19 June 2016

Minsk and a Funeral

Last week Boris' grandmother has passed away unexpectedly. The next day we found ourselves on a plane to Minsk, Belarus. This is also where Boris was born and grew up 7 years of his life before his parents (just like mine) left everything behind and immigrated to Israel. It's been 20 years since they've been there last.

I was telling Boris a few times that we should pay there a visit, to the place where he comes from, to see the city. He always dropped the idea claiming that it would be another depressing post-Soviet Union country, with unfriendly people and a stark atmosphere.
Now that we had a "reason to visit", we were happy to be wrong.

Orthodox church in the old district. It was beautiful inside.
Despite the circumstances we still had a chance to visit the center of the city. I was surprised by how spacious and huge everything is: the streets are enormous, the buildings tall and broad; everything is very grand and big, and Minsk is filled with many green parks. 

There weren't many people on the streets but the ones we saw were very friendly and "simple" in a soothing kind of way.
The Belorussian language was fun to listen to and, unlike many other Slavic languages - easy to understand. Boris and I felt at ease hearing Russian on the streets too, we've never been to a country where our mother language can be heard everywhere. 
And even more surprisingly - we didn't feel completely out of place there.

"The feat of the people is immortal"
 The heaviest part of the trip was of course the funeral. The day before that we had to go to the morgue with Boris' mother and her sister. And so we saw a dead body for the first time. Clothed but without makeup yet, lying so grimly on a metal table.
I cannot compare the feeling to anything else I've felt before, but to see Boris' mother grieving next to her dead mother has upset me greatly.
I couldn't help but remember all the horror movies and the gothic rock songs about death and dying and to think how mocking those are. You just feel sad, and empty, and you don't even realize the person who's dead used to belong to you. They just lay there, not asleep, but strange and far away. Like a doll. Lifeless.

It was a Christian Orthodox funeral, with a pope and another person who was singing. It was a good ceremony, we felt like we were saying goodbye to Boris' grandmother with respect. I loved the singing, it was very spiritual. I have nothing against the religious ceremony, it was very deep and right.
I have only witnessed a Jewish burial ceremony before and there they lay the body covered in cloth in the ground (ashes to ashes, dust to dust). Here things took a lot more time and we could actually be around the body, to look at it and to personally say goodbye.
I touched her arm, and it was stiff and cold. I could never imagine my mother burying her own mother, not to mention myself being in the same situation. I would die from sadness.

I recalled reading Smoke Gets In Your Eyes (which I most recommend!) and compared things with the book. But honestly nothing could prepare you to the real thing. Being physically there, being close to the dead person is so important. Being close with your family in this time is too.

Railway Station Square in its Stalinist glory

We've decided we would love to come back to Minsk some day. We simply liked it there, something in the atmosphere wasn't completely foreign. And though we came to the city with a different purpose, we would love to check the alternative scene there next time.

I filmed a short video during our rides through the city and the final edit turned out quite psychedelic. I missed my experimental videos!
Music is a song called Fellini by 2 rock legends - Splin and B-2, the latter is a Belorussian band, both are amazing.



  1. Sorry for your+Boris's loss. You write so honestly about your experiences. I didn't see a dead body until recently myself, and yeah, goths are all about death and dying, but it's quite a different thing when you're staring at it in real life.

  2. Funerals are strange. I've been to more than a few, mostly when I was younger. I wrote a non-fiction short story using my feelings at different wakes/funerals at different points in my life to discuss my changing perspective (the first one, I didn't really know the person. The most recent was my grandmother. We were very close.) It's an odd feeling when you crowd around the body to look at it...the image never leaves. I wish you and Boris the best during this time.

    1. It's good you used the experience to write, I wanted to do the same but I feel I need more time to process it.
      I found it a good thing that you gather around the body, makes you dread it less, make you accept death more I guess.

  3. Orthodox christians want to honour the body because they believe in body and soul ressurection. Death is believed to be unnatural, because people were meant to live forever.Death was caused by sin. They pray for the dead to be near god. I study theology,actually. I could speak endlessly on that but I don't want to flood you with info.

    It was a shock for me too when my father died and I was 12. I thought people die old, that it's other people, not my family. I wish somebody had talked to ne back then. Since then I've been to many funerals but I knew what to expect. I don't feel fascinated with death, I 'm not afraid of it either. Mostly I fear about everyone dying and being left alone.

    1. I didn't know that, I know very little about christianity in general.
      Thanks for sharing the story about your father. I think we all fear of being left alone, it's very human. Maybe being left alone while everyone are still alive is even scarier than everyone dying.