Some Things Happen Fast: A Turkish Funeral


Yesterday morning at 6 a.m. our grandmother’s brother passed away.  Thirty-two hours later he was buried.  I am told that funerals often happen the same day when possible.  In this case, the family waited for the arrival of our great-uncle’s son who lives in Germany. 

When I heard the news yesterday morning, I immediately attacked my kitchen, setting out to bake Turkey Tetrazzini.  When it was done, we headed straight to his widow’s home, 10 minutes or so from our house.  A small crowd had begun to gather.  Our grandmother had already made the 3 hour trip from Aksaray by bus.  Local friends, family, and neighbors were there.

In true Turkish style, we were fed immediately.  It didn’t matter that we had just finished eating breakfast.  Pide , a thin flat bread topped with ground beef, onion, peppers, and spices, had been ordered and delivered to the house.  It was served with tea, or a cup of ayran, a salty yogurt drink. 

Soon after eating, uncle’s brother began to pray.  We all bowed our heads as he led the group. I looked to my husband for guidance, and with one barely noticeable hand movement, he reminded me to cover my head.  It wasn’t required, but he knew I had brought a scarf and I abided willingly.

We spent several hours there, paying our respects and visiting with family before heading home. 

This morning, a few family members including his wife and sister, went to the morgue to bathe the body.  This is a tradition here.  There is no viewing of the body, other than by close family members who may take part in the washing.

Following that, we gathered at the house again and organized the cars travelling to the cemetery.  At the cemetery, family from Aksaray and Nigde appeared.  The oldest of the siblings was vacationing in Mersin.  She hopped a bus home to Aksaray and then and finished the trip by car.  It was at least a 7 hour trip and she is in her 90’s.   

The prayer service was to begin at 1pm.  However, when we arrived at the cemetery, we found there was no mosque.  Many of the men immediately claimed blankets and rugs from the trunks of their cars and gathered at the bottom of a hill to pray.  The women and the rest of the men socialized in the parking lot and paid respects to the family.

Following that prayer, the Imam arrived in the parking lot.  He led the entire group in prayer, men standing in front with the women behind them.  We then marched up the hills of the cemetery until we arrived at the open plot. 

Prayers continued by the Imam.  I was not able to see the body being lowered into the ground from where I stood.  I know they do not embalm the body.  I’m told the body was removed from the casket, wrapped in a white shroud, and was lowered into the ground.  I believe there was something like a concrete box already in the ground.  Slabs of concrete, which fit together to form a lid, were then lowered to enclose the body.  At that point, family members grabbed shovels and tossed dirt onto the grave.  The Imam continued with prayers as workers finished the job of the burial.

We all headed back to the house.  Unlike yesterday, men and women separated into two rooms.  We were fed again.  Afterwards, prayers began in each of the rooms.  Even though I didn’t understand the words of the prayers, I felt very at home, very connected here.  Muslims pray with open hands raised towards Allah.  It reminds me of my hometown Church, where many now pray with open hands, or accept Communion in their hands.  What the newcomers in Church don’t know is that this ritual became popular back in the 70’s when the Charismatic prayer meetings started at our Church.  As a young kid, I learned to pray like that, and still do.  There’s something comforting in it.

I imagine now that the funeral is over, family members will have time to grieve.  There just didn’t seem to be much time for it in the past day.  Even though the passing of our great-uncle was expected since he was elderly and very ill, he will be missed.  I wish peace to my family here, especially to his wife, children, and the siblings he left behind.

Thirty-two hours.


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