My Grandmother on my Father's side, Agnieszka, died when I wasn’t almost 10 years old. I was not very close to her; we did not go to my Father's home village near Rzeszow very often, three times a year at the most. Grandma herself was a secretive and reticent person. In fact, I don't remember her talking at all. She would smile at the sight of us, place three kisses on our cheeks, then she would go back to work. I mostly remember her carrying different buckets to different places. Nevertheless, her death touched me, though not directly. Most of all, it was shocking to think that as of now, my own parent no longer has any parents left (Grandfather died 9 years before I was born). That something the thought of which filled me with paralysing horror, something unimaginable, for him just happened and apparently his world goes on. My own reaction to the news of her death was also a surprise. At first I felt nothing. No pain, no regret, not even a shadow of sadness. And immediately afterwards a kind of disappointment and shame that I don't feel anything though I probably should. And in the next moment, a curiosity deepening the shame, whether I would feel something being closer to all this, touching this death more directly. I wanted to see the Grandma dead, to see the family that lived with her every day, to see the funeral and my Father before and during the funeral. So I asked him to take me with him (he was going alone). He agreed.
There is nothing left in my memory from the road there. The first thing I remember, and this memory is very vivid and intense, is the Grandma in the coffin. As the old custom ordered, the open coffin with the deceased was displayed for several days (three, I think) in one of the rooms in the house where the deceased used to live, with changing ranks of praying and singing weepers standing guard. There, I finally felt more of what I thought I should have felt. I felt trepidation. I felt the grotesqueness of the motionless Grandma in the coffin and, at the same time, the horror of this immobility. I stared at her, knowing that she wouldn't move, but I was unable to shake the painful, itching sensation that she was about to move after all, because it was simply impossible to stay so still. I felt that this stillness is an illusion, but one beyond which I cannot reach and that I must accept. I had the urge to touch the Grandma, to see what her body would feel like – cold or hard? – but I shuddered at the thought of actually touching her. I couldn't stop wondering which of the many smells in the room was the smell of a corpse. I also felt a wave of sadness. I felt sorry for Grandma. Her motionless body in the coffin, as well as her whole life, though I knew little about it, and finally the whole world in which this moment is a reality from which there is no escape, seemed to me painfully, terribly sad and regrettable. The backbone, support, or perhaps convenient ruts for this grief were the voices of the weepers. Their singing was monotonous and penetrating. I felt that it was conventional, that the singing ladies with headscarves on their heads were not necessarily in great sorrow themselves, but these wails of theirs, the tone of their voices, the shape and rhythm of the melody, the very words I can't remember, were like a natural, obvious and necessary backdrop to this time-stretched moment.
Then, during the funeral itself, I felt little again. Mostly the cold - it was a cloudy and windy late morning. I glanced at my Father, whose face expressed nothing. Maybe fatigue. The sound of a shovel digging into the clay soil and the sound of clods falling on the coffin seemed startling to me; somehow cozy. I tried to keep a solemn expression, which earned me a few “how serious and mature” remarks from those gathered, what filled me with both involuntary pride and disgust at the same time. And then I remember clearly the early morning of the next day as we hurried to catch the train in Rzeszów. The weather has changed, the sun has just risen and was shining brightly, and few bands of the highest clouds were visible in the sky. For a moment I thought I could feel the Earth rotating, and the sensation took my breath away. There were no people on the streets, we were completely alone.
The ride back was long but enjoyable. I remember clearly the blue upholstery of the seats in the compartment and the lights above the seats. We ate ham rolls and drank tea from a thermos flask. I had a feeling that this ride was going to last a long time, that it would end at some point, and it was scary, but I still had time. Dusk was growing outside the window, which pleased me because I really wanted to see how the lights worked.
(transl. Magdalena Małek-Andrzejowska)