Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Funeral

Sadly, one of D's relatives passed away during our time in Crimea. It was a terrible and unexpected shock, coming right on the heels of having celebrated New Year's together the day before. This person was incredibly kind and welcomed me into their family right away when we met six years ago. She was loved fiercely by the entire family.

Everything happened in a haze. At first no one knew what to do. There was no 1-800 number to call for help, there was no internet in the home to Google an answer. The family trickled in and banded together, drawing strength from each other's presence. Mirrors were covered with sheets. The police were called (and took all day to show up.) The family had the honor- or responsibility- of washing and dressing the body. Visitors came to pay their respects. The burial took place the following day. I remember rushing through the market, looking for flowers. Flowers must be in an even number if you're bringing them to a funeral. The graveyard was muddy and crowded with elaborate, photographic tombstones (including one woman immortalized with a mullet.) Many grave sites had a little picnic table. Most people had brought flowers, which were scattered around the grave after the burial. One odd thing struck me right away: there were no children at the funeral. Later I asked about this and was told that in general, if you weren't at the wedding, you shouldn't be at the funeral. Afterwards, all mourners regrouped at a restaurant that seemed to specialize in post-burial gatherings. A table was set for our group. First, everyone had to clean their hands. Immediately a small dish of kutya, a ceremonial kind of rice, was served. Then, a soup. Each section of the table was filled with traditional foods- mayonnaise salad, sausage, cucumbers, bread, etc- and a bottle of vodka. There was a lot of drinking done at this meal, but in a somber way and to remember the deceased. It was forbidden to toast in the usual manner (touching glasses together); instead, people would raise their glasses, share some memories, and then drink. I sat next to a very sweet 89-year-old woman who urged me to keep refilling my shotglass and toasted to a couple memories of her own. Ukrainians believe the ninth day and the fortieth day after death are also sacred days and again remember the deceased on these days.

I'm very grateful that the family let me join them in honoring this incredible woman.


  1. My condolences...

    Re: "Flowers must be in an odd number if you're bringing them to a funeral."
    Even. It must be even (2, 4, 6, &tc).
    And odd is for the all otherwise cases (like girls courting).

    1. Ой, I can't believe I made that mistake! Thanks for catching it!