Belarusian Death Traditions: Funeral, Food & Family

Belarusian funeral traditions focus on two things: food and family
Belarus, Belarus clothing, Belarus tradition, Belarus people

Traditional Belarusian clothing
(Credit: folkcostumeblogspot.com)

Belarus is a country whose history and culture remains a mystery to many westerners. As a place nestled between Russia, the Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania and Latvia, Belarus also has a history as a divided country. Yet, it’s precisely this diversity that peaked our interest in its funeral and death traditions.

Professor Tadevush A. Navahrodski of Belarusian State University also wanted to help educate the public on Belarusian culture, particularly regarding their end-of-life beliefs. And like so many cultures, going all the way back to the ancient Egyptians, the Belarusians focus on the importance of the funeral repast. “In Belarusian traditional culture,” Navahrodski explains, “the funeral repast was an important part of the structure of funeral rites. Its meaning had as much to do with ethics as with sustenance [for the loved one who has passed]. It served to commemorate ancestors and to link the living with their past. The meal performed a sacred or religious function, expressing faith in the afterlife. It performed an educational function and helped create family solidarity and promote willingness to learn about the family’s genealogy.”

Belarus, Belarusian dumplings, Belarus, russian dumplings, funeral food

Dumplings that one might see at a Belarusian funeral
(Credit: andrewzimmern.com)

Food has always been a means to bring people together, but the difference in food’s role in a funeral setting versus a normal dinner setting is its immediate elevation as an object of ritual.

Food has always been a means to bring people together, but the difference in food’s role in a funeral setting versus a normal dinner setting is its immediate elevation as an object of ritual. In Belarus, for example, the funeral meal is usually a lot richer than usual, but not for the sake of indulgence; this is a meal meant to serve a loved one in the afterlife, an act of thanks to a loved one. “In traditional Belarusian culture, there are two types of funeral repasts,” says Navahrodski, “The first type of was a ritual meal served on the day of burial. The other type was the less lavish subsequent ritual dinners prepared on the third, on the ninth, and on fortieth day after death, and then half a year from the date of death. A meal on the sixth day is also attested. The second type of meal was meant for close family members only.”

Belarus, Belarusian church, Russian church

A traditional church is Minsk, Belarus
(Credit: tararadam.com)

So what foods would one find throughout the stages of an end-of-life ceremony in Belarus? The first type of meal, for example, was “the one conducted on the day of internment, often carried a name that was derived from the main dish served during the event. Thus, one name for this meal was “harachki” and this term was based on the name of a hot wheat bread (palianitsa),” which one is forbidden to cut with a knife and is broken off by hand to share. “Another name for the meal was “kliotski” (dumplings)” and “in some regions, the names of [funeral] dishes were so strongly associated with death that they appear in proverbs and sayings as euphemisms.” For example, if you were to refer to a family member who was particularly ill, a Belarusian could say: “Ну, клёцкі яму.” The translation? “Well, dumplings to him.”

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How Do We Mourn Our Favorite Television Series?

One research study examines how loyal viewers react and grieve when their favorite TV series end for good
Family watching TV series

Credit: Wikipedia.org

In order to survive season after season, popular television series rely heavily on their loyal fan bases to keep watching so that their ratings stay up and give them a good chance of being renewed. Unfortunately, however, many popular shows must come to their demises eventually.

At American University’s Kogod School of Business, researchers decided to examine the effects that “the loss of a TV series, which is a long-form narrative brand, has on consumer behavior and what happens to the consumer brand relationship.” For the study, the two main researchers and co-authors — Cristel Russell and Hope Jensen Schau — “spent more than a decade following loyal fan bases of four popular television shows — Entourage, The Sopranos, All My Children, and New Zealand drama Outrageous Fortune.”

The reactions all depended the most on whether the shows endured a “Good Death,” since the most loyal fans were going to need to learn how to cope without the beloved characters that had become like friends to them.

Frasier, Frasier series, End of Frasier, Frasier Crane

“Frasier” ran from 1993-2004.
(Credit: listology.com)

As Russell puts it, “TV fuels and sustains social and cultural bonds. TV series are especially powerful because they unfold over time, giving viewers a chance to think about and discuss the characters and the storylines with fellow viewers.” Therefore, what did the researchers discover about the most loyal fans when these four shows came to their demises? The reactions all depended the most on whether the shows endured a “Good Death,” since the most loyal fans were going to need to learn how to cope without the beloved characters that had become like friends to them.

