Op-ed: funerals and Covid-19 in South Ossetia
Covid-19 pandemic and funeral in South Ossetia
According to official data, 5,600 people have contracted Covid-19 in South Ossetia. There is still no official data on the number of deaths. Journalist, blogger and entrepreneur Alan Parastaev talks about how deaths from coronavirus have affected people’s lives, including funeral traditions and rituals.
The third week has passed and I am still trying to finish this article – an article about the coronavirus, about the situation with the pandemic in South Ossetia. But I just can’t – started many times but never finished.
Maybe this time it will work out. As they write in the suicide notes: “If you are reading this article, then I have finished it”.
Sorry for the dark humor, but the topic is also grim. I’m not trying to make excuses, but I would like to apologize anyways. Attending funerals, memorial services, or Khishts, as we call this ceremony, unsettled me and I simply could not bring myself to write, although in most cases it was necessary to write about what had caused this very funeral.
What I am setting out in this material can hardly be called a full-fledged article. There will be no analytics or logical conclusions here. These are, rather, observations, notes in the margins. On the margins of the book of life about the war on the coronavirus. Unfortunately, so far this book mainly tells about defensive battles, about how to escape it, but very little about victories and battles won.
I will not cite data about those who are sick, recovered and about those unfortunate people who have not been able to overcome the disease and have not recovered. Our news agencies regularly write about both. When it comes to the third category, even if you get to the bottom of statistics, it will not be entirely accurate or not accurate at all.
The point is not so much that our official structures, such as the Ministry of Health or Sanitary and Epidemiological Supervision, are trying to hide the death rate. The fact is that with a very large percentage of deaths in our republic it is impossible to determine the exact cause of each death.
In any case, at the funeral, which I regularly attend for the last month, neither the relatives nor the people who were close to the deceased can say exactly and specifically what caused the death.
But even under such circumstances, many, violating age-old traditions, do not take the deceased out of the house, so as not to endanger those who have come to remember them and support relatives.
The funeral ceremony takes place as usual, but the hearse takes the deceased directly from the morgue.
But in ancient times, it happened that warring surnames cursed each other, saying “so that your dead man is not taken out of his house”.
Here, out of humane considerations, they are taking such steps. In fact, it’s people, who, without any attempts by the authorities, try to limit visits to mourning events, and go to them as rarely as possible, only if it is simply impossible not to go.
The grieving relatives of the deceased treat such a situation with understanding.
But another psychosocial aspect comes into play. A person can still decide to go to Khisht not just out of a desire to offer condolences, but, as it were, out of a sense of compassion and solidarity, since not many people come to say their farewell to the deceased, and if they does not go, then there will be even fewer people, it will seem as though they were not sufficiently respected in society, which, in turn, will add to the grief of the relatives.
The empty memorial tables and the few who came to sympathize hurt their hearts even more. But the above aspects, I repeat, are more of a worry to those attending the funeral rather than to relatives.
Toast to those killed by the virus – a new mournful tradition
But my most important observation, in my opinion, is that a new memorial toast is already being pronounced at the commemoration – to those killed by the coronavirus. This is really important when you consider that Ossetians are very protective of the traditions associated with the departure of a person to another world. It is simply the main cult in our traditional beliefs and practices.
The theme of the dead is present everywhere. Accordingly, any changes, additions are extremely difficult and rarely accepted – including the adoption of new rules for conducting a feast.
I remember that after the outbreak of the war with Georgia in 1990, a toast to those killed in hostilities or from shelling and in captivity had been created. Then the earthquake in 1991 – then they began to mention the patron saint of the forces of the earth. After the terrorist attack in Beslan – of course, they always remember the souls of murdered children and adults.
Now the victims of the pandemic have joined this mournful row. “We knew how to defend our city in the 90s, in the 2000s, we tried not to be in houses or run out when there were signs of an earthquake in 1991. But what should we do when the danger is not visible and its appearance is unpredictable, and the treatment and prevention methods have not yet been finally found”, said the person sitting at the head of the memorial feast of my school friend yesterday. He died of Covid-19 while working somewhere in the north of Russi.
Photos on the main page: Eli Solitas, unsplash.com
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