The Nature of Grief

The Passing of My Granmother And How It Affected My Family and Me

ZLATKA

MEANING: This name derives from the Slavic “zlató (злато́) / zóloto (зо́лото), from the Proto-Slavic “*zolto”, meaning “gold”, which in turn derives from the Proto-Indo-European root, meaning ” yellow; gleam; to shine”.

 

I never suspected I would write an article about my Grandmother after her death. I had a plan to write about her while she was alive so I can share her energy with you… When I had “more time”. I always thought after someone passed it would be disrespectful to talk about it on social media. On the contrary, exactly because I respect my Grandmother so much, I want to share with you the lessons I learned from her. Some of them I understood while she was alive, and others I only realized after her passing. 

 

The day I got the news

 

I Underrated My Own Childhood

 

When I was growing up my family had very complicated relations. My siblings and I were raised mainly by our Grandparents on my father’s side. We used to spend whole summers with my other Grandparents (on my mother’s side) in a small village called Ovcha Mogila. This is where my Grandmother lived with her husband and son (my Granddad and uncle). I always cried when we had to go there because I wanted to spend time with my parents. But the moment I arrived after resisting it so much, the kids on the street got me playing with them and I forgot all of my worries.

 

I remember everything vividly now

Na patiya (On the Road) is what we call the small street in front of our house in Ovcha Mogila. The elderly would gather there to talk and share what’s happening with their children, the village, politics and some sweet gossip. In the meantime, their grandkids (us) would play hundreds of games with complete freedom to do whatever fun thing we wanted.

We used to play catch, hide&seek and Captain, captain. We climbed on the hill nearby, where a stream flowed downhill. Cows came to drink water there. The kids and I would catch tadpoles and then release them back into the water.

My ideas were always a bit unconventional but nobody minded back then. I was always allowed to be myself in my village. Мy grandparents gave me a jar to catch fireflies.  When I caught enough of them I let them go on the grass. Everyone watched the little lights fly off together.  It was magic! I would give anything to go back and relive those moments.

 

The house I spent my summers in

Our house has huge yards (yes multiple). My grandparents had goats, sometimes sheep, pigs, ducks, chickens, cats and a dog. They started their day at 5 to feed them first before they had breakfast. 

In the garden, they harvested almost anything you can think of. To understand the scope of it, I am going to try to remember most of it:

Fruits:

 Grapes, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, apples, pears, figs, plums, apricots, pumpkins, peaches, melons and watermelons. 

Vegetables: Tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, peppers, onions, garlic, carrots, cabbage, corn, parsley, beans, potatoes.

We even had nuts like walnuts and hazelnuts. I am probably missing many things, but I think you get the point.

 

My Grandmother took care of the whole house and cleaned everything by herself. On top of that, she cooked for everyone. I took everything for granted back then.

Grandma led an exemplary life

I was exposed to an uncommon level of open-mindedness

Racism is not uncommon in Bulgaria, especially towards gypsy people. But in Ovcha Mogila, I played with the gypsy kids and there was nothing wrong with that. They were just neighbours. One of the houses, next to ours, was pretty basic. To be honest, I am not sure if the family there has electricity. As far as I remember there was a mother, a father living with their son. The woman was mute. My Grandmother helped her always with whatever she could like sharing rice and eggs. She would help anyone in need, always, no matter what skin colour they wear.   

I was shown what true love looks like

Zlatka & Dimitar, my grandparents, met very early in life. They were 19 when they saw each other for the first time. He was on a work trip to her village. There was a dance that night. My Grandmother was beautiful with red lipstick and two braids. She said he was beautiful, too: tall with blue eyes. He invited her to dance and they were married a month after. They stayed together until the end. I have never seen them fight once.

She always looked on the bright side of things

My Grandmother always saw the positive in life. I haven’t heard her complain once. She was carrying a rare type of light inside of her. The life she created was enough for her. She used to go to the local bazaar with her funny hat and sold some eggs. Everyone greeted her. I don’t remember her saying a bad word about anyone. She always said I have to accept the people around me the way they were.

The Day of The Funeral

This is the first funeral I ever attended. My Mom told me there was not a death in our close family in 28 years. I realize now I am lucky in that way. Before, I lived in fear of losing the people I love, but now I know I cannot lose them. Of course, I miss her. I regret not being there enough with her, not talking more, not sharing and learning more from her. But I have to forgive myself for that, the way she forgave everyone and never judged. We all need to learn to forgive others and ourselves because we are only human and the best way we learn is through mistakes.

