March 29, 2009

3/29/09 Sad Ending to March

March started out so well since it came on the heels of Tsagaan Sar but I'm afraid it ended on a sad note. Two of our staff lost family members in the last week.

Davaa, our director, lost her father. He had been ill and Davaa had been spending more and more time taking care of him in the last couple of weeks. But he was 84 and she knew it would be soon. She was so overjoyed when the nuns from Dolma Ling went to the house to pray in her father's last hours. It really meant a lot to her and her family.

Traditionally, an offering of money is made to the family when someone dies. Then a few days later, it's what we in the west might call a wake. Visitors come to the families home to visit. Food and drink are offered. Ueli, Glenda, Khulan, Ven. Gyatso and I went to Davaa's family apartment. While we were there many others came to visit and to eat. It seemed almost like a mini-Tsagaan Sar although the mood wasn't very festive. We got to meet more of Davaa's large extended family. I'm glad we could stop by and give her our support.

Davaa said the next day they would cremate the body and she might stay a few days at the monastery attached to the crematorium. Cremation being the preference of Buddhists here it seems. Even after she returned to work, she said sometimes she would just burst into tears, especially at home when she realized he was 'really' gone.

A few days later, Munguu's grandmother passed away. Every day Munguu would go home to care for her grandmother who was 94. Again it wasn't unexpected but families are so close here. Munguu's family apartment is to small to accommodate visitors so she had us meet her at a restaurant where we could pay our respects. Again, we were served food and drink as part of the wake. Munguu said the family dug the grave themselves (grave diggers wanted $100 to dig the grave) and her grandmother was buried in a cemetery, a custom brought by Russians. Another custom is giving visitors a gift for coming, so Munguu gave each of us a bag of goodies.

Once they have had time to adjust, I might ask more about Mongolia's customs surrounding death and the dying. Both are now back at work, but I think it will be a while before things are back to normal, at least for them.