A Turkish Funeral: my family, my friend

On Friday I had received a call that a woman had passed away.  I never met her personally.  She was an elderly woman who used to live in my home.  She had moved to a nursing home shortly before we moved to Ankara.

From time to time over the past few years, I had thought about her.  We had been told stories from neighbors who knew her and I guess some of them stuck in my head.

She was adopted by a family.  Most likely, she had been used to cook and clean, as this used to be common with Turkish families.  Children were adopted who worked for the family, in exchange, they were cared for with housing, food, and sometimes education.  In some cases, they also received love.

Our home is owned by an extended family member of the woman.  As far as I know, they had no contact with each other.  She died without family.

She had been forced to have roommates.  As I recall, younger students rented a room from time to time and at least one extended family member.  She did not always like it. There were additional locks added to some of the doors in the home.

Sometimes, when I am in my home office, I think of that, the lock on that door. Was she afraid?  Did they steal from her?

In our bathroom there is a big shower.  The tub had been removed and the make-shift shower doubtless installed for her convenience.  My husband, knowing my love of soaking in hot water, has offered to put in a tub for me. But I always stop and remember why this shower is there, for her, and then I think how perfect the shower is for my mother when she visits.  So I decline the new tub.

I had written a post a while back about Turkish funerals.  So I won’t go into detail about the funeral itself.  You can read it by clicking here.  I do want to comment on my observations of this particular funeral.

There is a huge cemetery on the outskirts of the city.  Burials there are a little different because they bury many people at the same time, I would say 8 to 20. After prayers at the mosque, wooden caskets were rolled to the back of the open-air room where there were vehicles waiting for each, like ambulances, one casket per vehicle.

We made our way by car to the burial site.  Yesterday, graves had been dug, one next to the other.  “We.”  Our group consisted of my husband and myself; an elderly woman, Tomris, who lives upstairs and who had been friends with her, and her middle-aged female friend; a man that lives on my floor (I don’t know if he knew her or not); our kapici (building attendant) and his wife; one of the students who had rented a room from her; and, two other people.

My husband and I were there mostly to support Tomris.  And that I did as I literally held her up as we sank into the mud next to the grave.  She was consumed with grief.  My husband helped carry the casket.  The neighbor helped removed her tiny white shroud-covered body from the box and lowered her into the grave.  The cement cover was moved in place and the men took turns shoveling the earth.

There were many people there, praying and mourning their loved ones.  This woman had no family, but us, her family from our building.  It was sad, but at the same time, it as amazing how much love and care was shown by this “family”. Even in her death, they made sure everything was done properly and with full respect.  I am lucky to live here.

As I walked away, I picked up a small handful of earth and tossed it onto her grave, in realization that somehow I had become part of yet another family.

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7 thoughts on “A Turkish Funeral: my family, my friend

  1. . . we live right next door to our village cemetery so we’ve seen a fair number of funerals over the past 17 years. I think you would ‘like’ the way things are done out in the sticks – here the whole of the village men-folk turn out (the ladies come later) – there is a communal coffin that is used to transport the body which may arrive on a trailer towed by a tractor with a dozen or so men sitting on the side boards. Everything is very matter-of-fact but is done with great care and respect. Afterwards everyone goes back to the bereaved family at some time during the day to sit, talk, cry a little and drink tea. Neighbours rally round to do all the needed chores and act as ‘ushers’. The village has a supply of chairs and tables that are brought round as needed. For weddings you pay to hire them, funerals are free. The solidarity that is demonstrated at these times must be a huge comfort to the bereaved family.

  2. Wow Terry: I live in Istanbul as you know and I have never seen more than max 3 people being buried at the same time and that rarely. Here, funerals are dismal affairs with everyone behaving as though they’re at a cocktail party, chatting away, women shunted to the back – I have even witnessed people exchanging holiday snaps. I’m sorry but I fail to see how these funerals can provide even a modicum of comfort to the family of the bereaved.

    • I see what you are saying Claudia. The use of cell phones at a funeral and the chatting can be really disturbing. I think the services can vary depending on location. This is likely the main cemetery, used by many, on the outskirts of the city. I’ve been to one smaller funeral in the city at a smaller cemetery, and it was one at a time.

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