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The Last Walk
“And then you talk to the spirit of the deceased person too and you say, ‘You’re gonna go on your journey. Your children will be fine. Your family will be fine. So you can rest in peace and go on your journey.’”
Embracing loss, embracing death – that it’s all part of life. And how important that is to recognize that, to accept that. You were born one day, and you’re going to die one day. What I had always heard was that from the day you’re born, your days were marked. You cannot argue – you cannot say it wasn’t his time or her time to go. Only the Creator knows that. Only God knows that – that there is your day that you’re gonna be called.
It is our tradition to carry the body to the cemetery, to walk the casket to the cemetery, because that’s the last journey on this earth for that person. And the teachin’ was that one day someone will have to carry you there too. So you go and you help, even if it’s just two or three steps that you’ve held that casket and helped carry that casket. You’re putting your hand there. That’s what they would say to you: “Go and put your hand over there. Go and help. Even if it’s not much, but all hands workin’ together makes for easier work.” So those things are really, really important – important teachin’s.
And at the first break of daylight, you go and you help people that have lost a loved one, for them to say their final goodbye to the individual. That they are brushed, and to send them away in a good way so that they’re not going to be grieving and holding the spirits back from going on their journey. Because if you do that, if you are not willing to let go or you are not prepared to let go, then the spirit of your loved one is always going to be around. But not in a good way, because they see you grieving. They see that you’re hurting. So therefore you need to let go. And this is why we do the very early morning ritual when our loved ones leave us. With the help of an Elder or some person that’s done it before and knows how it’s done. It’s a very sacred time. It’s a sacred ceremony. And the family members come up one at a time and stand by the casket and say their goodbye, and do their own meditation in their own heart. To do some soul-searching, and give permission for the spirit to go freely, and that we will meet again in another time. And I’ve done that many times. I help people through that process: “Here’s your dad” – or your mom, whatever. “He’s going on a journey. You just say your goodbyes. Don’t hang on to him.” And then you talk to the spirit of the deceased person too and you say, “You’re gonna go on your journey. Your children will be fine. Your family will be fine. So you can rest in peace and go on your journey.” It’s your way of saying goodbye and letting go.
Then walking up the cemetery, you have to walk on each side of the road. You don’t just walk any way or be chatting. It’s a time for silence and meditation and, while you bid farewell, you walk in two lines on each side of the road, one on each side of the road going up to the cemetery. That’s allowing the spirits to walk through, so that you’re not in the way. So you make room in the middle of the road.
Offerings for the Ancestors
“In the fall time I do it for my grandparents, because I know they loved the chum salmon that come up the river and every part of that chum salmon, the fish heads and the fish eggs and the smoked salmon and the tʼɛn, you know, that’s barbecued fish, the tʼɛn. So I do it for them, thinking of my grandparents and all the other Elders, ’cause that was their favourite food, these things I’m preparing. So when I’m preparing the food on the table, I’m making sure it’s all in your thoughts: ‘Grandmother, you will look after this. This is for you. And I know this was your favourite.’”
And I have done it from time to time. Especially on our anniversary, or the anniversary of his death, around May, or somewhere close to June or Father’s Day or something like that. Or I will do it in November for my grandparents too, ’cause the fish are coming up the river and we have an abundance of the fish that go up there. And I will do a feast for my ancestors. And I have called my grandchildren around that and – now that they’re grown up and they can witness that – and they really believe in it. They really believe in it. And they really respect it, which I’m so thankful for. They don’t treat it lightly. They really get something out of it, and they really appreciate it. Which I’m really proud of them for that. Yeah. It’s a good feeling.
“You asked the spirits that you’re feeding, the ancestors, to be there for you, to give you the strength you need, or the direction you need to go.”
Once you’re done, you just feel really light. And around that time when we’re around the fire, do the burning, we put the food out there. And then everyone turns away. You do your own meditation then. “For each of you,” I tell them, “turn away. Don’t be staring at the fire.” Everybody turns away. And silence. No chattering. No chit-chatting. This time is very personal. And you think about all that you want to change in your life. What would you like to see change in your life? What would you like to fix in your life? It’s a self-analysis. Where you’ve got some kind of pain or hurt or maybe you’ve got an illness or an ailment you want to – need help. And wherever you need help in your life!
