No Body Dies Alone in Jakarta Anymore (San Diego Hills Memorial) (1)

San Diego Hills Memorial Park in Karawang, West Java, was busy one day with two simultaneous funerals. In the Christian section, a family gathered under white tents to bury a husband and father.

Around 50 people sat on folding chairs beside the coffin of the 43-year-old, who had died, relatives said, of cancer. The ceremony proceeded with hymns, the reminiscences of loved ones and prayers for the deceased, before proceeding to the burial.

Down the hill in the Buddhist section, another group of white tents sheltered mourners dressed in white for the burial of mother, grandmother and great grandmother Kheng Tjin Kwai, 82.

Almost 40 people knelt before the altar set in front of the grave. A Buddhist monk led the ritual, while a grief counselor assisted mourners in following the prayers, the burning of joss paper effigies and other traditions.

Three mourners said Kheng’s descendants — who included both Buddhists and Christians — wanted to honor her ancient Chinese beliefs and traditions.

A day before, at the Tegal Alur II Cemetery in West Jakarta, which primarily serves Muslims, a man sat across from a flower kiosk, where mourners can buy petals and other burial items.

Hajair, a gravedigger who digs resting places for the unidentified dead, said he had just finished preparing a final resting place for his cousin, Titin Sumarni, 41, a teacher.

Titin’s mother, Rokyah, said her daughter had, shortly before dying, fulfilled the teaching requirements for a Bachelor’s degree.

“We never thought that God would call her so soon,” she said.

Nobody in the family, including Titin’s husband, Erpin, was prepared to face the challenges of burying someone in

Dying in Jakarta is a complicated process, even with the bureaucratic reforms introduced in the 2007 bylaw on cemeteries. Yet all of the above families found someone willing and able to assist them in their time of grief.

The difference in levels of service for the dead, as for the living, depends on social status, wealth, religion, land availability and access to information about regulations, services and costs.

Land scarcity presents a challenge to the Jakarta administration, as the capital’s already large population continues to grow, with 27,375 people dying annually.

The bureaucracy of death requires relatives of the deceased to present the following documents: death certificate from a medical facility, the deceased’s identity and family card, ID of the family member in charge of burial, a subdistrict reference letter to funeral authorities and proof of payment from Bank DKI. All of this is required just for a burial plot.

According to Tegal Alur Cemetery administrator H. Suaeb, funerals no longer entail illegal fees solicited at cemeteries, though people often give tips to the gravediggers and groundskeepers.

Religion and tradition further complicate the funeral process.

Kasman Sukandar, a grief consultant from Anugrah Jasa, said he had been providing advice to mourners since the 1990s.

“Even people of the same religion may practice different rituals, depending on what ethnic group or traditions they have inherited,” he said.

Jakarta Cathedral parish priest, Stefanus Bratakartana SJ, explained that some Catholics of Chinese descent might not adhere to church rituals. “If a Chinese family wants to cremate their relative, it is up to them,” he said.

Confucians, Buddhists and sometimes Protestants from various ethnicities may also opt for cremation. Only Muslims of all ethnic backgrounds refuse to cremate their dead, insisting on burial within 24 hours.

Pastor Ainul Nurul said that in the Protestant tradition, the focus was on how to comfort the grieving family. Prayer services “can be held at any time that is convenient for the family and friends”, she said.

Buddhists and Confucians generally hold processions before burial, which may mean the dead are not buried immediately.

In Hinduism, the rituals following cleansing and shrouding occur simultaneously with the preparation of the body for burial and possible later cremation.

Nevertheless, nobody dying in Jakarta needs to worry about having someone there to lay them to rest. If the government does not help you, the community will, and commercial services are always available.

Under the cemeteries bylaw, all burial costs are borne by the municipality. The only charges imposed are burial plot rents, ranging from nothing to Rp 100,000 for three years.

In Jakarta, each subdistrict has a One-stop Integrated Service Center, which assists with various permits — including access to burial plots.

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