceremony. xoxo