Pour Wine and Oil in my Grave

I attended the funeral of a friend’s mother recently here in Stuttgart. I arrived early and sat awhile in the silent cemetery chapel. First, I lit a slim yellow taper in the entrance to the church.

Greek Orthodox monastery, Corfu

The family is Greek Orthodox. I’ve lit candles in lots of Orthodox churches throughout Greece, and once went to a church service in a tiny church in Thessaloniki that stands on a spot where the Apostle Paul preached.

I’d never been to an Orthodox funeral. Huge wreathes of white flowers bought by the families of her children were arrayed to the left of the altar. Candles in red glasses flickered around a framed photograph of Olga on a small stand; a cake in a white box and a bottle each of wine and olive oil were placed beside the photo.

The priest prayed and sang in Greek; he lifted the icon set on the casket and kissed it. Believers in the chapel crossed themselves at the right places in the text. Later, it was time to bury Olga.

A man played horn music, the priest chanted as the coffin was lowered into the ground. He opened the bottle of wine and poured it, in the shape of a cross, in the grave. Next (after wrapping his long black robes between his knees to keep them from getting soiled) he poured olive oil in the shape of the cross. He took the white box of cake that my friend had carried out of the church with her and, cutting it, spooned some of the cake into the grave as well.

We approached the grave one by one. When it was my turn, I tossed in a blooming flower and then a spade of dirt onto the casket.

The musician started playing Amazing Grace, which almost put me in tears. Some pieces of music transcend time, and continents, and cultures. In any language, for any generation, they bring solace and peace.

Then we went to a restaurant for the Makaria, the “Meal of Mercy”  that follows an Orthodox funeral. This one was a German/Greek hybrid of coffee, Butterbrezel (large buttered pretzels), cakes and Greek pastries. My friend went around the long table and spooned out some of that traditional funeral cake onto each of our plates. “My mother used to make this dish herself,” she said. “Koliva. It’s traditional; every Greek family has a recipe. I didn’t have time to make it myself, so I bought one at a Greek bakery.”

I ate the Koliva, a mix of sesame seeds, almonds, oats, ground walnuts, cinnamon, sugar, and anise amongst other ingredients…

I went home afterwards and lit candles.

The last funeral I attended was for my father.

NOTES: The wine is the blood in our veins and the oil announces the resurrection. Koliva is a dish used liturgically in the Eastern Orthodox Church to commemorate the dead. The cake is symbolic of death and the resurrection. Orthodox-death-rites. © Jadi Campbell 2019. All photos © Uwe Hartmann. To see more of Uwe’s pics from our trips go to viewpics.de.

Click here for my author page to learn more about me and purchase my books.

His Name was Bond

When I was in high school, I went twice a week to wash the dishes and vacuum the house of a man who lived a few blocks away from us.

His name was Bond. George Bond. He was a divorced, silver-haired lawyer who lived alone in a beautiful house with a big yard and a player piano.

My parents grew a ridiculously huge garden. Often I’d make up a bouquet of fresh flowers from my mother’s rows of zinnias, daisies, black-eyed susans, cosmos, snapdragon, calendula, nasturtiums, gladiolas, sunflowers and bachelor button. I knew where the vases were in Mr. Bond’s kitchen cabinet, and would place those fresh flowers on a table in his living room.

Throughout the summer and fall I brought him bags of fresh vegetables. I’d put the produce in the refrigerator, and I always left a note for him on the kitchen counter.

He left me notes as well, thank you messages for what I brought (I remember a dry note about how the onions were a bit strong). I doubt he cooked much, but he was always gracious.

Sometimes Mr. Bond arrived home while I was still cleaning. We’d sit and talk. I was sixteen, and he’d ask me about the classes I was taking, my interests, etc. I was mortified whenever our golden retriever Sam followed me over to his house, but Mr. Bond just laughed. He enjoyed my wonder the day he showed me how the player piano worked.