According to Russell, the study found that “finales with an unambiguous ending provided fans with better closure, which is an important part of any grieving process.” This type of ending would let fans have the ability “to grieve “a life well lived” for their favorite characters, and they are more likely to continue to consume the brand in other forms, such as rerun episodes and boxed DVD sets.”

The flip side is that these groups, who have gathered together due to their shared love for the show that has ended, might try to band together and dispute the show’s demise in the forms of online forums and petitions.

Another finding from the study demonstrated “a loss accommodation process where super-fans wrestle with the following questions: Without the weekly television gathering to get “the gang” together, what keeps us involved and connected? Now that the brand is over, how do I reshape my identity without my favorite show? Will there be a spinoff?” Once a beloved show ends, those super fans “who have come to really love and care for their “friends” on TV experience their loss just like real-life break ups,” said Professor Russell. “This loss is dealt with in ways that are similar to physical loss by seeking others who feel the same way and finding ways to remember the good times they had when the show was alive.” The flip side is that these groups, who have gathered together due to their shared love for the show that has ended, might try to band together and dispute the show’s demise in the forms of online forums and petitions.

Gilmore Girls Television Show

Gilmore Girls
(Credit: time.com)

Personally, these findings don’t really surprise me that much because I have had shows I absolutely loved end in a way in which I didn’t really feel as much closure as I would have liked. The biggest example of a beloved television show where I felt the “grief and pain similar to mourning the death of a “real” loved one” that this study examined was the popular 2000s series, “Gilmore Girls.” When this show ended, I felt like I lost a group of my closest friends or people who seemed like a second family to me. To this day, I still wish the show was still on the air, or at least that I could’ve known what would’ve happen for the rest of the lives of all my favorite characters. I have been known to participate in engaging conversations and debates about the show with my friends, who share a similar love for the show, as a way to accommodate for my loss. I also still hold out hope that either the show will be revived or a movie will happen, but until then I will continue to watch reruns and revel in the clever wittiness fused with so many tidbits of pop culture and the lovable, quirky characters of one of my favorite shows.

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Beautiful Memorial Music: “You’ve Got a Friend,” by Carole King

A message of love through space and time that continues to heal wounds
So Far Away (Carole King song)

So Far Away (Carole King song)
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While death is never explicitly addressed in this classic by Carole King, one can imagine this as perhaps a perfect piece of music for beautiful memorial music. There is something eternal and soul-like in King’s depiction of a friendship where “all you have to do is call,” where you can “close your eyes and think of me,” and your loved one’s comfort and friendship will follow. Perhaps for those of us enduring an end-of-life experience, this is just the message we should remember, when we remember those we lost. Read these loving lyrics and reflect on her song as special memorial music.

When you’re down and troubled
And you need some loving care
And nothing, nothing is going right
Close your eyes and think of me
And soon I will be there
To brighten up even your darkest night

You just call out my name
And you know wherever I am
I’ll come running to see you again
Winter, spring, summer or fall
All you have to do is call
And I’ll be there
You’ve got a friend

If the sky above you
Grows dark and full of clouds
And that old north wind begins to blow
Keep your head together
And call my name out loud
Soon you’ll hear me knocking at your door

You just call out my name
And you know wherever I am
I’ll come running to see you
Winter, spring, summer or fall
All you have to do is call
And I’ll be there

Read the full lyrics here.

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For Those in the Bay Area Wanting to Help Change the World

You are invited to join SevenPonds at a VIP event to promote better senior care and applaud two one-of-a-kind heroes


If We Left FilmFor those of you located in the San Francisco Bay Area, please come join SevenPonds and friends for a one-time event next Tuesday at the beautiful “His Lordships” restaurant in Berkeley with bayside views of San Francisco, to raise funds for the film If We Left.

Suggested donation is $50 (but any amount is accepted) to be a part of helping change the world by raising awareness of senior care and commending a cook and a janitor for saving the lives of seniors out of the kindness of their own hearts. As Miles Maker, the producer, said, “How often do you hear about people of color being real life heroes?” Read more about this heartbreaking story here.

RSVP to “themovie@ifweleft.com” to come hear the true story along with Bay Area leader Ed Baxter!

If We Left

We look forward to seeing you and please be sure to come up to me and say hello!

