November 4, 2009: Central Peninsula Hospital in Soldotna, Alaska, holds a remembrance memorial day. My contribution of spiritual care for the doctors, nurses, health care providers, staff, and families is to create “Lives In Review” — a one page snapshot of everyone who died at CHP or Heritage Place during the previous twelve months. I read the obituaries, then write a slim glimpse of remembrance. This was shared today. We remember.
Lives in Review …
Central Peninsula Hospital, Soldotna, Alaska
Through time, our lives become a web of relationship and experience, joy and sorrow, finding the significant in the ordinary, and delight in the extraordinary. Imagine this: more than eighty clipped obituaries have fallen from my lap, and now scatter at my feet. All mixed up, no longer in chronological order, some lay face down. All around me are black and white faces—a smiling, silver-haired woman with spectacles, a probing look from a rugged young man with a brown goatee, a decorated war hero, and a tanned woman whose eyes shine with brilliant kindness. Each portrays a snapshot in time. There is a bit of chaos around me as I begin to pick up tattered newspaper clippings. But soon it will pass. I, like all survivors who remain living when someone dies, will move breath by breath into the task at hand, into the next moment in time.
Everyone who works and serves at Central Peninsula Hospital and Heritage Place knows this to be true. It is also the experience for twenty-eight spouses, hundreds of brothers, sisters, and parents, 197 children, and more than 650 named grandchildren, great-grandchildren, nieces and nephews. It is true for coworkers, neighbors, aunts, uncles, and parents who knew one of the ninety-seven men and women who died this past year at CPH or Heritage Place. Although they no longer breathe beside us with a visible presence, they do live when we remember and recall their unique, particular lives.
Who are these remarkable people we remember? Forty-eight women, forty-seven men, and one child. Emily Hazel Kitchen is the elder, at age 99. The youngest, an infant. Only six were born in Alaska. Most everyone else arrived to join parents, siblings, children, or for “our final adventure together.” They come to The Great Land to serve in the military, travel as missionaries to Nome and the Kenai Peninsula, fly airplanes, build infrastructure, fish, hunt, homestead, raise families, and educate young people.
Family members share how men and women helped to start “the first ambulance service in Soldotna,” the “tourist center,” a “hot lunch program in Nome,” a “Christian based vocation school for youth in rural Alaska,” the “Peninsula Art Community,” “Gryphon Photography,” “Log Gift and Jewelry,” and the “Soldotna Senior Center.” With nicknames like Grandma Grape, Patman, Tootie, Banner, and Dr. Pipe, each person has a story.
Whether it is the feisty homesteader in Anchor Point, whose “rustic home in the middle of the woods often surprised visitors because it had curtains on all the windows and was filled with beautiful antiques” or the many men and women who run a boat on the Kenai or Kasilof River, commercial fish in Cook Inlet, hunt, play cards, quilt, pick berries, cook an “excellent apple crisp,” enjoy “morning coffee with the Sterling Bad Boys,” or “saw wood and build houses,” these are the kind of people who mirror the woman who, “loved fierce and was loved fierce in return.” They “receive perfect attendance” for many years of driving the school bus down Funny River Road, served on the “Alaska Commission on Status of Women,” the Soldotna city council, volunteer fire department, and as faculty at University of Alaska, Anchorage, and KPC.
A professional boxer, rodeo rider, ham radio operator, Rosie the Riveter, librarian, carpenter, stock car racer, dog trainer, or “weighing eighty-four pounds soaking wet” they are buried on the Kenai Peninsula, at Fort Richardson in Anchorage, and in the lower 48. Their ashes are planted in a home flower garden, and flow in the Kenai, Kasilof, and Anchor Rivers, in Kenai and Wif Lake, and Kachemak Bay.
Yes, it is true; together we crisscross through the web of time, breath by breath, task by task, day by day. We are grateful. And we remember.
–Pegge Bernecker, Kasilof, Alaska, November 1, 2009