It was Mark Twain who famously explained the “reports of my death are greatly exagerated” when the New York Journal published his obituary in 1897, 13 years before the proflific author, journalist and writer actually died.
So imagine how 102-year-old Muth Bean felt when he awoke from a long coma to discover family and friends from around Cambodia and the world gathered at his family home to mourn his death last week.
A traditional funeral ceremony was being held the day before he was due to be cremated and monks had held prayers and other services above his ancient body at the family home.
Relatives from Phnom Penh and as far away as Germany and the United States had travelled to the village of Thmey in the Chhloung District of the Kratie Province, 300km north of the capital.
They had wept, they had remembered a man who had survived perhaps Cambodia’s most tumultuous century and had died a dignified and respected figure, leaving the legacy of a family who loved him and a village who respected him.
Then the man who had been in a coma for a month and had been declared dead suddenly sat up from his bed and stared at the gathering before him, slowly realising he was at his own funeral.
“He suddenly shakes his hands and wakes up while I am reciting the Dharma,’’ said the funeral priest.
“Everyone there was shocked and amazed. They couldn’t believe what they were seeing.’’
Bean, probably also a bit startled, stared back at them all but was soon smoking a cigarette and talking about his supposed passing with the huge gathering of his loved ones.
The so-called dead man was highly respected by his fellow villagers, as is anyone close to his age in a country which has seen the worst of humanity roam its provinces over the years, especially during the secret carpet bombing by US forces in the early 1970s, before the Khmer Rouge inflicted genocide on its own people.
He was – actually, is – also a famous astrologer who follows India’s ancient Ramayana philosophy.
Bean had slipped into a coma after falling sick and suffering from malnutrition, his fifth daughter Muth Sangheng, 65, told 7Days. Since his family and relatives believed he had died they organised a religious ceremony for him.
“My father looked seriously ill with his condition, and we organised the ceremony and contacted relatives around the world to unite and invited the old people from around our village to participate,” she said.
“Before, when he was in a breathless condition, he bowed his two hands to respect all the people in the house and he said it was his last day. We burnt candles and incense when we thought he had become a corpse,” added Sangheng.
“Everyone has been so surprised to see his condition suddenly improve. We all thought he was dead.Then he revived.”
His great-grandson Horn Sospheak said, “After recovering he looks to be back to normal as he goes about his day.”
“He also predicts he has two years left in him. It was one piece of good luck in hundreds of terrible things which have happened to him. Now he speaks to everyone and is back to eating food normally.”
Bean himself describes the period everyone thought he was dead. He said he felt someone take his spirit away, but suddenly there was a holy man who came to help.
“I can’t remember all situations, but I can remember two men came to me, and then there was one special holy man to help me”, he said. “My condition has improved and now I can be an astrologer like before. I think in two more years I am going to pass away.”
Muth Bean had 11 children, but three died in the Pol Pot regime. However, his wife died in 93 years old, just over a year ago.
To contact the reporter on this story: Seth Kimsoeurn at [email protected]
Translated by Pann Rethea