I never thought that one day, I would be sitting in front of my wood burning stove with the heat warming my back against an emptied house, not just any house, but the first I ever owned. A log cabin my husband and I chinked every summer. Maple hardwood floors carved by my kids learning how to walk. A weathered porch where I surrendered the things I couldn’t control in life to the roar of Southfork Eagle River.
It’s my last night in Alaska and I am weighed down with grief. Tomorrow, we will board a flight to Washington, D.C., where Thomas grew up, where his extended family and college buddies still reside, where we first met and married.
We are returning to a place that once made us happy and yet, all I could think about was the calving of events that started last year when Thomas’ dad was suddenly killed in a metro accident.
Many Alaskans return to the Lower 48 due to a death in the family. I have certainly uprooted myself in the past due to MaMa and Jon-Jon’s death. And yet, this time, I resisted.
I think I wanted death to take pity on us, just this once.
A week before the movers arrived at my house, I attended a potlatch, a gift-giving ceremony to honor a clan member who died and a naming ceremony, in Yakutat. I told Thomas I had to accept this invitation even though the timing was terrible. At the potlatch, I heard a translation of something Tlingit Elder Jessie Dalton had once said:
Does death take pity on us too?
It does not take pity on us either,
This thing that has happened.
Death does not take pity on anyone. I let those words sink in during the 20-hour long potlatch. I let them sink in as Yakutat soaked me down to the bones the few hours I had before returning to Anchorage to face my remaining two weeks in my beloved Alaska.
I walked and collected some Yakutat flowers for Kyra and sat on the earth until the anger and resentment I had towards all the forces working to uproot me seeped away. I had not expected to come to any peace about this move in Yakutat. I thought it would make me miss Alaska more. Instead, I realized that I learned a great deal about balance.
In the potlatch, every action was thoroughly discussed and planned out years in advance. Each sad song balanced by a happy one. Each sad story balanced with a happy one. Each person’s contributions no matter how big or small remembered and repaid.
I learned that everything has its turn. That things never happen when I want them to. That I can be stronger than I think.
And I was strong for the most part, until the movers drove away with all our possessions. Faced with an empty house, all these words of wisdom floated beyond my reach. I knew what I needed to do when I was ready. But now, I simply wanted to mourn.
Leaving Alaska was equivalent to a loss, a death to the good life we had here, where my kids could strap on crampons and hike glaciers, where we could scoop salmon out of the ocean.
A time to say how grateful we are to the people who have become our family these past seven years. We form these tight bonds with adventurous adaptable souls. We give and give, even though we know that like the plucking that occurs in glaciers, we might lose this family at any time.
Shehla threw a farewell party for us even though she was just as upset as I was about the move. She lent us air mattresses, pillows, and sleeping bags. She took my calls no matter what time of the night and told me to look for the positive aspects of the move.
Erica brought me meals and held my hand in the park while my kids played and told me everything happens for a reason. She promised to keep my fridge stocked with salmon.
My neighbor, Lian, whom I met only a year ago, snuck into my house after the movers left and cleaned my nasty fridge. She lent us a car when ours were shipped out and babysat my kids so that I could focus on the move.
Even Thomas’ colleague, Patricia (“Trish”) Opheen Redmond, who died unexpectantly a few days ago, inspired everyone to live life to its fullest at her Celebration of Life, which we attended today. When the pastor urged us to examine our reflection and see that Trish still lives in us, I wondered whether Alaska will always live in me too.