HETA KUCHKAIn Memory of 10.5.2008 – 31.5.2008
One thing I´ve noticed about lonely people is that there´s certain dates in the year when we tend to get people who´ve been dead in their homes for quite a while; Mother´s Day, Christmas and also July when people come back from their holidays,´ a funeral car driver sighs to his friend. Nights on-call are spent in the garage knocking back endless cups of coffee, talking about anything and everything. When the phone goes, so do the men. Otherwise their time is spent changing tyres, fixing and polishing the cars.
How is it possible, in a welfare state like Finland, that people are dying alone. And living alone. Has the Finnish system gone too far in promising to care for your grandmother? Is it so that you don´t have to? Families no longer know one another, neighbours don´t look after each other´s children or notice if someone has not left their home for years. In small towns and rural areas, we perhaps have not come that far yet. It is as though family has become the unavoidable bane of our lives. Today´s insistence on independent lifestyles would have us believe that it is fantastic to go it alone. The individual can choose to withdraw from all relationships. As long as the bills are paid by direct debit every month, no one reacts to the eternal silence of the lonely dead.
Every week in Finland, funerals are held for people without family or friends. To show my respect, I attend a burial. I step into the empty chapel. White lilies are laid on the coffin at the altar. The tall candles are already lit. I realise I have never felt a silence this deep. The only other people there are the pastor, the organist and the caretaker. The service is conducted in full, only the family´s flowers and goodbyes are missing. The pastor speaks to the deceased, directly, comfortingly, although she can know nothing of his life. I am moved. I feel I share in his loneliness.