Mary Helen Paniyak

March 21, 1945 – July 3, 2023

Mom, Mary Helen Paniyak, Paniyagaq. Born March 21, 1945 in Qissunaq. She used to tell the story of when she was born. She’d say she was born during the flu. The elders told her mom to take her and go to the coastal side (I believe at Issurituliq?) because the salty air would keep her from getting sick. With this belief, while boating out at the coast, she used to stand towards the waters and take 3 deep breaths and hold in the salty air then exhale out the “sickness”.

Mom passed away peacefully on July 3, 2023. She went to the Lord during her favorite season of the year, summer. One of her favorite words was “beautiful”. Mom loved the beautiful sounds of birds, especially when going to sleep and waking to them. The sights and sounds of the tundra and specific areas that held her precious memories were always beautiful.

Mary H. Paniyak, mom, married dad, Joseph V. Paniyak on December 26, 1974. Mom loved to tell us how proud and happy dad was when he was going to marry her. He was so happy that he wanted to announce it to the President of the United States. They took care of each other’s up until dad passed on from cancer, on September 27, 1997.

Together, mom and dad, had Dion Imgalrea (adopted to her mom and dad Uyurucian Rose and Imgalria Tom), Cynthia, Clifford, Jolene, Mayra, Tom, Marlene, Joseph the II, and Curtis Paniyak.

Mom and dad were the most traditional that they can be. Dad worked and provided and supported his family. Mom was best at being a stay at home mom or housewife as they liked to put it. Together they traditionally harvested, gathered, fished and hunted for all subsistence foods. After dad passed on, mom continued doing everything they did together the best she can. Mom was definitely the backbone of her family.

Mom told us that she attended the St. Mary’s missionary school up to 8th grade. From then on she took take care of her parents. I remember her telling us that she used to be the health aide and one of the stories was that she delivered a baby in the plane on the way to Bethel. She said that people were just staring at her when she went into the hospital. She didn’t realize that she had some blood on her clothing from delivering that baby.

Our mom faithfully trusted in God. Mom never ceased to pray. Her prayer life was so strong that it gave comfort to her family and friends, near and far. Mom not only cared for her family, she shared her love to all her family and friends in Chevak and other villages and anyone who came into her path, young and old. She cared so much for those that had lost their loved ones. She tirelessly took care of her family and others. She loved and encouraged everyone to love one another.

She often said singing praises to the Lord was another form of prayer. She loved singing. One of her favorite songs to sing was the Healing Song. She had great devotion to God. The same desire that you might have to make that shot in ballgames, the same desire you have for that specific delicious food, you use that same desire to pray to Jesus. Put him in front of you, imagine him standing right in front of you, when you pray. Her desire was to keep our family together all the way to heaven. She always said a family that prays together, stays together. Quyana Agayun for our mom.

One of her best things she loved was laughing. She spread joy and laughter by participating in halloween contests and picingsaq while yuraqing. We used to get embarrassed when she’d picingsaq within a crowd, like during the halftime of a ballgame. She’d be dancing to the music that played. Yup, she said that laughter was medicine. When one of us were down she used to try to make us laugh and she never failed. Growing up, I always noticed mom acknowledging others, especially by inqeqing them. We loved hearing how mom was funny and loving.

Mom’s hands not only took care of us. Her gentle and strong hands loved fishing, especially in the winter, picking berries and gathering greens and all other subsistence activities. Her dry fish and arrumarrlluks were so good! Oh how she loved to eat clams, even through her dementia, she’d mention wanting “tuqulusaq”.

Her tough hands chopped wood for her maqii and hammered and nailed to fix up her initaq, winterize her house that her husband had made. Mom loved to eat all subsistence foods while at the tundra. Mom’s hard working hands sewed beautifully, as well. She made everything from picture frames to dolls to baskets to traditional clothing. She made her husband and children piluguks, atkuks, palaggai and lovely qaspeqs. Mom knitted and crocheted gloves, hats, scarves, piineqs and neckies. Mom was amazing!

Mom was strong in so many ways. She never gave up. One of her advices that she carried on from dad was to “never give up, keep going forward, even though there’s lotsa obstacles.” She held up strong through many battles. She helped dad fight through cancer, while going through her own battle of breast cancer and beat it! She then put up a fight with dementia and stroke. Mom made it even through the COVID times!

Her deepest wish was that we will one day all be together in heaven. Mom, we know that you are where you belong, surrounded by dad and your loved ones.

Mary is preceded in death by her husband, Joseph V. Paniyak, her parents Tom and Rose Imgalrea, her brother Peter Imgalrea, her grandma Mary Natrok. She leaves behind her children Dion Imgalrea, Cynthia Paniyak, Clifford Paniyak, Jolene Umugak, Mayra Paniyak, Tom Paniyak, Marlene Paniyak, Jospeh Paniyak II and Curtis Paniyak. She also leaves behind her many grandchildren and great grandchildren, her sister, Anna Chayalkun, and brothers Pius Imgalrea and Roger Imgalrea and her many family and friends.

Our mom, Mary H. Paniyak, was very loving, caring, funny, creative, and the strongest fighter! She was our teacher, she was our cheerleader, she was wise, she was the most important woman in our life. We will continue, as best we can, to never give up, to keep going, just as you taught us, mom! We love you and we miss you dearly! Rest in peace. May God bless you.

We want to thank all those that helped us during the loss of our mom. We want to thank all those who were there for mom, from the health aides and medical care providers to her family and friends, to those that came to comfort and support us, to those that brought food, to those that called to pray and comfort us, to those that wonderfully built mom’s casket, to those that dug the grave, to the catholic church that held her beautiful funeral service, to Coastal Villages Region Fund, to Calista Corp, to Our Cache, LLC, to Chevak Co. Corp., to City of Chevak, and to Chevak Traditional Council and to all we have not intentionally missed. All your love and support really helped and we are forever grateful. May God bless you all.