Nomination Panasonic Readers’ Choice Award

A special nomination of the Bird in Flight Prize with a winner selected by readers

All nominated projects

Happy Death Society

Andrey Anro, Belarus

The realms of miracle, death, pain and suffering were always appealing to my grandmother Helena, so as soon as Smarhon got its own Happy Death Society, grandma joined it with gladness. Moreover, my grandma Lena being a devout Catholic would eagerly embrace all that the church had to offer, having sung daily in the church choir for the living. Then, when somebody died, her voice would also sound for the deceased. This lasted until she decided to lie down in bed to await a happy death.

`It's like our old man with a candle, held it himself, kissed a cross, got a communion from a priest, and died a quick death in full sanity, a happy death,` grandma Lena would explain after grandpa Juzik, who had been faithfully turning her body on the bed and rubbing it with pure alcohol, died. They often argued who would die first. Grandpa went ahead, while grandma kept awaiting her happy death still in bed. Death doesn't show up, but a dream does: Helena is in front of the enormous Gates of Heaven amongst other folk in a line up, gazing contentedly at the gates as she's drawn by wondrous gardens, but the voice says, `It's not the time yet'.  It has been seven years. The bed became a place of lamentation and prayer. Helena's bones are burning as if with hellfire, same as the tortures of the damned in the pictures my grandmother was showing to me in my childhood as part of my religious upbringing.

* Happy Death Society is based upon the devotion to Sorrowful Mother of God. This worship, which later spread throughout the Christian world, originated in Florence after the monastery "The Servants of the Most Holy Virgin Mary", and then the order, the Servites for short, were founded in 1233.

The name Happy Death Society is a "household epithet" from my maternal grandmother, while official title of the association is The Bona Mors Confraternity, or Association of Our Lady, Patron of a Happy Death. Confraternity in its modern state was approved by Pope Pius X on July 22nd, 1908 with the headquarters in Tinchebray, France. Since the 1980s, the Missionaries of the Holy Family in Poland become custodians of the Association. From Poland via Catholic church the confraternity got to the territory of Western Belarus.

Overlay of the Polish map from the Military Geography Institute as of 1934 and a satellite Google Maps image as of 2018 of Smorgon town, Chapaeva street, building 13. 

The house where my granny lives now is situated on the former jewish cemetery. The cemetery had been cleared from the tombstones so that the house could be built, with my grandfather, the late Juzik, acting as a foreman. He also recounted as later bones were appearing from the ground in the cellar, and he together with the neighbor buried them in a hole dug in the cellar and cemented it with concrete.