It has been about a year since my friend Fulya passed away. I mentioned her passing briefly in this blog post, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Today I want to take a moment to honor her and to discuss what I have learned about death in Turkey.
Fulya cam from a more prestigious family in Turkey. One would never know this unless you got to know her well. She was calm, level-headed, down-to earth. She did not brag. She was not a snob. I can’t actually say I knew her well, we did not have time for that. But we did have a conversation where she told me quite a bit about her parents and her upbringing. She opened the door for me allowing me into that piece of her private life. I was impressed that she was technically “somebody” in Turkey, but she didn’t wear that on her sleeve. She was a Turkish rarity.
With Turks, it is common to call someone your friend on the very day you first meet them. As an American, it makes me uncomfortable. I know better; relationships take time to grow. However, my friendship with Fulya was just that – love at first sight. Fulya was wordly, smart, and beautiful. She had that certain grace about her. She was elegant, calm, cool, collected. She had a thirst for knowledge. She was open yet reserved. She did not tell others her opinion unless she was asked, not pushy, in some ways (as viewed by a foreigner), not Turkish. But, oh, she was so very Turkish.
Her sudden death occurred about 6 months after my sister’s slow death. It came as a complete shock. We had not seen each other in way too many months as I had taken on a full-time job and took a long time to adjust to that. After my sister died and the job ended, I went through another transition period. I just wasn’t up to seeing friends. Luckily, a very dear mutual friend had let me know Fulya had entered the hospital. I gave her a call and we spoke longer than I expected. I was so excited to hear her voice. She wasn’t accepting visitors at the time, but in my head, I knew I would see her again soon.
Days later, my husband and I had set out on a road trip for our summer vacation. A week at Kaş on the Mediterranean. We were three hours on the road when I got the call. Fulya had passed. It was completely unexpected. We pulled over. I cried and cried. I had no idea. . .
I called a few mutual friends. I had no idea what to do. In my mind, my husband really needed this vacation, although he insisted that he would do whatever I wanted. He was very supportive, but couldn’t tell me what to do. I also called my mother-in-law for her advice. She and most of my friends said the same thing: “I can’t tell you what to do, but you should go on your trip.” Can’t tell me, but tell me! So conflicting. Then I started to ask, “what would you do?” Each said they would come home.
It took a full hour before I decided that Fulya was telling me to go. So that’s what I did. I went on vacation. In those first couple of days, I can’t lie, I enjoyed the scenery and what we were doing. But I also took time to honor Fulya, to talk about her, to toast her life, and to cry. I cried a lot.
As the year passed I learned some things related to death and friendships here in Turkey. I learned that your Turkish friends, like everywhere, may or may not tell you what to do. You have to remind them that as a foreigner, you do not know the Turkish ways. No one likes a funeral. In the U.S., most try to be understanding when someone doesn’t attend. “He had to work.” “There was no one to watch the children.” “They were on vacation.” “He just couldn’t handle it.” Now I know this is not the case in Turkey. You have to go to funerals. I should have turned back. I may be paranoid, but I believe I was judged by some friends for not being at the service. I know they love me, but I think I disappointed some.
I also now know that there are other traditions that follow. For example, some Turks join for prayer one week after the death, some at 40 days. I was back in town, or could have been for that, but no one told me. Perhaps it was because I was not Muslim, but Fulya didn’t care about that. My instinct tells me that it was because I did not come to the service. Now I know to ask about these things.
After my father-in-law’s passing in January, I learned that visiting the family is also a must. Sadly, I did not do that. Although I have at least tried to keep in touch with one of her English-speaking family members.
Finally, I learned that while I feel close to some of the ladies in our group, and really love all of them, I also know that once in a while, I am first and foremost just the foreigner who joined to assist with the English language. I can’t share how I know this, but I do for a fact. Perhaps this sentiment came from the fact that I didn’t go to the funeral, but I doubt it. I believe it is just the nasty side of people that sometimes rears its ugly head. Now I know. Sometimes, I wish I didn’t.
I continue to mourn, to cry out loud every time I think of Fulya. I miss her. She was one of my few true friends here. She taught me so much in such a little time. I need to remember, I was not just a foreigner to her, not someone to use, but someone she loved too. Rest in peace, Ablacığım.