The following are entries from my journal about two aspects of the concepts of death and dying expressed by Romanian Orthodox followers in two small villages on two different weekends which I was fortunate to share in first hand this month. I felt the need to write about these in light of how we all contemplate death at some time or another, especially this week, when the world has experienced the too early loss of the iconic and supremely talented King of Pop, Michael Jackson. And so it is---an unfortunate and unavoidable part of living.
June 6, 2009:
Today will surely be one of the most memorable days I will spend in Romania. I believe it. My gazda family and I went to a biserica in a small village on the outskirts of Targoviste called Razvad. Here we visited during the ceremony for the Remembrance of the Dead. All brought large baskets filled with cakes decorated by traditional crucifixes and libations in old soda bottles that were lit by long, thin candles as the Parenti (Priest/Father) chanted in Romanian as there the visitors looked after their relatives and friends since gone. As the doors to the altar opened and closed and the incense and holy waters were passed among them, I thought of how in earlier times this ritual was the same. The blessing of the basket offerings ensued and the people young and old took part in age-old customs. For over 500 years, this structure had welcomed those who looked after the memory of their dead and it made me realize the meaning of my own ties to religion and how it has always been such a huge part of my life. The music was deep and I will never forget how it touched me for the first time as a visitor to Romania. We then walked out with baskets to commemorate the day and offer the libations and cake to each other and especially to the deceased as they lie silent in their graves beside the church in the yard. I was invited to the country home of a bunica and her family who offered me more cakes and plate of eggs, chicken, chocolate, nuts, and cheese to feast upon and drink it all in under the arbor of newly bloomed, young green grapes.
June 27, 2009
Another wonderful and spiritually laced day in the tara (countryside). This time I visited with my gazda family their extended immediate family in the village of Marcesti, about 30 minutes outside of Targoviste. I met my gazda's brother and sister-in-law and their children and her elderly father the bunic (grandfather). I got a tour of their modest property, complete with garden, cherry trees, and an assortment of animals in pens and loosely exploring the grass and mounds of dirt left astray for their enjoyment. The place was alive despite the concrete garage open bucaterie (kitchen) and the old and many times repaired wooden sheds that housed animal feed, supplies, tools and the like. The house had been restored and retained remnants of the original roof and flooring and was appointed with many books and an array of oriental-style rugs. It was clean and busy and the family made us ciorba, pork and salad complete with fresh cheese from their cow whom I was able to milk later on in the day (My first time and no movie-style kicks, thank goodness!) The best part of the day however, was to attend the funeral of a local man, 76, and with a large family. The whole village came out and as I sat in the small room next to the body laid out for the past three days in the hall in a grand casket with a veil, I remembered how my mother told of the Polish custom similar to this in her girlhood and felt so lucky to be welcome here. The granddaughter pinned a small black velvet band on my blouse and looked at me with tired but friendly eyes that seemed to say "thank you" or maybe just "I am a young girl, wondering everything here---welcome stranger." The ritual went on as one of the aunts and a cousin passed a live chicken and a pot of red roses under the coffin as it crossed the threshold to bless the deceased and the crowd followed the horse drawn carriage, all of us, as the wife, sisters, and children wailed and cried aloud asking why and how this could be. As the gentleman was brought to first the church and the cemetary, I could only think of how calm and peaceful he seemed, how strong his hands were, and how much he was loved, despite the blue black visage of rigor mortis which had taken hold. I thanked my gazda family for this day of blessings and went to bed early in hopes of another tomorrow.