Earlier this week we laid my cousin Peter to rest next to his brother Keith. They spent many years living far from each other but were in touch every day. In their passing they are once again close. They are also near their parents.
The services consisted of an inside service where prayers were said and Peter was eulogized by the Rabbi and also Peter’s niece. Peter was a very generous and giving person. I only got to know him during the last 2 years. I spent nearly 5 hours talking with him only days before he passed. In many ways we are mirrors of each other.
After the inside service we all went outside. I was one of the pall bearers. That means I got to help my cousin to his last resting place. I have performed this honor for my cousin Peter, his brother Keith and their mom and dad. After we put the coffin in place, all pall bearers stepped back for a moment of silent observation. I was standing next to his burial site, at about his shoulders and said “Goodbye Peter.” No one else spoke. A moment later his coffin was lowered into the grave.
In my religion we help burry our loved ones. Each participant that is willing can take a shovel and let some dirt fall to the grave. The closest family members go first. Each person places 3 or more shovels full of dirt on the coffin then sets the shovel down for the next person. There is no elegant way to do this, so it is done slowly. The cemetery staff provides a wheel barrel full of bark and soft dirt. This is for the first few to use. The majority of the dirt is wet and strewn with rocks. One of the most unique sounds I've ever heard is the sound of dirt and rocks hitting a casket. You never forget that.
When there is sufficient dirt on the grave the Rabbi and all who attend cite the Mourner's Kaddish. This is a simple prayer recited to reaffirm one’s belief in the Lord.
At my mom’s funeral my mom’s 11 grandkids were among those who attended. For most of them it was the first time they had participated in a funeral. I arranged the services and thought it a fitting tribute that the pall bearers were mostly my mom’s grandkids, both men and women. You could tell that the grandkids didn’t quite know what to make of the part of the ceremony where they shoveled dirt into their Grandma’s grave. Where my mom had 5 kids and 11 grandkids, my cousin Peter never married and in his immediate family, only his oldest brother had a child. Due to this there were few young people at Peter’s funeral.
In September of 2008, at my cousin Keith’s funeral I made a decision and have been working on that ever since. Keith was an artist and I always admired his life. He worked at home, traveled to for several weeks and most of the time did little other than enjoy life. I have another cousin who has done extremely well in the arts. I spent time with my cousin Keith when he was showing his works at the Bellevue Art fair. You’d hear the comments. Some said: “I bet I could do that.” Others would say “Look its just a couple of things put together with a nice finish.” Others still said: “Wow, with a little work I could do that.” Most others admired the beauty and artistry and were not afraid to say so.
My decision was to see if I can be successful as an artist. I've always loved photography. I started to peruse it as a formal study back when I was a mere 14 years old. In recent years I've taken 10s of thousands of photos during my travels through the woods around Mt. Rainier. I've spent a lot of time since my cousin’s passing working to teach myself the latest in print making techniques as well as the very old art form of making picture mats. I've done pretty well. It has been a labor of love. My collection of completed works numbers at a little over 50 and growing. You can see them at www.justan-elk.com I've just started to look for places to show my works.
On this Memorial Day our Nation reflects upon the loss of our fallen in the military. Most reflect upon the passing of our loved ones. For many it is a day away from work and a time to rest and think. I saw a bit of my future in my cousins' passing. The day is also a good time to look to the future and plan to make a better tomorrow. For me that better tomorrow will hopefully be many opportunities to show my photographs and also hopefully have a measure of success in the arts.
What is a life, after all, but the opportunity to contribute to our families and communities?