One month ago, my brother-in-law killed himself.

This single, tragic event has generated great disturbance - both inwards within me, out externally amongst his family. In this posting, I reflect on some of my own thoughts, feelings and processes.

I was in Thailand for the month, visiting my partner's family in their home village. My partner had remained working in the UK. One evening, around 8.00pm I received a call: "Something terrible has happened. I mean, really terrible. El has just killed himself at mum's house." I drove round there straight away, wondering what I would find and how I might help in a country where my language skills were limited and I would be the only farang present.

The house and garden were strangely desolate and confused in the presence of death. Friends and neighbours stood around, some taking pictures of the scene. A uniformed policeman and medical assistant were making notes. The family stood on the front terrace of the house. El had a simple room in an out-building where he'd been sleeping for a year since his girlfriend was killed in a traffic accident. He'd returned to the house an hour or two earlier, shouted something to his mother as he walked past her house, and disappeared into his room. He'd had a troubled life - little education, random casual jobs, no money, frequent drinking, some crime; his behaviour and outbursts were familiar to friends and family. Once inside his room, behind the closed door, he'd fixed a rope to a beam, knelt down on the mattress on the floor, put a noose around his neck, and strangled himself. His half-sister found him dead half-an-hour later; his mother cut down the rope. He lay on the mattress in a pair of old jeans. In that moment, in his presence, nothing came to me. Only in retrospect did I even remember the notion of blessing and prayer.

The impact of such sudden and unexpected death is shocking and brutal. Alone. No goodbyes. No explanation. Deliberate. Final.

It prompted so many unanswerable questions. Why now? Why this day and evening? Did he consider anyone else? What prompted this method of dying? What did he think would happen? What were his final thoughts? Is he at rest now?

In a Buddhist culture, suicide raises many anxieties and fears. The local understanding of Buddhist teaching is that death comes when the time is ready and should not be foreshortened. This self-inflicted death is a life cut short. The life cycle is incomplete. When the spirit returns in the next life, there is 'unfinished business' from this one. The restless spirit will 'haunt' the place and the family and neighbours as a ghost, roaming at will and disturbing the waking and dreaming states of those left behind. Fear and superstition will follow people for months.

I wasn't aware that El had a daughter, and a young grand-daughter. Now both the daughter's parents had left her suddenly and without any farewell. El left his sole possession, a beaten-up motorbike, to his daughter. Everything else was worthless and burned.

How does a mother cope with the sudden suicide of her son, on her own land? Although the son was feckless, sometimes out-of-control, and frequently demanding of money, he was still her firstborn. What mix of sorrow, grief, blame and relief lies there?

And yet .....

The three days of funeral rites that followed showed something of the dignity and value of all human souls. We are all equal in death, no matter what judgement is placed on our life. El's physical body is respected and even revered. It is placed in a simple coffin and taken from the mortuary to the temple. There it has a place of prominence. It is decorated and honoured. Villagers gather every evening for an hour of chanting. Neighbours make garlands and offerings. Food and drink is prepared for over 200-300 people every day. His photograph is decorated with flowers. People come from workplaces and villages to pay their respects. Incense is constantly being lit to ward away any evil spirits. Gifts are made and given. An elaborate wooden shrine is erected over the coffin for the funeral on the third day. A final feast meal is shared together in the open air of the temple compound, in the presence of the coffin. Finally, the coffin and shrine are loaded onto a cart that is hand-pulled by monks and villagers to the outdoor cremation site a kilometre away. There everyone gathers for the final rituals. All the temple monks are present. Everyone receives a gift. Everything is loaded onto the funeral pyre of logs, the shrine reaching high into the sky. Finally, an elaborate arrangement of acoustic fireworks and zipwire bangers around the cremation site is used to ignite the pyre in a spectacular display of light and fire. We all depart - without looking back.

What feelings and thoughts am I left with?  Shock ... disturbance ... waste ... helplessness ... witness ... grief ... dignity ... equality ... worthiness ... unknown mystery ...