Sometimes on Memorial Day, I saw granny Motrya sitting on the chair and whispering something over Petro’s, her husband’s, grave. He had died a long time ago and that old woman, as far as I remember, was sitting on the chair and whispering to him, looking into periwinkle which covered Petro’s grave as if she really saw his eyes there.
Once I even eavesdropped what she whispered about and it was rather confusing. There were no existential issues, no philosophy, or anything highbrow – everything was terribly commonplace: Maria’s pig broke a fence and there’s nobody to fix it, hens ate tulips, screw they, a turkey laid ten eggs, neighbours’ goat ran away and tangled into Petro’s nets which are still behind the barn, “sorry, Petro, we had to cut your nets but I hid them in the attic”. And then about a dry apple-tree, an argument with a sister, grand-children who became so adult that she fails to understand them, about a mobile phone which she hides in the bread basket because they said on TV that it produces harmful emitting. And in the end, she carefully touched the periwinkle, put the hand on the ground, stroked it and said, “I miss you, Petro, so much, but you only don’t call me now because I have Serhii to give an education…”
That’s how her traditional and long conversation with her deceased husband looked like. Someone came and hastily took memorial gifts from the bag, strictly two minutes to stand near the grave, to place a branch of poisoning artificial flowers and then all this “rest in peace” stuff… And there is no longer the smell of the lilac but the smell of homemade cutlets over the cemetery. There is something barbarian in this cemetery dinner. And only granny Motrya was sitting on her chair whispering to her husband about her own – chickens, turkeys, neighbours’ goat, tulips, Serhii…
Grandpa Petro called her as she asked – in the autumn after all crops were harvested and preserved, Serhii had graduated, and even got married and brought a great-grandson to show to granny. She was buried next to grandpa Petro. And now, every spring they have one periwinkle blanket for two and it still seems to me as if she is whispering to her Petro something commonplace, no trace of philosophy.
People come to the cemetery, flourish them with magnificent artificial flowers, wreaths, Easter cakes and eggs, – and it’s all fundamentally-traditionally all over Ukraine. And, it seems, we can even build a system of critical thinking – but artificial flowers and wreaths, traditional-fundamental dinners remain “sacred”, which can’t be shaken. Not only that it can’t be shaken, but every year that “sacred” increases and raises to the absurdity. An artificial wreath – the biggest one, meals – in the amount to be enough for a wedding. Recently, I’ve seen how people went to the cemetery with brazier and skewers. Memorial traditions had overgrown granny’s whispering and grew into a monster with a pot of cutlets and a mountain of artificial flowers. And I even don’t know whether somebody could stop this tendency, break this flow of absurdizing traditions, whether this all would grow into a fundamental cutlet monster. Who knows, maybe I myself will also collect large bags of food and bunches of plastic, being afraid of the status of abandonment of traditions, or of “what people will say”. Maybe this really is such a way for us, alive, to say to those who are not with us, “We are fine, don’t worry, we live in abundance and we will have even more.”
I am convinced that there are no regulated and correct ways of mourning, experiencing and remembering. Everyone’s heart tells different things. These cemetery dinners can be an important and practical way to remember for somebody. If only they didn’t replace memory with shape. The main thing is that there is still the place for granny Motrya with her chair and chats about usual and commonplace things with those who are not with us.