The bells are tolling
ION BUGAN, 4 May 1935 — 9 November 2022
For three days now the bells of our village church in Romania have been tolling for Ion Bugan. Our house, the one my parents built, stands right behind the church. The kitchen window faces the inner part of the altar where wine is turned into communion. Our first house, and the air above our village, are filled with the sound of bells, their peals scattering like the autumn leaves.
For the past three days the priest of the church that my parents helped build on the other side of the world, in America, has been draping the patrahir over my father’s body. This is a sacred time of gathering and farewells.
“What are you thinking?” Mom asked Dad a few days ago when he was lost in thought. “I am waiting for the gate of Heaven to open,” he said. He had been dreaming of dead friends and family for days. She lit the candle for him, to help him see the way. Mom, Loredana, Elvira, Catalin, and I were with him, making a bridge of encouraging words, as his breath became more labored.
We stopped to greet family memories as we journeyed the final hours with him. We remembered when we climbed on his back in the Black Sea: “My turn, Taticu, throw me in! Let me dive from your shoulders, Taticu! My turn!” He always pulled us from the water, we were never scared with him. Mom remembered digging the family well with him. When he was wheeled out of the house, his burial suit at his side, the house emptied. Our grief is so deep that it is possible to say that our hearts are empty and filled at the same time.
The story goes that for 40 days after dying, the soul hovers around the house to say the long goodbye. This is the time when the angels are taking Dad on a journey through the whole of his life, to remind him of everything he has done, good and bad, so that he prepares himself for the Final Judgment.
The angels will take him back to Tecuci after the war, when he was so poor, he wore shoes with broken soles, the top part tied around his foot. He’ll see his first job as an electrician, when he was so proud to wear the work name tag. He’ll see his beloved Carpathian Mountains and the sea, his trips around the country, his motorcycle, the friends.
Then he will stop again in the many prisons where he was tortured because he opposed oppression. I am sorry he will have to see those prisons rooms again: some of them have now become museums, and he took us to see them for ourselves when he was alive. They are terrible rooms, where the human spirit was destroyed for generations.
But not Dad’s spirit, for I am sure the angels will take him back to America, where we danced in the kitchen for every birthday and shared Mom’s wonderful meals. I hope the angels won’t forget to take him to the kitchen table, where we played chess and argued about politics. I know he will see again his precious grandchildren: Stefano, Sorina, Mirela, and Alisa. He had the biggest smiles around them and had so much advice for them. They remember him in his state-of-the art garage, where hundreds of tools are labeled and placed in perfect rows, ready to fix intricate car engines. The last time he could walk, he asked to climb in his car and turn the engine on once more.
Today is burial time. In these final hours, before we consecrate his body to the earth, we honor Ion Bugan, for he was a man who lived a life of sacrifice and heroism, a sacrifice which will always be remembered in our native country. The bells toll for Ion Bugan on two continents today. May he receive a warm welcome in Heaven, for he has done good work here, among us.
2 thoughts on “The Bells are Tolling”
Sharing Ion Bugan and his love with each of us is a blessing upon us all. My condolences and gratitude overflow across the miles until they embrace you and your family. Such a life, so beautifully described, will not be forgotten.
This is such a beautiful piece, and such meaningful accompaniment you gave your father. I’m so glad I know a little bit about him from your wonderful memoir, Burying the Typewriter. Wishing you peace.