It was the 4th anniversary of my mum’s passing yesterday.

I’ve been thinking about the whole thing a lot recently. And the main conclusion is that time is relative, it is relative to the point of losing some of its meaning. What do these four years mean? I don’t know. There are some memories from her last days that are so deeply engraved in my memory that I remember these moments better and clearer than anything I did last week. Time doesn’t mean much. Yet, it means something – I have dutifully tried to do the hard work of grieving, and four years is quite a time in that sense. What is hard about grief is that it doesn’t come with a manual. So many times over these past years I’ve been lost, not knowing what to do exactly. Visiting her grave would be a good idea, a friend tells me. Write about it, the other one says. Try not to think about it. Cry. It’s good advice, offered out of love and care, but it hasn’t made the working through the grief considerably easier. Most of the time it still feels like I’m inventing a wheel as I go. I would like to think I’ve come a long way since it all happened but occasionally I am not sure. Life goes on, but death also goes on. Four years, or even ten, could not possibly take away my motherlessness, my longing for our family to be whole and happy again, my longing for intimate conversations with her. All these things stay, and time cannot take them away.

I was finishing Vasily Grossman’s A Writer at War a week ago. The closer I got to the end, the tougher the book got. The closer the Red Army got to Berlin, the more raping and looting took place. Not to mention the concentration camps - I had never read such detailed descriptions of gas chambers and furnaces. It was terrible. And then suddenly in the middle of all this destruction, there are two letters which Grossman wrote to his mother. He found out only in the end of the war that his mother was one of those numerous Ukrainian Jews who had been shot as soon as the Nazis arrived in their village. And now this tough guy who has seen war and despair, concentration camps and Hitler’s bunkers, writes a letter to his deceased mother. And he writes: „I can feel you today, as alive to me as you were on the day when I saw you last, and as alive as when you read to me when I was a little boy. And my pain is still the same as it was on that day when your neighbour in Uchilishchnaya Street told me you were dead. There was no hope of finding you among the living. And I think my love for you and this terrible sorrow will not change until the day I die. /.../ My darling, twenty years have passed since the day of your death. I love you, I remember you every day of my life, and my sorrow has never left me in these twenty years. /.../ I’ve been rereading today, as I have for many years, the few letters to me which have survived out of the hundreds that you had written. /.../ I cried over your letters because you are in them: with your kindness, your purity, your bitter, bitter life, your fairness, your generosity, your love for me, your care for people, your wonderful mind. I fear nothing because your love is with me and because my love is with you always.” And this letter was so unexpected that it shocked me. And it made me cry. And it also comforted me – there are many people who have lived with grief that never left them. There are many people who have loved someone more than their own life. There are people who every day have to balance between the life and the death that are always present for them. It is such a comfort to know I am not the only one but belong to a tribe of tough and gentle people who live with their losses and their love, and not only live, but live meaningful and rich lives.

Just in case, I made sure I would be busy the whole day yesterday. I was not going to sit alone and drown in my grief.

I preached my Christmas sermon in the morning and was very happy with how it turned out. Then I had a long lunch at my auntie’s which I was so looking forward to because my cousin had come home for Christmas after two years. He’s doing his doctorate in Harvard Medical School. I understood very little of what he told me about his research but I listened nevertheless, with my eyes (and probably occasionally also my mouth) wide open. And I came to the conclusion again which I have come to many times before – hard work and serious self-discipline does something to people, there’s a certain moral character to people who give their very best in whatever it is that they do. I am a great admirer of talent and intelligence – they’re one of these few things that really knock me off my feet - and I can honestly say I admire my cousin. And on top of all his brains and incredible career, he’s so modest and down to earth and polite. Let me take your coat, can I get you something, may I pour some more tea... I just kept staring at this young man – who, honestly, used to be one of the most annoying kids in the world some 15 years ago – and marveling. My cousin! Such a wonderful man! Oh my.

And then the evening I had saved for a real treat – the last concert of this year. Bach’s magnificient Mass. It is such a monumental piece, it is difficult to take it all in at once. My favourite bit, no doubt, was a choral piece with the lyrics Et expecto resurrectionem morturorum. Et vivam venturi saeculi – "And I await the resurrection of the dead. And the life of the world to come." There will be a resurrection.

I’m not sure whether I should mention it or not but the general elation of the concert and its atmosphere was almost shattered to pieces by one of the soloists, who, for the better part of the Mass, just sat on the stage. The bass singer, a very handsome Latvian guy, sat on the stage and, I kid you not, winked at me and kept looking at me throughout the concert. I sat right in front of the stage. First I was greatly surprised and mightily disturbed – I thought there was a law forbidding any kind of contact between the musicians and the audience. How unprofessional! You're supposed to look only heavenward, sir, and sing Bach with your angelic voice! But then I found it absolutely hilarious. I have to cover my head with ashes and admit that Mr Bass made me divide what I thought would be my undivided attention to Bach’s heavenly music. Very unexpected and yet, so human. Once I had landed at home around midnight (because I ran into some friends at the concert and we decided to have some tea afterwards) I had one last laugh about it.

So the day turned out to be a good and a funny one. Which, I believe, is the grace of the Almighty.

Merry Christmas, dear friends! Appreciate the loved ones who are still with us, take time to be grateful and don’t eat too much. And maybe winking at random strangers isn't such a great idea either lol.


