One year ago, today was an emotional rollercoaster. Just a few days prior we had received a call that my father-in-law had sadly passed away. He had been struggling with health issues resulting from alcoholism and been in and out of the hospital, so it wasn’t a complete shock but sorrowful none the less.
With less than 24 hours’ notice we booked 3 round trip tickets to Bucharest. A double connection and a 2-hour car ride later we arrived in Râmnicu Sărat. I have spent a lot of time in Romania over the years and experienced much of their lives but this was my first experience up close and personal with death. It was great seeing so many wonderful family members and seeing my wife’s hometown again.
As is common in Romania there were so many layers of tradition and I struggled to find people that could explain it all. I took notes (listed below) so I would not forget the experience. As today is the one-year anniversary I felt it was worth revisiting. They’re crude and were quickly taken in the moment but in their rawness they helped capture the experience.
Following the celebration of life we talked with family then walked the town to Pokémon. Surprisingly I found I had lots of memories here to build on and a pretty decent recollection of locations (those geocaching skills pay off in more than one way).
-We stood around outside talking till the chapel bell sounded 12 times (noon). Mama gave me a pink towel on my left arm and a black ribbon on the left lapel
-Gathered around while the priest(s) sang
-Everyone got a handkerchief with a coin, candle and a pretzel
-There were lots of candles around Nelu displayed on a table and further surrounded by flowers (mostly roses)
-Towards the end we raised a basket and gathered around lifting and lowering it. People behind me placed a hand on me and pushed up and down in time with those in the center. In the basket was a cake that had writing which translates to “be remembered forever”. Also in the basket was a wine/oil mixture and two icons.
-They placed the casket (still open) on a cart and we had a funeral procession through the cemetery
-Before leaving the paved path we stopped and the priest sang and said another prayer
-Someone threw several coins on the ground in front of us and everyone scrambled to pick them up. Bridget and Ana each got one.
-Near the grave they raised the basket with the cake again (as before) with everyone radiating around
-Bridget got a small icon (Dana got one too, the only two)
-They sealed Nelu up and poured the wine/oil mixture on him. Oil for announcement and wine for the blood of Christ.
-They carried the now sealed casket to the grave site, lowered it with ropes and the priest sang/recited a prayer again
-We took turns sprinkling dirt on the casket then the workers started to shovel the rest
-We then threw the black ribbons we were wearing in the grave as they were shoveling
-I was instructed to remove the towel at this point. When I asked most people couldn’t explain why we wore them to begin with or why only male family members were given them just “its tradition”. I did find an elderly lady who works at the cemetery who explained it was to represent the blood of Christ (?) and because “the men are the head of the family.”
- We had Coliva cake in a cup as we were leaving (made with coconut, walnut and sprinkles, it was quite good). It turned out this was the cake from the basket we raised before and is traditional at funerals.
-As we were leaving the cemetery we washed our hands “to leave the dirt with the dead” and had to air dry them. (I was specifically told not to use the towel I was given earlier and wore).
-Then we went to a restaurant across the street and raised the basket again.
-We ate a 3 course meal and had blueberry tsuica. It’s tradition to feed and clothe needy people in honor of the lost loved one. (Free Hot Soup Romania). We gave out the food bags Bridget and I made yesterday.