As I Remember It: Teachings (Ɂəms tɑɁɑw) from the Life of a Sliammon Elder

The Last Walk

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.

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