 

I woke up at 5 am in the morning, the way she did. I put one of the few warm black clothes I had. The previous week I had bought a beautiful pair of black skirt-like pants, unsuspecting of what use I will put them to. I made my hair into two braids. We left Sofia and headed to Ovcha Mogila.

It was beautiful 

I never knew what a Bulgarian funeral looks like. I have seen funerals only in foreign movies. Actually, I probably know more about Eastern Asian and American traditions than Bulgarian. But the way my Grandmother’s funeral was held was so right. The coffin was open the whole time. She was beautiful with red lipstick. Her favourite hat was next to her head. There were so many flowers, sweets and money there. There were so many people in the house. I was so happy so many people came to see her. Maybe they remembered everything all at once like me. She looked asleep. I swear I could see her breathing but I knew my eyes were playing tricks on me.

My Grandfather has Dementia and he had no idea what was happening. He asked me if someone died. I couldn’t hold my tears but his eyes were so comforting. He is so calm and kind that even without complete awareness of what was happening he consoled me.

 

I carried my Grandmother’s cross

My mother asked me to carry her cross. It is a tradition and it had to be a woman. I felt like it was meant to be. I had a role in all of this now and it felt right. They took her coffin out and put it on the trailer of a tractor. Her son and her best friend were beside her. I was in front of the tractor, carrying the cross, with my brother next to me. My mother was behind us with her husband. The tractor started moving. I turned my head and saw the people and the cars behind it. We walked to the cemetery.

 

I remembered how we used to be together in the trailer of our own tractor going to the different fields – one with watermelon, another with corn. We went through the centre and more memories started playing out like a movie in front of my eyes.

 

The ceremony

We entered a small white chapel. The weather was sunny and light was coming in the whole time in this small white building. The mayor read a speech. Everyone listened and cried. We said our final goodbyes before we buried her in the ground.

I saw all of my distant relatives in the cemetery. She was not going to be alone.

Each one of us put a handful of soil and headed back.

 

After these events

There is a bright side to every tragedy

My Grandfather still couldn’t understand what’s happening. He saw the obituary and cried but then forgot again. Then he picked up the obituary again and this heartbreaking scene repeated itself 3 times before I couldn’t stand it any longer and took the piece of paper out of the room.

He then started talking about how there is no one to cook anymore. That we will leave the house hungry. He thought his mother had just died. My Grandfather understood the events in his own way. As my Grandmother would have seen this, it’s better that he forgets. I am not sure he would have been able to move on otherwise. I am happy he is healthy and he is able to remember us, even without recalling our names. His eyes are so full of love when he looks at me.

It brought us closer together

My family went to eat at a restaurant and we had some good times together. We actually don’t see each other that often. We talked about her. The way we remember her. All of us could feel her presence. We travelled with two cars and one of them broke. My Mom’s husband immediately called his family who is in this business and they fixed it. There was a strange new energy present, that felt like we can overcome anything together.

We arrived at Sofia and my brother stayed at my place. He never left after that, we decided to live together, as a family.

 

The last gift from my Grandmother

When I arrived at my apartment I had all kinds of emotions. One of them was anger. I was angry at myself there was not a single photo of my Grandmother. The past year, even though I didn’t talk to her so much, I could see her in the mirror. I was always told I look like her. We are both air signs: I am an Aquarius and she is Gemini (and my ASC & Moon are in Gemini). When I was in the States this summer I swear I felt like I am carrying her gene or something.

I was under the shower when I remembered again how we used to do this together. She rubbed my tiny back, my arms and legs until I was squeaky clean. She did it with a piece of cloth: a small towel. I have only seen this in her house and in USA. Here we use plastic sponges.

Then it hit me:

One of her friends took two small towels tied from the cross and told me I was supposed to keep them. These are for the person who carries the cross, she said. I didn’t think anything of it back then and I just left them in the pocket of my coat.

I grabbed the little towel and washed it by hand in the shower. It was perfect. Now I had something from her. It was the last gift from my Grandmother.

 

I wrote a letter

A friend of mine, Ivana told me to write a letter to her and I did. I left it in the coffin with all the sweets and gifts. But it wasn’t enough. I wanted to gather all of this information and share it with as many people as possible. Although I couldn’t say absolutely everything,  I hope everyone finds something they need. Death is rarely talked about where I live and it doesn’t feel right. We should talk about how we go through it, what we feel and learn. Zlatka was the only person in my family who talked about death. She said to me once after her sister passed, “Ellie, there is nothing you can do to make me feel better. She was my sister. Only time can help me”. She was right, I was just a child. But I think there are ways to express our grief, little things that can help us ease the pain. This is why I shared this story. Thank you for reading it.

May she rest in peace.

 

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