Recently a young man passed away. He was found in the snow after having gone missing for two days. Out here when someone dies unexpectedly, their body is sent into Anchorage for the corner and then it goes to the funeral parlor before being shipped out here in the casket. The only time, the body does not go in is if the person died of old age or cancer.
Traditionally, there is a three day period of mourning where the body is laid out in the living room. People sit by the body 24 hours a day, visiting and at night they sing hymns all night long. There are pictures and mementos of the person who passed. After three days, the funeral is held and the body buried.
This time it is being done differently. She said that usually people set up a sanctuary of death and focus on the death, mourning the passing. She didn't want that. Instead, she decided to celebrate her son's life, not his death. She put all his awards and certificates on the wall in his bedroom to show everything he accomplished in his 25 years. She talked about him with joy and love. She said she wanted to be smile rather than be sad. At 10 PM, they send everyone home so they have more time with their son before he is given to the earth.
Tomorrow is the funeral. It won't happen in either of the local churches because she belongs to a small group that meets at peoples houses. She is going to have it at the tribal building which has room and when its over, they will have a potluck and a dance. I don't know if the potluck will be at the school or in the tribal building.
It doesn't matter people will come together for the meal with all sorts of wonderful food and at the end, everyone will share in the dance to celebrate the young man's time on earth. Then each year on the anniversary of his death for the first three years, his parents will have another dinner to remember him and celebrate his life.
Until I moved here, I'd not seen it done this way. I grew up with the whole body goes to the funeral parlor, you pay your respects, attend a 20 min service and your done. Or it might happen at the grave site with a short service. Here the service is usually in the 1 to 3 hour range depending on whether its held at the Catholic church or the number of people who want to say a few words in remembrance.
In a sense, people out here still carry on funerals and mourning much like they did in the 19th century. I don't think it will change because this is the way they work through their grief.