Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Living and the Dead

When I was growing up, all my aunts, uncles and cousins, on both sides, lived within an hour’s drive of our place. Tanya’s family was very much the same except lived even closer together. During their working years, a few of the family worked in other parts of the FSU but they all came home when they retired. Consequently, when we come home to visit, we don’t have to travel far to see almost all of the family still living, or visit the graves of the departed.

Last Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, the Orthodox citizens of Russia and Ukraine visit cemeteries to pay their respects to departed loved ones. Before and on those days graves sites are cleaned of grass, weeds and last year’s artificial flowers, fences and so forth painted. On the day of our visit to the two cemeteries here in Belii Yar where members of Tanya’s family are buried, we took new artificial flowers and plastic turf to bring some beauty and colour to a dry prairie landscape.

There were six Tishen sisters; Anna, Yevdokia, Maria (Tanya’s mother) Natalie, Valentina and Vera. Three are gone, buried here in Belii Yar, including Tanya’s Mom who died 10 years ago on March 31. The remaining three sisters are in their late 70’s, early 80’s, old by Russian standards of today. Valya and Vera still live here. When her husband died, Natalie moved to Chelyabinsk to live with her daughter but she wants to come back here to die. Of the six brothers-in-law, Tanya’s Papa is the only one still alive. He will be 80 this summer. Three of the others are buried in Belii Yar.

Of the 11 cousins, four are gone; two including Tanya’s brother Sasha who died of a heart attack three years ago, are buried here. Five including Tanya’s sister Luda still live here. Tanya is the furthest away, then Natalie’s daughter in Chelyabinsk. Yevdokia’s son, Kolya lives in Kyzyl, Tuva , 400 km south through the Cyan mountains. I have met all but Natalie’s daughter. Good people.

The second cousins are beginning to spread out and lose touch of course, but the six sisters and their families were very close knit, possibly because their parents died when they were younger. Tanya may have been five when her grandparents Tishen died; she hardly remembers them. They are buried in the old grave yard in Kalyagino, the nearby village where Tanya grew up that no longer exists. Papa’s brother Victor, who died in his 20’s is buried there also. Vera and her daughter Natalie went out last Sunday to tend to those graves.

Papa’s mother, Tanya’s beloved Babushka, is buried here in Belii Yar. Her husband and his two brothers lie in far flung battlefields of The Great Patriotic War. The locations of the brother’s graves, or at least the places where they were killed, are known but Tanya’s grandfather’s location is not. She had thought Smolensk but has received new information that places his unit in Ukraine so is tracking that down now.

Families are not that close any longer it seems.  My kids' cousins are scattered and so are Tanya's boy's cousins.  Maybe our generation was the last of the close families?


  1. Far flung, yes, but in a world made smaller by modern communications and jet airliners.

  2. I was thinking recently about family closeness, and the lack of it. On the first cousin level, on my dad's side, we have very little contact, though I at least know how to reach them. On my mom's side, I'd know where to start looking, but that's about it. Of course, both sides have been primarily Ontario people, and having lived most of my adult life on the prairies has certainly limited even the opportunities for contact.

  3. In the "olden days" there were no concerns about which rat hole to put grandma when she started forgetting to wear clothes. Entire families looked out for each other within a stone's throw.

  4. Dana, they had no choice. They envy us no end with choices. Senior's homes, respite, home care etc all allow the best care possible and the greatest independence and freedom possible.
    Tanya's Aunt Valya is paralyzed on her left side with two strokes. Her daughter Tamara is looking after her and is exhausted. There is no alternative.

    SW, you are right. One can keep in touch. But Skype doesn't replace actually seeing my kids once in a while.


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