The waves hit softly and continuously against the shore. As the little over 200 bereaved relatives and loved ones slowly found their seats, these waves provided such a soft and calm audio-wallpaper that it was hard to imagine the destructive rage of the one that had brought everyone together for this memorial service.
Invited by the Danish government, the many relatives had arrived the day before on a plane also carrying Crown Prince Frederik and Crown Princess Mary, Denmark’s Prime Minister, as well as vice-Prime Minister Bendt Bendtsen.
This Saturday morning on the beach outside the Khao Lak Merlin Resort, where all of the memorial travelers were staying, marked the time for Denmark to officially mourn its dead. At 9.57 AM, the VIP-delegation led by Crown Prince Frederik and Bishop Søren Lodberg Hvas entered the elegantly decorated service area, after which the emotionally charged event got started.
46 Danes lost their lives on December 26th when the shores of Southern Thailand and other parts of Southeast Asia were hit by the giant Tsunami wave. 36 have been identified, while 10 are still missing.
“It was a global catastrophe. It was a national tragedy for Denmark. But it was first and foremost a personal catastrophe for you,” said the Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen in his short speech, which followed the choir’s opening song, “I østen stiger solen op”.
“It is hard to understand that nature can be so merciless. Everything can seem so meaningless. But the lives of your loved ones were not meaningless. Their lives were full of meaning. They even gave your lives more meaning. They can still do that, but now through your memories,” Anders Fogh Rasmussen continued.
Exhortations from the Bishop
Blending in with the waves in the background, a four-man choir, a flute player, and harp player delivered the musical part of the service. Apart from the Prime Minister, the service included Bible readings by sognepræst Birgitte Fabritius de Tengnagel, a short sermon by Hans Vestergaard Jensen from the Seaman’s Church in Singapore, but the main sermon was delivered by Søren Lodberg Hvas who is the bishop of Aalborg Stift and of the Danish Seaman’s Churches.
“This is where it happened. That’s why this is the place where we now will try to find rest and comfort, new hope and courage for life. This is where we mark the last goodbye, so that life can begin anew from here on,” the Bishop said in the beginning of his sermon. He later went on to quote Jesus from John’s Gospel 14:26-27, and gave some exhortations to the grieving congregation.
“This catastrophe has shown us how vulnerable we are and how frail life is. It’s an old, yet often forgotten wisdom. We often like to pretend we’re invincible. Perhaps we are scared that this insight will darken our lives. But in reality, it’s quite the opposite. Knowing that our life is frail and that death is nothing but a moment away actually gives our lives intensity and presence, seriousness and joy,” he said.
Later, he quoted one of the relatives from a newspaper interview:
“We are poor because we have lost our loved ones, but we are rich because we have had them.”
Royal Tour of the Destruction Zone
The names of the dead were read out loud, and the memorial service ended with beautifully performed version of ”Tågen letter” (the fog is lifting) by Danish composer Carl Nielsen. Then all the relatives left their chairs and walked down to the ocean to lay flowers in the water – according to Thai customs.
While the relatives mostly spent their afternoon at the hotel, there was a busy schedule lined up for the Crown Prince couple and the other VIP-travelers. At around 3 PM, the police escorted vans rolled into the camp in Bang Muang for people who lost their homes in the Tsunami. A welcome committee led by the Governor of the Pang Nga province showed the Crown Prince couple, the Prime Minister, and the vice-Prime Minister around in the camp. The Crown Princess quickly won over the hearts of the children of the camp, who later performed a dance for the royal visitors.
Then, the VIP caravan drove to the badly destroyed fishing village of Baan Nam Khem, where almost half of the town’s inhabitants were killed by the Tsunami and where barely any houses have been left standing. Stopping to see a big fishing boat which had been carried far into the village by the giant wave, the Danish delegation had a chance to get a closer look at the destruction which Danida recently has agreed to help rebuild.
After this, the Crown Prince couple drove back to their hotel for their last night in Thailand before flying to Japan Sunday. Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen took time to do a short, but personal press conference at the hotel of the Danish press in the late afternoon.
“It has been a very moving day. It was a very beautiful and memorable ceremony, and I think it gives the relatives some sort of conclusion to the terrible time they have been through,” he told the Danish journalists.
“I couldn’t help be affected by seeing the enormous devastation that the Tsunami brought to this whole area as we were driving through it. But the memorial service was very emotional. For me, the hardest part was when the names of the victims were read out loud and when they played ‘Tågen letter’. I have never felt like that, and I will never forget it,” said Anders Fogh Rasmussen.
On Sunday, he will visit the Disaster Victim Identification Center in Phuket before flying up to Bangkok, where he will meet with Thailand’s Prime Minister Thaksin and King Bhumibol on Monday.