Four years ago today, Jared died. It was early Sunday morning, I was listening to “Ashes to Ashes” by David Bowie and standing in line at Starbucks to get a coffee when I got the call. The call. I walked outside, sat down, and listened to the words. They made sense, I knew what each word meant, but the formulation, the order, the creation of how they were arranged, I could not fathom. I sat there and waited. These are excerpts of my journal from then:
Apr. 15th, 2007
One of the best people you could ever know died this morning, his name was Jared. I was very lucky to call him my friend and for him to return the compliment was just a bonus. I was just talking about him to another friend of ours yesterday. I was telling him about his amazing ability to recall every detail of conversations you had years earlier. He could quote back to you things that you said, you had no memory of saying them, but they sounded like things you would say, so you believed him over your own memory. His ability to do this meant that he was really listening to you when you spoke, that he was taking it in and actively hearing your words and meaning. Few people can claim to do this. He was beyond kind and caring, he would do anything possible for you. He was probably the most genuine person I have ever known. I said all this about him prior to his death.
He has a seizure and didn’t make it.
I wrote the above couple of paragraphs this morning, it is now about ten hours later. I have spent most of this time with his sister, brother-in-law, and girlfriend. We spent time crying and laughing. We each remembered our own stories and related them to each other. He influenced our lives in different ways, but each significantly. I wish I had wise words to tell you, how life is fleeting and you must grab it by the reigns and milk it for every drop of experience, but as you can see, I am incapable of keeping metaphors straight. I just know that he was loved very much, by all of you and many more. Jared was a great friend to me and I hope I was half as good a friend back.
Apr. 18th, 2007 1:03 am
We just finished a 10 hour service that was intense in length as well as content. It was full of singing and dancing, laughing and crying. There were drummers, dancers, and singers, as well as a funeral procession escorted by the Yakima Nation Sheriff’s Department. Jared is in his tribe’s Long House right now and two of his sisters and one niece will be spending the night with him.
The amount of people and support that this community had lavished on Jared, his family, and even us is amazing. They welcomed us all into their Long House and did their best to explain the significance of each part of the ceremony. I do not think that we really knew as much about Jared as we should have. The community was so very proud of him, he was loved by everyone here. I guess that is not really much of a revelation, as he was universally loved wherever he went.
Tomorrow’s service starts at 9 or 10 and goes “all day”. I tried to get them to pin down how they define “all day” and they said it will be wrapped up with a meal at midnight. All this said, there is a certain level of calm attained from crying for 10 hours. It really does seem to get the grieving process out of the way. Take for instance tonight when I was trying to learn the Long House entrance ritual from his sister in the small kitchen appliance aisle at WalMart while beating out the rhythm of the drums with my jumbo box of Mike and Ike’s. Oh and just in case you need to know, always turn counter-clockwise. You enter through the East, the drummers sit to the West, the men to the South, and the women to the North. Walk one full circle around Jared going East-South-West-North until you are back at the East end, then pivot counter-clockwise while holding your right hand up bent at the elbow. The proceed to your side of the Long House depending on your gender.
Apr. 19th, 2007 1:45 am
Our real Day Two started with going through photographs of Jared on our computers and collected from his various online entities. We burned them to discs for his family. We went by the Long House to drop off Susannah and met up with Linda who drove all the way from Boise. Cathy had arrived earlier from Hawaii. We stayed for a hour or so while the Long House was open to anyone that wanted to speak. Eunice, Mrs. Chung, Taylor, Wilson, and I had to excuse ourselves and drive to Yakima so we could get some photographs developed at WalMart. The photographs were for part of the grieving ceremony that takes place after his burial.
Until Jared is buried, no one uses his name. They use pronouns, or nephew, or elder brother, but not his name. The belief behind this is that some spirits may not know that they have passed on and can still be around us. If we use his name, they could mistake that for speaking to them and that could make it so they do not continue their journey. We all didn’t know this right away, there are so many rituals and beliefs that we all wanted to be respectful of for his family. Once the last shovel of dirt was on his grave and the flowers were in place, one of his uncles turned to Robert and asked “How did you know Jared?”
There was a dinner that started around five and all his friends from Seattle started arriving shortly after then. The parents of a friend from college arrived and were there to have the meal with everyone. Mats are set out on the floor and the food is placed along the mats. Men and women eat separately, sitting cross-legged. Most of the kitchen staff, dancers, and drummers were not family and may have not even known Jared, but were members of the community that helped out because his family had helped them in similar situations. It makes sense, it is nice to not have to split your time between mourning and wondering if the fish is done cooking.
The ceremony on Day Two was very similar to the one on Day One. Seven sets of seven songs are performed including drumming and dancing. There is a lot of participation by everyone there, standing while others danced, moving into the inner circle of the Long House, onto the dirt floor. The singing and dancing went on until midnight, followed by another meal. Honestly, we left before the meal was served.
Back at the hotel, we all gathered in the pool area, our aching feet dangling in the hot tub, another circle of friends. Eunice, Mrs. Chung, Taylor, Matt, Susannah, Linda, Mark, Wilson, Sung, Julia, and myself. We told stories about Jared and laughed mostly, our feet soaking away the night’s ceremony. It was two in the morning and we knew that we had to be up and downstairs by a quarter to five, we all retired to sleep for an hour.
Apr. 19th, 2007 |01:12 am
Day Three started very early as we all attempted to arrive at the Long House by five. Brandon and Brandy had arrived late the night before and Robert and Chip early that morning. A sunrise burial is more just a title than an actual event. There was another viewing where everyone filed by his open casket, paused for a moment, then continued. There was more singing and dancing, then we lined up again as he was carried out of the Long House to the hearse. A long Yakima Nation Sheriff escorted funeral procession lead us through the valley, up into the hills. As we surrounded his grave and he was placed in it, they sang more. We formed lines and walked around the grave, each taking a handful of dirt and tossing it onto his coffin. I grabbed the handful of dirt and squeezed it tightly, trying to grind it into my palm, trying to rub some of me off on it with the hopes of it then being tossed into his grave. There was more singing and more bell ringing. We stood and watched as the last shovel-full of dirt was placed on top of him and bouquets of flowers covered every inch of the mounded earth. Looking down from the cemetery into the valley with the sun on our faces, our friend was buried.
First thing, when returning to the Long House, we were instructed to wash the grave dirt off our hands and then stood in a very long reception line and shook hands with every single person in his family. We had a chance to thank them for including us in their service, for their help and understanding with our clumsy attempts at their traditions, and for raising a son that became our friend.
We all have a job to do and that is to be good to each other. Jared is dead. Jared will never smell garbage on a hot day or miss the bus again, he will never taste ice cream or get dog kisses again. We live with bad and good, where Jared is, it is all ice cream and dog kisses. They say that he is in a better place, that he is preparing it for other’s journeys. If he could come back and see us trapped in our grief, unable to understand the loss or reasons behind it, he would hate it. I will still feel a loss and my eyes will well up whenever I think of him and I want it no other way.
If the measure of a man is calculated by the footprint he leaves on the earth and his footprint is made by the number of lives he touches, Jared’s footprint reached across the world and made him the type of man I hope to be some day.