Yesterday Tom called me and asked if I was available. It was a few hours before our weekly leaders meeting for the area Churches, so I nervously responded.. “sure, what’s up?” You never know what somebody is going to need. Well, we were needed because a young lady in our church had a grandmother who was very ill, and had passed away yesterday morning. No one in the family owned a car, and they needed help getting the casket. So with Tom’s trailer, and my truck we were off to the local casket shop, 10 minutes later we had the very simple box (one person could carry it), and the traditional flowers and cross which goes into the ground.
They don’t have a morgue here in RZ, so the body is left in the house and the arrangements the responsibility of the family. However, orthodox tradition says that relatives are not allowed to touch the deceased. The grandmother was still in her bed, and Tom and I were asked to help carry the body to the casket which we had laid in the front room. All of this is very shocking to a new comer like me, we are protected (or incubated) from the realities of this life in the west. I do pass on my regrets to the family, they have been through a lot.
In America/Canada, we have our own traditions that they would find shocking as well. For example, the grandmother will be buried today.. 24hrs later! We, on the other hand, drag the process out for a week sometimes, requiring ‘visitation’, a church service funeral, and then there’s the $1000′s spent on ‘required’ services.. Not here, the family digs the plot, buries the body, and it’s all over in less than 2 days in most cases, and didn’t cost hardly anything. There are other interesting cultural things such as placing a coin on each eye of the deceased, this is an ancient greek tradition (something about a river passage into the afterlife, the toll payment) but also to keep the eyelids shut.
Thank you to Tom who was the seasoned missionary, calm, full of grace. I think I’m still a little white eyed after the whole thing.