by Joanne Kameroff
When I was 12 years old I remember the day my grandfather died, it was the evening of Slaviq. I remember being late going to the airport, and we were speeding. As we were passing the water pump house we ended up being stopped by the police, and we explained that we had to rush to the airport, and they offered a police escort to the airport. Feeling that importance from the police being escorted with our Captain of the Kuskokwim seeing his last journey through Bethel, Alaska.
As I was returning home on that cold airplane traveling to Stony River, I looked out the window and I saw the great scenery of the vast mountains and the swirling curves of the Kuskokwim River. I remember grieving over my dead grandfather, remembering the ways he taught me respect, and telling me not to show any grief over him, for he is in a better place. He told me once before not to cry in front of the little ones to show how to be strong and stand with courage.
After landing in Stony River, we were bringing him to his house. At that moment I felt full of sorrow, but I was glad to be back and happy to see all my cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents.
As we were preparing the house and preparing meals we decided to sing to our grandfather one last time, the songs of Slaviq. The songs that he once led and the song that he once taught us. Telling us not to forget these songs, as the songs hold our culture and our beliefs of that spinning star.
As we were singing, there was this warm feeling in the house. I know it wasn’t from the wood stove because it was off and the windows were open. That warm feeling wasn’t coming from anything physical, but from something much more. It was coming from my heart. That feeling in my heart, was filled with secureness, full of joy, and just being grateful.
As we were bringing him to his final resting place I felt a sharp pain come over my heart, my throat stinging, and my eyes starting to fill with tears. Holding back that one tear from falling down my cheek was difficult, but as that tear came out I started sobbing and buried my face into my mother’s arms and hugged her tight as we both wept over him.
As I glanced over to his casket being lowered down to the ground next to his beloved wife, I started to think to myself that he wouldn’t be in that agonizing pain he once was. He would be watching over us, and waiting for us to return home. From that moment on, I knew everything was going to be okay and I will always remember the ways of respect.