BANGKOK – It’s a life experience nobody would want to endure — attending your child’s funeral.
But that’s what some parents have had to do in Thailand in recent days, as the country’s anti-government unrest has taken an increasingly ugly, more violent turn with children killed or injured, their tiny bodies maimed and turned lifeless by shrapnel or gunshots.
A six-year-old-girl, a four-year-old boy and a woman of about 40 died when a grenade detonated at an anti-government rally outside a shopping mall in the Ratchaprasong area of Bangkok. A five-year-old girl was killed by a stray bullet when attackers opened fire on an anti-government demonstration in eastern Trat province.The two youngsters in the capital were siblings, the children of a working-class family. The father, Thayakorn Yotubon, works as a personal assistant and driver — he told me he spent every single night with his children and would never leave them alone. In one of the photographs at his children’s funeral, the little girl, nicknamed by her family as “Cake,” (the brother was known as “Kane”) is wearing a t-shirt that says “I love Papa.”
“She asked me to buy it for her to wear on Fathers’ Day,” he told me, tears rolling down his face.
Special day out
The day they were caught in the attack was a special day out because their aunt was visiting from out of town. She had brought Cake, Kane and her son out for a treat to the local shopping mall. They were waiting for a tuk-tuk — a rickshaw taxi — when a grenade was thrown into the crowds close to an anti-government rally outside the mall.
Cake and Kane died from their injuries. Their cousin, who is 8-years old, is in critical condition in a hospital. We found his small, blood-drenched baseball cap at the scene.I have been covering the Thai unrest story from various protest sites, especially outside government buildings, but this time it was at the funeral of two young children. As we looked on and filmed, I questioned if we should be there — if we should be filming their grief. But the family invited the cameras in. They didn’t stop us and all spoke to my team.
Despite my moment of doubt, I knew this was an important aspect of this whole story that needs to be shown to those involved. As Thayakorn so clearly put it: “My kids were just children, sweet children. They were too young, they should not have done this to them …They were just innocent children, they had nothing to do with this (political issue).”
Their mother seated towards the back, was unable to bring herself to lift her head, wipe away her tears or talk to those sitting beside her. I watched as she was helped to her feet by family members, helping her take each shaky step towards her children’s bodies.”These are not my children,” she cried. “They don’t look like that.”
Her children were laid out with their bodies bandaged and stitched together, their faces without expression, without the joy and happiness their father described to me.
“They were happy, innocent and sensitive kids,” said Thayakorn. “They loved to be around us — their mum and dad all the time. They were sweet kids.”
This was a Buddhist ceremony. During the last rites, family members pour water through the person’s hands to symbolize the return of the body to the elements. But these hands were far too tiny, far too angelic, delicate and innocent to be there.
I watched as the mother struggled to perform the ceremony. She couldn’t look at their faces — she wouldn’t look — unable to accept or bear the burden of this loss.
Even the Buddhist monk appeared lost for words as he looked on.
I have been told that Buddhist funerals in Thailand are often somber events, with little emotion and outward shows of grief. But the passing of two innocent children in such circumstances was too much for all in attendance. Family members and friends were so distraught they could not utter words of condolence or comfort to ease the mother and father’s pain.
And when the father came to perform the rituals — he dropped to his knees, talking to his children. Crying out in disbelief: “You were too young to die.”
In this corner of the capital, at least one family had paid too high a price for the political turmoil sweeping across the country.
By By Saima Mohsin