The impact of death

With 2 of their grandsons

Her name was Stanitza and to our mutual delight, we got to know each other in the human sense …even without much language.  She was 82 when she died on Wednesday leaving her spouse of 62 years, a daughter, 2 sons, at least 5 grandchildren, and 3 great grandchildren (that I know of).

Honey harvesting

They let me keep my bike in the empty room below my apartment which they used as a work-room.  The pictures in this blog are of the time they invited me down to see how they harvested honey.  (And of course they gifted me a jar!)
She was often in the workroom or taking a walk when I’d come home from work on my bike.  I’d

You scrape the wax off the honeycomb and then spin it in a big tub (background) and the honey comes out a spigot at the bottom

stop and give her a hug and kiss on the cheek and we’d stretch the limits of my Macedonian together.  She cried when I had to move out of the apartment, which touched me deeply.  I always looked forward to going back to visit them in the spring….now I’ll only visit him.

Apparently she’d gone to the hospital Wednesday morning and gotten an IV of fluids and vitamins, but

4 Generations

was feeling ‘normal’.  She came home, ate, and lay down for a nap in the afternoon, from which she never awoke.

Thursday morning I got a txt from her granddaughter who told me about the death and that the funeral was at 2:00 pm….they pretty much bury people within a day here because they don’t embalm.  She was ‘laid out’ in her coffin in her living room surrounded by family and friends (family had sat awake all night with the body).  Apparently visiting the dead and lighting a candle represents attending the funeral as people came and went, lighting candles, leaving money, flowers and small gifts.  I had been a little worried about what to wear and settled on black jeans and a black fleece in deference to the weather and was surprised to see that everyone else was remarkably casual–with one exception.  I was the only one wearing make up.  It only occurred to me afterwards that it must have been a signal of grief no not wear make-up, but they know that I don’t know any better.
The priest’ showed up at 1:30 when everyone received another candle, lit it and the service for the dead commenced.  It lasted about a half hour, everyone standing in the little room around the body.  (I was praying no one would catch on fire as we were tightly crowded and spilling into hallway as people tried to gain position.)  Afterwards the coffin (still uncovered) was loaded into a van which led a vehicle procession to the graveyard on the outskirts of town.  I was actually shocked they’d been able to dig a grave with the snow and temperatures we’ve been having here…but indeed they had.  (No backhoe, either!)
Now let me pause for a moment to say that death here seems very much like life here…so much closer to nature than we experience in America.  It’s not sanitized, pasteurized, packaged or filtered.  People actually look at, touch and kiss the corpse.  The jaw is tied shut with a black ribbon to prevent the mouth from falling open.  The hands and feet are also tied with black ribbon to keep them in place–all removed before the coffin is closed.   Very raw for this American who never saw a body not embalmed, but back to the graveside.
After more prayers, the blanket in the casket was neatly tucked around her, the coffin lid set atop, and the casket lowered by 4 men with rope into the grave.  People threw handfuls of dirt on top and made their way down to a canopied area where each took a bite of prepared grain, a piece of bread and rakija or juice if they wanted it.  (It sort of reminded me of communion)  Then the youngest son spoke to each person as they departed the canopied area with words I did not understand, but seemed to be a prescribed message.  We were hardly 5 feet down the hill before the grave attendants started filling it in…I’d certainly never been present for something like that.  I was planning on going home, but my ex-landlady(one of the daughters-in-law) told me to get in their car and we ended up at a restaurant…and soon so did everybody else.  After a full sit-down meal for all

Rest in Peace, sweet lady!

who had attended, I went over to where the family was sitting and again gave grandpa a hug and told him I would visit.  He was understandably in a fog, but I really think the family appreciated that I had attended the funeral.  For me it was an honor to be included.  I only knew her a year, but she impacted my life and I’m told she loved having me there…it was a mutual gift.


5 responses to “The impact of death

  1. I’m sorry you lost a friend. I know you are a blessing to them! Thanks for writing and keeping us up to date. Stay warm!

  2. Wow Linda! Your time in Macedonia is really rather amazing, thank you for sharing your experiences of life from there, it provides a window into how other people in far away places conduct their lives. So vastly different from my own. It makes me realize I live in my own oyster and I feel so small here in the Big State of Texas! I lost my Dad two years ago, I was by his side when he died and I treasure that I was able to read the 23rd Psalm to him before he died. I’m glad I knew he was going to die so we could share some things we needed to say. Sorry that the family of Stanitza did not get to do that, it was better for her I guess? Anyway, this touched my heart….thanks for sharing!
    Hugs to you, Charla

  3. Linda,
    Sorry that you lost such a wonderful lady who touched you across the barriers of culture and language that separated you. Death is never easy, but it is in wonderment that you see how others deal with it in their raw and natural way. Again, it gives you pause to how we as Americans sanitise what is a very natural ending to a life well lived.
    It was also great to hear of your hiking experience and teh notariety you gained from being able to “hang in there” with a tough hike through deep snow and frigid weather. Hopefully your toes were not too cold by the time you got back.
    All the best – keep sending the updates – love to hear what you are doing!

  4. Linda Winnie Towne

    Hi Eg Sorry so long out of communication with you. Your blog about Stanitza was beautiful. Your writing made me cry. I read it to Ken as we need to hear these things about different cultures and know how alike we all are as humans. Wish i had been there with you for the hike – you know how much i love the outdoors and hiking! 🙂 Keep up the great writing and the great stewardship! We are lucky to have you representing the USA. Love you my friend. Winnie

  5. Hey, whenever I would miss grandma I would read this post, don’t know why… But today I am reading it because of grandpa:( Thanks for the nice post and the photos with both of them! Now probably I will read it even more often…

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