Today I wanted to write about my grandfather’s death.

Since it is something that took me off the rails and confronted me with feelings and emotions where I thought I´m not capable of thinking.

Ivan Golovko
Jan 12 · 9 min read
Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

I was sitting on the solid uncomfortable train bench, where the leather on the seats is glancy after thousands of people polishing it day in day out with their trousers. The place when my mother called me. I picked the phone; the railways were making loud noises so that my mother’s voice became almost impossible to hear. She said:

“дед умер.”

Which means, “Your grandfather is dead.”

She had to repeat it to me thrice till I finally understood what she was saying. People started starring at me, or maybe I was getting too self-conscious. I didn´t know how to react, so the only thing I could ask was, How?

My mother said that he dies in resuscitation, later I got to know that it was Liver cancer, probably caused by a Hepatitis C infection that he got earlier.

My mother started to cry, and I became numb. She asked me if I could book the plane tickets to Siberia. Which I did, but it took me a while to get there. As I arrived at home my housemate welcomed me. He started talking about his Master Program in Italy, and I just said.

“I have bad news, my grandfather died.”

There are specific topics which are killing the conversation; death is one of them. Usually, when I face struggle or stress than I fall back into bad habits. Smoking, bad food or numbing entertainment. I walked into my room, and lucky enough, my girlfriend left a cigarette pack. She always gets mad at me when I am smoking but struggles to quit herself.

I was shivering of the cold once I stepped outside. The cigarette touched my lips, and I took a deep breath in. It didn´t give me any relief so kept smoking after I lit the second cigarette I just smoked the half of it. Nicotine wasn´t helping.

I went inside and opened up my laptop and typed:

Flights: Frankfurt — Irkutsk

The searching engine spat out all the possible plane. I picked the one on an upcoming night where we had to wait for 14 hours in Moscow, and we could be in Irkutsk (my hometown) by 5 am. The funeral was at 3 pm so basically just in two days after we got the message.

I called my mom and said I have a flight and we can go there, but we have to book now. She responded with silence.

After a while, she said:

“What about your visa? You are not a Russian citizen anymore.”

Usually, it takes up to 5 days to even get an express visa, and it costs a bomb to get it delivered on time. Not even close enough of a time frame to be at the funeral on time. The first thought I had, my grandfather is dead and I couldn´t be there for him for 6 years. Every time we spoke on the phone or on Skype he asked me:

“When are you coming to visit me?”

And I always said soon but kept delaying it further and further. In the moments where I don`t know what to do, I usually try to numb myself with music. By watching music videos and listening to I gaze off in my dreamland and forget everything around me.

Another housemate came along. He sat next to me and said.

“Your grandfather died. I don`t know how it feels because I never experienced such a loss in my family but you can talk to me about him.”

I didn´t know what to say. I just sat there. So he suggested to smoke. I already knew that nicotine wouldn`t help, but I went anyway because it was better than facing the numbness within.

My phone vibrated.

“How are you?”

“My grandfather died.”

When people are confronted with death or sickness, then they usually respond in a supportive non-confronting way or express condolences. The only thing that was on my mind was.

“My grandfather died, and the only thing I can do is to sit here and wait. Without the visa, there no chance for me in getting into Russia on time for the funeral.”

https://frankfurt.mid.ru/web/frankfurt-de/visaaustellung-im-sonderfall

I went to sleep with the thought in mind and girlfriend lying next to me with her fitness watch blinking like the photograph flashes into my eyes. I sat up and just snapped.

“Please take them off.”

She took them off, and the watch started to blink in green flashes. Then she puts them on again, and the sensors recognised the touch of her skin and the blinking lights went off. She touched my cheek and screen of the watch blinked up directly into my eye again.

“WTF”

I couldn’t hold back the coursing and turn away. She went on the watch, and all heard is the clicking noise of her long nails on the little watch screen, she deactivated the ambient display.

The sleep was brief, and most of the time, I had a notion that my grandfather is standing next to me. My phone woke me up.

“We are coming to you place right now.”

It was my mom and dad. They woke up early; my mom also couldn`t handle the fact of my grandfather not being alive. My girlfriend went, and I met my parents came. My mom was crying, and my father gave me a very warmhearted hug.

I had some time to research in the evening last night since it was hard for me to handle the fact that I couldn`t be at my grandfathers funeral and I found a loophole.

Emergency visa.

In case if a close relative dies or is facing deadly health conditions, you can get a visa on the same day within several hours for free even if the Russian embassy has a terrible reputation regarding the administration. Like you have to make an appointment on the official website to be able to get your documents done. And even then they let you wait for several hours outside the giant metal fence in the cold before you can get in to get your documents fixed.

We decided to go there. After calling back and forth, we got the death certificate from my grandfather, and I completed the form to for the emergency visa. In the car, I settled the travelling insurance on my phone. I think getting insurance was never that easy as it is today…

As we arrived at that massive building with the title Russian Embassy, we talked to the guard at the fence. Funny enough we just needed to mention.

“похороны”

Or “Funereal” it felt like a secret password to the guard. He opened up the fence and asked us to go to the entry at the next end of the wall.

