This is one thing I never expected to be attending when we came here but when our neighbour passed away last week, we felt we had to support his widow in any way – I was able to walk their dog and by being there at the church was a sort of official way too. I hope this account reads as respectful.
Coming from a Protestant background, we were wondering just what would go on, so while praying for the widow, my writer’s eye was observing the tradition. We arrived at the church to find a table set outside the memorial chapel with the Urn and small cards for people to take. There was a line, nodding their heads at the table and then sprinkling the urn with Holy water, meantime a man was intoning prayers which sometimes the crowd joined in with. The widow and relatives were there on one side and there were groups on each side – we worried that we were in the wrong one. People were leaving candles and I’d seen a huge box of them in the widow’s house, a traditional way of respect and giving her a supply to place on the grave in the months to come. Then the bell tolled and we heard a drum beat as the Ramingstein men’s brotherhood marched up from the village below. The Priest came out decked in black robes, more prayers and we then followed the Urn and relatives into the church.
Being so shallow, we had wondered about what to wear, and the majority were in dark or black , but not necessarily suits. Dave had worn his and a tie which was his sign of respect, he hates wearing a suit. The service began with the choir above us (we’d gone upstairs as below was crowded) and their unaccompanied voices were the most beautiful thing of the service – that there were a couple of songs praying to Mary I wasn’t so happy about as I don’t believe in this, I feel it un biblical, and why not just go straight to Jesus? All part of Catholic tradition and history as I’ve heard the Maria thing was introduced to compensate for the loss of the major pagan goddess –hmmmmm!
We did a lot of the getting up and down – at least this time we were able to see what to do, we’d been to a service once and had been at the front and not realised everyone else was sitting! There were readings and prayers which we sort of understood, only the family took communion and there was a collection. I couldn’t help noticing that each person dropped their money in with a loud clink – was it just coincidence or to show how generous each was? Then at the end the Priest came out with the incense which always makes Dave cough, in fact a lot of people began to cough as processed through the church. A procession then left to the war memorial in the lane where what must be the Austrian equivalent of the last post was played, then with an about turn we all walked down through the village and then up the hill to the graveyard. Some funerals have a band but we marched quietly.
In the Graveyard, Dave and I got on the wrong queue, as we found out, relatives one side, friends the other, so we had to move. Quietly orchestrating the whole deeply traditional service, installing a microphone and organising the urn carriers was the Funeral director, who though young had a really impressive air of dignity and respect about him, to me he epitomised how Austrians combine old and new culture side by side – his hair was cut in a Mohican.
Then the Urn was interned in the family grave. It was so sad that this man’s father (who was in his 90s) had only been buried there a few weeks ago. So some flowers were there already and around us the graves, so close after Aller Heiligen (All Saints) were bedecked in dried flower arrangements and the candles in red jars. At the end of the ceremony I nearly leapt out of my skin as three canon shots rang across the valley in respect for the dead man. Then the friends queue went up and sprinkled the urn and some took the water and crossed themselves. Dave and I were debating this, but as I had thrown a symbolic bunch of rosemary tied with baler twine on my mother’s grave (mother daughter thing), I had no problem so I went and prayed and waved the water about while Dave waited. Then the relatives paid their respects. We then went to the local guest house and had the traditional funeral meal of soup with sausage and bread, and talked about things we remembered of the dead man, and surprisingly fruit trees – just a coincidence. We actually met some neighbours from the end of our lane, who seem nice. Maybe Austrians are just as reticent as the English can be, after all we’ve been here four and half years and not met!
Then with hugs we left the now exhausted widow, and I hope over the coming weeks and months, apart from uplifting her in prayer we can be there for her. I can’t imagine what she’s feeling.