“This time is very personal. And you think about all that you want to change in your life. What would you like to see change in your life?”
You asked the spirits that you’re feeding, the ancestors, to be there for you, to give you the strength you need, or the direction you need to go. So when you’re facing away from the fire, then you’re meditating. Taking that time for yourself, for your own wellness. And when that’s all done and the food has burned – you give it time to do that. And another reason why you turn away, too, from the fire, is that when you feed people, like if you feed people around this table, you know, and as a host you’re not gonna stand there and watch people eat or stare at them eat. That’s very rude. So you just put the food on the fire, you turn away, and you allow them to have their feast. So that’s the other reason why you turn away.
You delegate someone from the other side, from the spirit world. You ask your grandmother or some Elder, or your late spouse: “You will look after this food. You make sure everybody gets some. So they’ll have a feast on the other side.” Making sure everybody gets some. And again, stressing the fact that there are people on the other side that may have been greedy in life, so therefore could be greedy on the other side. And they will take more than their share when other people don’t get any, so that carries over to the other side. In your mind or your words, you talk to – “You will look after, you’re the one in charge.” So it’s like if we have a banquet here, wherever: “You will do the serving. You’re the person that’s gonna make sure that everybody gets a fair share.” So you do that to the spirit world. Yeah, that part is really important. And then the brushing again, and changing your clothes.
So you could do burning any time of the year. I do it about twice a year in my family – I do a little offering. In the fall time I do it for my grandparents, because I know they loved the chum salmon that come up the river and every part of that chum salmon, the fish heads and the fish eggs and the smoked salmon and the tʼɛn, you know, that’s barbecued fish, the tʼɛn. So I do it for them, thinking of my grandparents and all the other Elders, ’cause that was their favourite food, these things I’m preparing. So when I’m preparing the food on the table, I’m making sure it’s all in your thoughts: “Grandmother, you will look after this. This is for you. And I know this was your favourite.” You know, you talk to yourself! If there’s no one there that you’re talking to. If you have family you’re teaching this to, you teach them those things as well. It’s important to identify the foods you’re burning and who it’s for and separate the dish for the person that you’ve delegated to look after the food. But you can do a platter of other food for other people. But the person that you delegated to look after it will see that it’s shared, so you do theirs last. It’s like if you come into my house, I’m not gonna eat and you’re sitting there and I don’t feed you first. That’s rude! So the same applies to the spirit world. You don’t eat first. So that’s why you burn offerings: “This is the last one. You’ve done your job. This is yours.” Or just identify it in your thoughts and in your mind: “That’s yours. You look after the others.” So those are really important to remember.
“It’s like if you come into my house, I’m not gonna eat and you’re sitting there and I don’t feed you first. That’s rude! So the same applies to the spirit world. You don’t eat first. So that’s why you burn offerings.”
Be focused on what you’re doing. You can’t just put it down. When I do a burning, I give myself a whole day so I can prepare myself from morning, and prepare the food, and when it’s all done, you know – we usually do it about, um, I do it at noon. I feel it’s okay. A lot of people, they would wait until almost three o’clock in the afternoon. They say that’s when the spirits come up, is three in the afternoon. That’s when the spirits are active, after three. But I’ve done it at noon. I’ve done it at eleven in the morning. So I justify that by saying, “Well, it’s three o’clock somewhere else in the world.” [laughs] I have my own ways! And I say, “Well, it’s noontime here. That’s when we usually have our meal.” So I’m just great at justifying what we do. [laughs] So when we’re all finished and the food is all pretty much gone, burnt, then we have cedar handy, available, and everyone gets a brushing. We brush each person. They do the circle or they make the turn. You brush them. Then they go away from the fire, don’t come back. Just go. And everyone goes away feeling lighter, feeling good. Yeah. It’s a good practice. It’s very important. It’s something that I find very, very important. It’s good medicine. Yeah.