The guard there was already awaiting us. He opened up the steel entrance door, and we walked in. Just before us entering the access was denied to a young couple who couldn`t manage to make an appointment on the Russan website that has been coded in 1998.

https://frankfurt.mid.ru/web/frankfurt-de/konsularfragen

The embassy is always stuffed with people. Most of them are waiting outside till they can get their passport renewed or their visa approved. As soon as we walked, the guard asked us to step up to the 1st floor.

The room was empty; a middle-aged lady came to the shelter. She looked at us with her sad eyes. I could guess that travel goal, such as funerals is a rare occasion. We gave her all the required documents. She slowly and attentively went through every bit of information on there, and she said:

“Do you have proof of kinship.”

My mom just rolled her eyes. After years of figuring out the bureaucracy around visa and passport issues in Germany, she was prepared for this question.

“We don`t have it here but give us a minute, we have all the documents at home.”

The massive stack of black folders flashed in my mind, and a smirk appeared on my face. Finally, there was at least some hope that I could see him at least on his last trip.

We went. The lady at the shelter said that she will be there till 1 pm and considering that we had about 2 hours to get everything done — more than enough.

We rushed to my parents home. “Strelka” our dog welcomed us with a happy bark, she peed herself out the happiness of seeing us. Yet she could feel the dull mood that has been carried with us. My mom went upstairs, and I sat down by the laptop and booked the tickets.

Long story short I`ve got the visa. My mom was saying:

“My father is guiding us.”

And it felt like this till we got into to the take-off area. We were waiting to get seated in the plain. Till we heard an announcement:

“Sehr geehrte Reiseinde bitte stellen sie sich an für den zweiten Resegepäckcheck.”

We took two little luggage trolleys, the trolley of my mom was curved. So we stood up in the long line with all the remaining passengers. And four ladies dressed up like flight attendants were checking the luggage one by one. I smiled and they let me pass. Then the Russian stewardess asked tasked my mom to weight the luggage.

My mom hesitated a bit, but she joined along. I sopped by the side of the entrance gate and observed all that was happening. Even tried to make a sign if she needs money or any other help, she just nodded. The lady at the shelter let my mom go. She took her luggage, and she went to the entrance gate without queuing up in line for the second time.

She was stopped again.

“The suitcase doesn´t fit into the required baggage form.”

She said:

“The trolley is curved.”

I took my mom out of the line again and asked her to pay for the extra luggage. Which she did. After some time a big guy came up, he took the trolley. And I snapped again, I just walked up to the guy and kindly if I could take the cart. He just nodded. I went in front of the stewardesses, turned the cart and stiffed it in into the luggage form.

“You see it fits!”

I said. But it was too late, my mom already paid, and the old lady at the plane entrance was announcing the departure.

“F#%ck it.” I ´gave the trolley to the big guy, he was still starring at me and we went into the flight.

The plane took off. The flight passed by in minutes thanks to the audiobook from Malcolm Gladwell “The Outliers”. After the landing was announced, the plain was cutting height. I felt a sharp pain in the back of my throat. It radiated into my skull. The pain felt like a stroke, and the worst part was that there nothing I could do about it only than breathing.

After fifteen, twenty minutes, the pain got less and completely disappeared as the plane landed. We arrived in Moscow.

As I googled later, the pain was caused by my unusual structure of the sinuses. (as explained here)

Maybe the most secure airport on the planet earth. I never saw so much advertisement and security checks in one place. We were dead tired and had 14 hours to wait. Unfortonenntly it was out of the option to sleep on the benches since they were designed in a way that you can only sit on them.

And the security guards were strolling around keen on poking you into the side with the mallet to wake you up. We went on to find an alternative. All the lounge areas or quiet rooms were closed or only available for a charge until one old lady who was taking a nap at the reception shelter told us about the airport hotel.

The hope died after the lady at the hotel told us that they charge five thousand five-hundred Rubel for three hours. We went on until we stumbled to the cheaper version of the airport hotel. Three-thousand five hundred Rubel for five hours. It seemed fair.

After waking up, we went to get some food and chewing gum. The whole airport didn`t have chewing gum, and we asked everyone at the pharmacy, bookstores, restaurants and even at the information shelter.

The time passed, and we got seated on the plane to Irkutsk. Another nine hours of sitting, but this time it was our final destination. Once we landed, it was five in the morning.

My uncle was awaiting us. In Siberia everyone is talking very fast, there no Russian accent or any of it. Just non-understandable chatter.

He took us home to my home town in his Jeep, after his pension he bought many cars and is still a helicopter pilot for the UN to support war victims with food and necessary medicine in Africa.

It was quite warm, just minus nine degrees. For Irkutsk, these temperatures are quite unusual since the bottom line you have about minus twenty to minus thirty degrees in December.

We entered our flat where I grew up, and my grandmother welcomed us. She woke up early, and we got seated in the kitchen. And she made coffee; I could see tears in her eyes and but also utter happiness to see us.

To be continued…

Ivan Golovko

Written by

Novelist and Idealist with a background in medicine. Learn more about my work on https://www.ivangolovko.com/

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