Founder, SevenPonds,

Suzette Sherman

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Grief as a Gateway to the Divine

James Merrill explores the divine that is imminent in the stages of grief
fall river red leaves

Credit: Lee Sie

James Merrill’s elegiac poem, “A Dedication” observes grief in its most intimate setting: the mind. Addressed to his friend, the Dutch poet Hans Lodeizen (who died while still a young man in 1950), the poem suggests its close relation to the poet’s actual life. However, the poem is not like most other confessional poems; like a lyric it invokes a single speaker’s experience, but unlike a lyric it eschews the first person “I.” Instead, the poem narrates the workings of a mind (presumably the poet’s) and begins by establishing a dramatic figure, a face in grief, on this metaphysical stage:

Hans, there are moments when the whole mind

Resolves into a pair of brimming eyes or lips

Parting to drink from the deep spring of a death

That freshness they do not yet need to understand (1-4).

James Merill with his partner David Jackson in 1973

James Merrill (left) and his partner David Jackson (right)
(Credit: www.judithmoffett.com)

But whose face do we see? Are the “brimming eyes” the poet’s tears, or a memory of Hans’s? Perhaps ambiguity allows for both answers—for both poets to cry at once. By entering the poet’s mind, Hans becomes Merrill; it’s a psychological union that suggests the deceased only exist through us. When we grieve, we realize how those we’ve lost have imprinted us by informing our dreams, our ways of thinking and senses of self. The mind in question, then, becomes a gateway—a sort of astral plane—for the speaker, the deceased and the divine.

One of the few times I’ve known my mother to speak sincerely on any spiritual matter was after her father’s—my grandpa’s—funeral. “Do you think he’s in a better place?” she asked, with a lightness that all but veiled the more ponderous feelings beneath. When grief seemed to strain her emotional resources to their limit, perhaps her only solace was an idea of the afterlife, where powers beyond our comprehension, for whatever reason, warmly take us in.

No wonder, then, that the next line in Merrill’s poem cues an angel in relief to the poet. The divine spirit deigns to descend, like royalty among the impoverished, to provide its comfort:

These are the moments, if ever, an angel steps

Into the mind, as kings into the dress

Of a poor goatherd, for their acts of charity.

There are moments when speech is but a mouth pressed

Lightly and humbly against the angel’s hand (5-9).

We are not necessarily to take this angel as a literal being, as the key phrase “if ever” evokes a skepticism that refuses to accept the angel wholeheartedly for what it is. Nevertheless, the comfort it provides is the same. The tone of the poem grows conciliatory as the poet accepts this act of grace without looking too far into what it means.

My father was also visited by a presence in a dream, though he says it was his late aunt who came to him in lieu of an angel. While alive, she too was visited by her deceased sister, who told her it would soon be time. Were these only dreams? We are a family comfortably suspended in the unknown. Whether these phenomena are real or not—the angel in Merrill’s poem, my mother’s musings, my father’s and great aunt’s dreams—the feelings they produce are no less profound and moving. At the onset of grief, it is the feelings granted by the divine and the conversation we have with it—or else the silence that says more than any words—that matter more than the divine itself.

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Monday Hearts for Madalene

Page Hodel creates the most beautiful hearts in an ongoing celebration of love

Monday Hearts for Madalene

I Will Always Be Nutty for You!

It’s an honor for SevenPonds to share with our readers the story of the Monday Hearts for Madalene project, a true account of the power of love in the midst of death.

The project’s origins take us to 2005: the moment Page Hodel encountered Madalene Rodriguez and fell “instantly, dizzyingly in love with her.” The couple’s first meeting was electric, and Page felt inspired to do something unique for the woman who captured her heart. So, she began leaving handmade hearts – made from flowers, leaves, and other materials – on Madalene’s doorstep.  The hearts became a ritual, and they were there to greet Madalene as she left for work every Monday.

“To start her week with a visual reminder of our beautiful love.” Page Hodel

Just seven months later, Madalene was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and passed away on June 20th, 2006. But Page’s love for her hasn’t ceased, and she continues to make a heart for her every Monday in celebration of her life.

If you would like, you can also receive Page’s “Monday Hearts for Madalene” by emailing her at page.hodel@gmail.com with “subscribe” written as the subject. Images of the hearts can also be purchased on individual cards and in her beautifully compiled book, Monday Hearts for Madelene. Please also visit her website and Facebook  page. A portion of all sales will go to the Women’s Cancer Resource Center in Oakland, California (www.wcrc.org). See more Monday Hearts for Madalene here.

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