Mr. Bond was a nice, nice man.

A day came when he left me a note that he was going in the hospital for a heart operation, so I needn’t come the following week. But he didn’t survive the surgery, and suddenly I found myself at his funeral. The passing of Mr. Bond was my first experience of the reality of death, and it’s finality.

Hundreds of people attended the funeral service. George Bond was a widely known attorney and community leader, busy with civic and business activities. The church pews were completely full. I had known him only as a kind employer and an adult I liked to talk with.

A few weeks later my mom called me to the phone. A woman introducing herself as his daughter was on the line. She and Mr. Bond’s last wife were in town to close up his house. His ex was minor royalty and had flown in from Paris. Baroness U. von O. of Copenhagen, Denmark wanted to meet me. Why would a baroness possibly want to talk with me? The next day I found out.

Part Two to follow.

© Jadi Campbell 2019. To see Uwe’s photos and pics from our trips go to viewpics.de.

Click here for my author page to learn more about me and purchase my books.

Remembering How to Feel

I have to relearn how to feel. My mother-in-law went into the hospital with a lung infection for a long week and a half. She rallied, and returned to the nursing home. I finished my third novel Grounded and began preparing it for publication on Amazon. Then Mama grew weaker again. A few days later we got the call we’d been expecting. The home phoned and said that we should come. Uwe and I had the blessing of being at her side as she died. Less than 48 hours later, my book became available.

We were busy with all the details that follow a death. People had to be contacted, and a funeral arranged, and Mama’s body transported to the town where she would be interred next to Uwe’s father. We drove down to meet with the funeral hall director and a pastor, and to visit Mama’s sister and her family. We cleaned out her room in the nursing home, sorted through the little that remained, moved furniture. The book would wait. I’d celebrate its release later. And I wanted to stay strong and present for Uwe, because these are the moments when your partner is so much more important than anything else.

When we finally got done with all the details a few days ago, I turned my attention back to a very special project that will take place next Monday, June 6th. My first-ever writing commission has been to write a story to connect an evening of Gershwin songs. In February I wrote in a 2-week blaze of inspiration for NEAT, the New English American Theater in Stuttgart.  The four singers and a pianist rehearsed the songs. A Welsh actor will read my story. All I have to do is show up and sit in the audience and marvel and enjoy the talent on the stage.

I went to a rehearsal a few nights ago and heard my story spoken aloud for the first time. It is a surreal experience to hear one’s creative work interpreted and combined into a greater artistic work. I was speechless as I watched and listened. Up to that night, I’ve been numb. I figured I could finally allow myself to feel proud, to be satisfied with all the hard work I’ve done with my writing. I gave myself permission to be excited about my book and the Gershwin evening. But when I let myself open up to feeling something emotional, a tidal wave of grief hit me. I’m mourning my mother-in-law of course. I’m grieving for her, even knowing she was ready to go and had given us the gift of waiting until we got to her bedside to leave us. One of us, Uwe or I, have visited her pretty much every other day for the two years that she lived in the nursing home near us. I don’t have to feel bad about not seeing her enough, or caring enough. But I write this in the present tense, because it’s all occurring in real time still. The birth of my book, the death of Mama, the use of my words to connect the magic of timeless songs, it all weaves together for me, I can’t separate out any of the strands. I’m a hot mess, trying to remember how to feel again. I remind myself that any one of these emotions is huge, fraught with anticipation and months or years of living and taking form and interconnecting with hopes and expectations. Love, sorrow, hope, creativity, illness, dying, death, coming into being, leaving this earthly plane…. Trying to remember how to feel any one of these emotions, let alone all of them all at once, overwhelms me.

But mostly, mostly, perhaps what I feel is gratitude. To know what I have in my mother-in-law and my art. To literally feel in body and soul how it all connects. To be able to feel again, even if it leaves me in tears.

And to know I’ve got a lot more tears in me.

NOTES: In loving memory of Margaretha Hartmann.