One Year After King Bhumibol’s Death, Thais Still Grieve

Wilawan Watcharasakwet and Nontarat Phaicharoen
2017.10.12
Bangkok
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171012-TH-King-exhibition-1000.JPG A woman looks at pictures of the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej at the “King in the Heart” exhibit at Bangkok Art and Culture Center, Oct. 12, 2017.
Wilawan Watcharasakwet/BenarNews

Updated at 9:55 p.m. ET on 2017-10-12

As they mark the one-year anniversary of King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s death, Thais are preparing for a final expression of grief at his massive cremation later this month that will formally close the nation’s yearlong mourning period.

One citizen, Meuk, who asked that only his first name be used, was shocked when he heard about his beloved king’s death on Oct. 13, 2016. He had just finished his teaching duties and started making phone calls hoping the news was not true.

“I lost my mind,” Meuk told BenarNews, his voice quivering during a phone conversation. “It was the worst loss in my entire life. My world stopped. He was more than family, he was everything in my life.

“Losing him was like losing someone you love the most, someone who made me become who I am today.”

Meuk said he still cries when watching royal activities and documentaries about the king and viewing photo books.

“His voice and his pictures are stuck in my memory. I keep crying. It is the truth that I have to accept. I feel like I’m swimming in the ocean without seeing the shore,” Meuk said.

The royal cremation ceremony day, Oct. 26, has been declared a national holiday. Shopping centers, cinemas, entertainment venues, the stock market and financial institutions will be closed to allow people to pay their final respects.

The Thai people have made several million artificial flowers for the ceremony. Additionally, heads of state and representatives of 50 countries plan to attend and the government has extended the mourning period until Oct. 30.

Nationwide grief

Many share Meuk’s grief because of the late king’s efforts to improve the quality of life through royal projects throughout Thailand during his 70-year reign.

“I’m still very sad, but I know I am better because of his existence. The king became my role model to do something for others,” said Supaset Sivaburinmitra, a businessman from Kanchanaburi who contributed 10 percent of his revenue to Thai social welfare programs.

“I don’t have time for being sad,” he said, “but I have to step out and start doing something to carry on what he started.”

Supaset recalled driving through a river with his friends to help build and repair dams in an effort to prevent flash flooding as they set out to follow the late King Bhumibol’s philosophy of conserving the forest.

“We have to live in reality that he’s gone. We had one year to get used to the sadness and move on by following his steps,” Supaset said.

That reality is difficult for Thinnapat Chuengpaisal who still cries when talking about the late king.

She lived near the king’s palace in central south Thailand several years ago. One day, she said, she sat along the road waiting for five hours when the monarch’s car slowly drove by, with the king waving to his people.

She cried while shouting “Long Live the King” among thousands of people on the street and promised herself she would be a better person by following his teaching.

“My heart is broken. I went to a monastery for meditation practice to prepare for the royal cremation ceremony because I want to accept this and I don’t want to be depressed,” Thinnapat told BenarNews while trying unsuccessfully to hold back tears. “He is my inspiration.”

Anniversary

Last year, about 12.7 million people paid their final respects to King Bhumibol at the Grand Palace and donated 889 million baht (U.S. $26.8 million) to be used for ongoing royal projects.

On Friday, King Maha Vajiralongkorn will attend a merit-making ceremony at the Grand Palace commemorating the one-year anniversary of his father’s death.

At the exact moment it occurred, 3:52 p.m., public and private agencies, officials and civil service workers will stand for 89 seconds in silent tribute to the late monarch, who died a few months before his 89th birthday.

Public and private agencies, including hotels and airports across Thailand, have set up elaborate shrines decorated in black and white fabric with flowers surrounding the late king’s portrait and condolence books. Black-and-white fabric adorns the tops of buildings and fences in major construction sites.

For the past year, Thais have worn black or dark clothing. Some cry in public, especially at the royal palace.

At least 10 exhibitions about the late king are on display in Bangkok along with many more across the nation.

The government has encouraged people to plant and decorate marigolds inside and outside homes, shopping centers and public areas in commemoration.

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