Last week I attended the funeral services of Ishmael. He was the father-in-law to a sweet Armenian friend, Anna, from our church congregation. She has only lived in France since 2012 and is an immigrant here due to political turmoil in Armenia. She speaks very little french and no english! HA! But, somehow we have been able to communicate with her limited french vocabulary. I have spent some time with Anna and she is a wonderful lady who has one three year old daughter, Maria. Her husband, Samuel, is trying to get his paperwork finalized so he can work here in France. Her husband and late father-in-law are not LDS, they are Orthodox Catholics. (I still need to research this stem of Catholicism because I know nothing about it!)
So, Ishmael passed away and his services were last Thursday. I went with another friend, Maria del Carmen, to the services. We found the church and services were to begin at 2:15pm. We arrived and not one person was there at the church except for the deceased. The Church doors were open and the hearse (although it carried the coffin, it looked like a normal van, nothing like the hearses you see in America) was parked right in front of the doors. Maria and I were the first ones there and then a few people started trickling in. A couple sweet members of our congregation were there to show support to Anna and her family.
When Samuel finally arrived the services commenced. But, he did not have Anna with him or his daughter. We asked where they were and Samuel said she was at home cooking the traditional meal that would be served after the services. I then looked around at those in attendance of the funeral and noticed they were all men, with no wives or children, and the only women there were from our congregation and Anna’s doctor. It was so interesting.
Apparently, Ishmael was Orthodox Catholic and there are only two cities in all of France that have a church for that specific stem of the Catholic Church. This particular priest performing the ceremony was willing to perform the service and have use of their church.
It was a pretty little church, Église Jeanne d’Arc. Of course, it was all stone and cold, but it was pretty. I love old churches. I think they have so much history and beauty, even if I do not agree with their form of worship, I try to appreciate the ambiance and respect their traditions. When the service began, the robe clad priest came outside accompanied by a street clothed priestess. He said a few words, turned around and the casket followed him with the funeral party walking behind and then began filling up the few benches. The service only lasted 20-30 minutes. It was very foreign to me. I have only been to a few Catholic services so I was unfamiliar with their traditions. Thank goodness it was in French. When we were originally seated, there were copies of scripture printed out in Armenian, so I was curious what language the service would be in.
One thing I found so peaceful about the service was the ringing of the Church bells. They were rung at different times during the services. I do not know the meaning behind that, but I loved the sound and the calmness it brought to the service.
After the service was over we went to the cemetery. This was interesting for me also, because the cemetery was so much different than what I see in America. It looked similar to this. Burial plots are bought as a family. The family members coffins are placed one on top of the other. In the States, family members are laid to rest next to one another not within the same burial space. This was different. Also, the burial sites were heavily decorated. I asked my friends, the Jerômes, if it was really expensive for the tombs. They said, yes, very expensive.
Following the cemetery service, we were invited to Samuel’s house. Maria del Carmen and I thought we could just stop by for a minute and pay our respects and say hello to Anna. Well, we arrived and their family room was set up for a sit down dinner! We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. We came in and saw Anna, who was clearly exhausted from all the cooking that was lavishly placed on the tables. Again, we commented that the wives or other family members of the men in attendance were not there. So, it was just those women that I mentioned earlier, Anna and Anna’s friend, who was the wife of Samuel’s best friend, who was their helping Anna prepare for the meal. There was a huge spread of fish, poultry, salads, sauces and bread that filled the tables along with bottles of vodka, champagne and soda. Each place sitting had a shot glass with another smaller glass. Maria del Carmen and I looked at each other and laughed! We do not drink alcohol. Well, after everyone arrived and were seated, the toasting began. Armenian culture has a traditional meal after burial services where everyone comes together so the family can thank those in attendance for showing their support and also to honor the deceased. So, throughout the meal, someone would stand up, give a toast while people would fill their shot glasses with hard liquor (vodka), and everyone would drink. Maria del Carmen filled our little glasses with orange soda and everyone else kind of smiled. It was such an interesting and neat experience. I didn’t understand anything that was said because it was all in Armenian. After about 20 minutes of toasts, there were already a few men getting loud. I love learning about different cultures and people!! I soak it up and internalize it to the best of my ability.
After staying for about 30 or 40 minutes, I had to get home. I had to be back home to pick up my boys and go back to Nîmes so Austin and AJ could attend seminary. I am so grateful I had this Armenian French Funeral experience!