Ukrainian Funerals

ukrainian in the us, alisa kaiser, expat blog, expat
Have you ever said your last goodbyes to a person over skype? Or across the ocean? Or just quietly in your head? An expat life chains people to these kinds of things and unfortunately, there is not much one can do about it. 

This week I had to say my internet goodbye to one of the greatest people on this planet. She was a person, thanks to whom I am able to write all these posts, a person who touched hundreds and thousands of lives. Someone whose fashion sense was the highlight of my school years: my smiling, caring, fiercely independent English teacher. 

Unfortunately, we cannot contain the things we are triggered by and that is how this post was born. Funerals and mourning in Ukraine are tricky subjects. Ukrainians take to mourning like a dear friend and spend hours, days, months, and years on end together with it. 'Celebrating life of the person departed' is not quite a concept adopted by Ukrainians just yet. To give you an even deeper perspective on the perception of death: when I was living in Florida at 16, I had a short conversation with my host sister. I don't remember how that conversation started or why but I clearly remember her saying "Alisa, I think you are afraid of death'. Many years have gone by and I worked through those issues but that conversation will probably stay with me forever. Accepting death is another concept Ukrainians struggle with, I believe. Small-town lives breathe together and most days it feels like everyone knows everyone. Corruption of the various institutions helps people connect as well (sadly). So when someone dies, chances are you knew them. 

Funeral arrangements usually take place a day after the actual passing in Ukraine. The family of the deceased is the one to take on everything: from cemetery spots to flower arrangements. On top of the stress of dealing with their loved one passing they have to get in touch with the restaurants to schedule a 'mourning dinner'. What that means is they have to feed and drink (hard liquor, of course) all the people who came by to say their goodbyes. Now, that is A LOT on the family, don't you think? Apart from their loss they have to come up with the finance, and strength to organize a party, where people who didn't even know your relative/friend/spouse that well will show up and drink your money away. Classy, I know. 

Oh, and the transportation! You are responsible for hiring buses and drivers to take people to the cemetery. If you are religious - you hire an institution representative to say a few words (and that, my friends, is costly. Religion is expensive nowadays). You will have to take all of these steps. If you don't - you are the worst human being in the world and everyone who showed up to eat your food and drink your liquor will judge you. I am not talking about good, understanding people over here - I hope you realize that. Unfortunately, the majority of small-town people are looking for a good meal. 

On the 9th day after the funeral, family gathers together for a nice remembrance meal. They do the same thing on the 40th day and supposedly, that is the time they have to 'let him/her go' but in reality, as I mentioned before, that rarely happens. 

The past is so hard to let go of, no matter what culture you live in. Compared to the US I think Ukrainians are having a harder time finding coping mechanisms when faced with loss. But again, Ukrainians also have to find solution to scheduled hot water or a lack of, to the thought of their friends/family being on the front lines of the war, and the constant fear of the worst. Overall: you can't really blame us (them? This expat thing gets very confusing sometimes). 

If you are drinking tonight - please raise a glass to Herasimenko Halina Ivanovna. I sure will. RIP. 


2 comments

  1. Very sad to hear about this, Alisa! She was indeed a great woman. Thank you for posting this.

    Jason

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  2. Alisa, my condolence..
    Being a Ukrainian myself, I have had "the chance" to be present at few funerals of people who who very dear to me.. When my dearest grandma has passed away, my cousin and I were standing there by the coffin crying our eyes out, and few old ladies of neighbours were sitting behind us discussing how much did her coffin cost? So yeah, I kinda get you on this one. And yes, I think it was Whitney Houston's funeral ceremony that was translated on TV when it hit me why are we not praising the life of the person who has just passed away in Ukraine, thinking of how great it is that he or she is now "back home" or that they are at peace now.. Instead it seems like the world has come to an end..

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