This has been a very hard week for us in Armenia. It all started last Sunday when I was sitting in Relief Society when the branch president came in and said that Leanna's father had just had a heart attack and died. About half of the sister's got up and left the room to go to her home to help including the Relief Society President and her counselors. This family consisted of a mother. father, Leanna (about 35 and an only child) and her daughter (about 8). The father had no signs at all of being sick so it was a complete surprise. He is also the only person working in that family so he was the sole provider. There is no Social Security here to help if that happens so they are just on their own with extended family helping them with what little they have. Losing the father and the provider of a family is especially very, very hard.
The hospital brings the body in a casket to the place where the dead person lives. If the person was in a car accident, the body is brought back just the way it was when they pulled the body out of the car. They put a standing large board about 3 feet by 5 feet with colorful plastic flowers on it in front of the house or apartment to let everyone know someone has died. Friends, neighbors, family and relatives visit for 3 days. When they visit, the family is expected to have some food out to comfort those visiting. This family didn't have the money to do that, so the church helped them. After the third day, there is a funeral in the home and then the men take the body to be buried at the cemetery. The women always stay home even if is your husband to protect the women from more grief. The day after the funeral, people will bring over money for the family to help pay the funeral expenses. The family asked my sweetheart to give them each a blessing of comfort. He gave them each a beautiful blessing which the elders translated afterwards. All the blessings were very individualized and beautiful. However, it sounds like life will be very hard for them, but the Lord will help them if they will just have faith, trust in him and do all that they can do. It was so hard and painful that it was almost a relief to go to Vanadzor to go work with the missionaries there.
When we got there, we started doing our planning with the elders. We had brought them over a pot of soup, salad, bread, juice and dessert to give them a little taste of home. They work so hard that we like to spoil them when we get a chance. The branch president came into the room and told us that Marrie's baby had died. She had fed him at 4:00 and when she got up about 8:00, he was dead. This is a 17 year old girl who had been married. She left her husband which is a disgrace to her family in the Armenian culture. She found out that she was pregnant and didn't have an abortion like most women would have here. She knew that it was against our/her religion. Abortions are very common because they are so poor. After she had the baby, the church helped her with a food and a place to live to provide for the little one. She learned very quickly how to be a mom as she had no family around to help her most like the women do. I visited her at her apartment and had taken some milk and food over. In fact, I was able to hold this little guy at the Women's Day Celebration. He looked like a little taco all wrapped up the Armenian way with two little happy eyes and a big smile looking up at me.
I spent about an hour trying to comfort her with the branch president’s wife translating for me as we all cried together. In the Armenian culture it is believed that God is punishing her for leaving her husband and having this baby. I had to share with her that this is not true and comfort her at the same time. The hospital said that he died because he didn't have enough food to sustain his body which is really common here. They try to bury the children as soon as they die here which is different from adults. There was no power at the place that makes coffins so they couldn’t make him a little coffin. So they put him in a little duffle bag. Two missionaries dug his grave and they had a grave side service for him. Even though this is so hard, I am so grateful for the gospel to know where this little ones is and the plan of salvation.
Heavenly Father was very kind to me and ended my week sharing in the joy of a new baby being born to the branch president's sister-in-law in Gyumri. This is a traditional Armenia family with the sons bringing their brides home to live in their parent's home to learn how to be wife's and mother's and the son's to learn how to be husband's and father's. The tradition is that the first son to be born is to be named after the son's father and the first daughter is to be named after the son's mother. After that, you can name your children whatever you want. There is also that tradition that you leave the light on for 40 days where ever the baby is. You also do not let sunlight touch the babies clothing for 40 days. If a man comes to visit your home, he is to wait outside until they bring out any child that lives in the house. He is then supposed to carry the child into the house so the child will know he is important also. I think this is to help the child from being jealous of the new baby.
I am learning a lot about traditions and culture here that I am sure will and has changed my life. The Book of Mormon talks about traditions and culture. I am starting to look at it in a completely different way as I read it. Some of the lessons are very hard, some are very enlightening. and others are just plain fun. You are all in our prayers daily and are such a treasure to us.