The Christmas time has begun in earnest. As one can't rely on weather in this regard - one day it snows, the next it rains, and it's all very confusing - one has to do something else to start feeling Christmassy. Our church planting group organised a Christmas party to underprivileged families yesterday where we distributed 35 shoe box presents to children, and that's when it began to feel a lot like Christmas. We collected the presents in our conference office so for the past week my workplace has looked like a Santa's workshop. I've done a fair share of wrapping and glueing and adding candies (also eating some) and writing name tags these days. I've really enjoyed the whole process. And even now there's about 15 presents left as the children with special needs will have their Christmas party this coming Saturday. After Saturday we're done with this project. Until the next year.

The Christmas party was sweet. The city district elder was there and greeted everyone, there were candies and ginger bread and Christmas songs and games and Santa, the whole shebang. Seeing the children being so excited about the gifts made the whole effort so worth it.

I don't care too much about Christmas presents - neither the ones I make nor the ones I receive - but about these presents I cared a lot, a lot. There's something special about charity.

We have the sweetest team!

I was terribly disappointed last week when I got ill and had to miss a good concert, having to give the ticket to my auntie, teary eyed. So I decided to take revenge this week and I happened to stumble upon an ad for a concert by American/Armenian pianist Sergei Babayan. I wasn't sure if I would be able to make it but I rushed like a madman through the city last night after the Christmas party and I made it to the concert hall. It must have been the most magical piano concert I've ever been to - he played in almost complete darkness but his genius and sensitivity were as plain as in broad daylight. I understood why some have called Babayan a genius. I got breathing problems when he played Chopin - I simply forgot to breathe. And my hands shook for a long while after the concert.

Music is divine.

I just checked his schedule, he'll be playing Tchaikovsky's 1st piano concert in Milan in February. Oh goodness, I wish I wish I wish...

As to books, I am, slowly but surely, approaching the milestone of 40 books. I set this goal in the beginning of this year and despite my eye surgery taking a good chunk of time out of my reading time - almost a month - I'm now in the middle of book no 38. It's on the legendary war correspondent Vasily Grossman and his journey with the Red Army throughout the Second World War. It's called A Writer at War. It's a tough reading, the descriptions of battles and casualties and atrocities from both the Soviet as well as from the Nazi's side are at times almost too much to take in. But I am a human being and I need to know about these things, I need to remember. But I promise I take on a book more cheerful once this one is over. I should read Astrid Lindgren.


It was Finland's Independence Day last Wednesday, our neighbors celebrated the 100th year of their independence. Estonians seemed to have gone all crazy that day, and I thought it was very sweet. I was listening to the National Radio in the morning before going to work, and they only played Finnish music. They also had a quiz where people had to guess the speaker by the voice. I think they were Mika Häkkinen and Sofi Oksanen who were to be recognised. All the buses and trams in Tallinn had little Finnish flags on them and there was a big fireworks in the evening. The fesitivities had surely made their way over to our side of the Baltic bay, and we were so happy for our Finnish sisters and brothers.

I caught a nasty virus that day, and ended up not going to see the fireworks but instead throwing up all over the place and generally feeling like my life had come to an end. But I still thought about Finland and history, both that of our sister countries as well as my own family. And the next day, although still feeling like dying, I dutifully went through a whole photo gallery from the last night's presidential ball and I had to admit, with a little sting of jealousy, that at least when it comes to the presidential balls in our respective countries, the Finnish ladies have more class and grace than ours do. I mean, starting with their First Lady, who's the epitome of elegance.

But the history is so hard to make sense of. I remember walking in Tallinn's Old Town with Dr A. N. last summer and as she looked at the town, built mostly in the 15th and 16th century, she said, Well, we on the other side of the bay we were still living in the turf huts when you already had such high civilisation and culture. And I suppose in a sense it's true. We were quite a few steps ahead in this respect. But fast forward a couple of hundred years, and it was still Finland who beat us, declaring independence from Russia three months before we did. We'll celebrate our 100th year of independence in February. But of course our "100th" is not to be taken literally as we then went down two very different paths. Finland had the courage to fight the Soviet Union, and not only to fight, but also to be one of the very few countries ever to win a war against them. And to prosper after the war. We, on the other hand, spent 50 years out of the last 100 under the Soviet occupation, a repressive, meaningless and downright stupid occupation which did a lot of damage. By the end of the occupation, by early 1990s, in many ways we were as far from Finland as could possibly be. We had next to nothing and had grown up in a paranoid society while Finland for us embodied freedom and plenty and the absense of fear. I remember how Finns took it as their duty to help us, and honestly, my whole childhood and teenage years I grew up wearing the ADRA clothes that were sent from Finnish churches. In the very first years of our independence in early 1990s we even needed food parcels. I remember rice and packages of some weird powdered (babies?) food, and the sweets we had never seen before. Everything that came from Finland seemed to be shiny and new and wonderful.

My great-grandfather was a Finn. He was a wealthy factory owner and he lived in Estonia with his family. My geat-grandmother was their housemaid, and then, well, my grandmother was born. The Finnish family left Estonia once the Soviet threat got worse in 1930s, so I have a whole bunch of relatives over in Finland. I don't know anything about my great-grandfather's ancestors but thinking of how my grandmother looked like - she had dark hair and eyes, very high cheekbones and almond eyes - it's not entirely impossible that she had some Inuit blood in her. In my early childhood I often heard about our half-mystical Finnish relatives although never, now that I think of it, about the circumstances of my grandmother's birth... Well, the relatives are not mystical any more since some of them have started to join our yearly family reunions. I never know exactly who they are or how we're related but they seem to enjoy our company very much. And the feeling is mutual. So by now Finland has lost a lot of its mythical shininess and newness but it's become a land of many wonderful people, related or not.

And my name, Mervi, is a Finnish name. Yes. That's important.

So. Here's to Finland and to the next 100 years!

I feel like reading Tove Jansson's book now.