Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Family Ties

I started to write yesterday, but had trouble finding the time to finish. I guess it was just not to be. Today is Tuesday, mostly cloudy, and the sea is losing most of its ice.

Friday I wrote about family coming through for each other. I learned early on how true that is.

Things are different here in Barrow than outside of the North Slope. In my first ten days in Barrow, I had presided over seven funerals. One may think that because it is in the frozen north that they were waiting for the spring thaw or in this case a minister to come. That is true in other places that we have lived and served. Smaller northern communities, the funeral homes will keep or hold the bodies until spring to be buried. A friend of mine in Anchorage had to wait four months to bury her husband, opening the old wounds of loss and sorrow.

In Barrow, funerals happen regardless of the time of year, season or weather. The first two funerals were in zero degree weather along with a strong wind chill factor driving the temperature well below 20 degrees below zero f. It was not until the fourth funeral that it dawned on me what the major difference at the grave sight, there was no funeral home people directing the burial. It was the families themselves that were burying their dead relatives. The families would gather after the death and before the funeral to dig the hole. This was done regardless of the time of year, season or weather. The people would borrow augers and drill out the land, then dig out the frozen soil with picks and shovels. Then following the funeral service, the family would lower the casket in the hole, then the casket cover and then fill the hole back up. At first when it really dawned on me what was happening, I thought it was strange that they would first put snow in the grave before the dirt. But at the ground is frozen year around, so the snow would not melt. It was then that I truely realized that it was the families that were doing the work. It was not hired hands of those who worked for the funeral homes or grave sights, but the families.

My first thought about this was how it must be healing for some to be that connected with the funeral process. That there is more closure for the family. I am not so sure though. Following up with family members after the funerals, they greive just as much as those who have somebody else do all the dirty work. Another thought came to me as I am typing this, who wants to be in sub-zero weather greiving for a lost family member by digging a grave? But it happens, and it get done.

I am not sure where I am going with this right now, but I did want to pass on this observation and realization, one that was very slow in coming to me. Hopefully, I will be more aware, and have a little quicker learning time in the future.

Peace and blessings.

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