today was definitely a roller coaster. this afternoon we attended the funeral of our sweet vitalik's mother. vitalik is one of the boys who has been living with natasha for a long time. he's 17 now. his mother passed away around new year's. she wandered outside because she was drunk and froze to death. i know that's disturbing, but it's the situation, and a very sad one at that. pray for our vitalik. even though his mother wasn't good to him she was still his mother. he's been pretty upset.
the experience of a russian funeral was something totally new. it's nothing like an american funeral. we took taxis to the morgue to watch her casket be put in the hearse. michael was put on the spot to be a pallbearer. of course he obliged, it was just unexpected. then we followed the hearse (which is an old van) out of town to the cemetery. it was a huge field of gravestones covered in about two feet of snow. many of the gravestones had pictures of the deceased engraved in them. the hearse drove out to the edge of the cemetery and we followed on foot. my feet have never been more numb. there was already a spot ready for the casket (i don't know how they dug up that frozen ground). only about four of vitalik's family members were there. michael and the other pallbearers removed the casket from the hearse and set it on two saw-horse-like stands. then they opened it. i've been to a few viewings in the U.S., but i've never been to an open-casket grave site funeral. then they covered her with lace and one of the men poured sand or dirt over her in some sort of pattern. they closed it and then a few of the grave yard workers came and started hammering it shut with nails. they lowered her into the ground and then more workers came to help bury the casket. it took a while to get through the mound of snow-covered frozen dirt. once it was finally covered, the family laid a wreath on top and we each laid a flower on it. we thought it was time to go, so we awkwardly gathered towards the van. and then there was a meal...everyone was given a napkin. a man spooned a rice and raisin mixture onto it. then he threw the rest onto the grave. we got candies and crackers. and then vodka. everyone had to take a small glass of vodka. it's true that it warms you up, but not worth it. i took a swig and ate my cookies real fast to get rid of the taste. all of this was supposed to signify a last meal with her. quite an experience. most of us rode back to the entrance of the cemetery in the hearse, the back of the hearse. one of the family members could tell i was particularly cold and gave me advice in russian on how to warm my feet up. so surreal.
evidently, the family gathers in a home after the funeral for another meal. and they drink. a lot. a boy who was at the funeral came stumbling into the office tonight as i was working on some pictures. i had to ask him to leave. is the moral of the story not obvious? why would the family go engage in the same activity that killed their loved one? so sad. and what's more sad...there were so many fresh graves around vitalik's mother- all marked january 1st. new year's is a dangerous celebration here. pray for this country.
on a lighter note, we found out tonight that two of natasha's girls want to be baptized tomorrow!