March 03, 2012

Death on the Tundra, saying goodbye to Bright Moon, Conley Snapper McAnally, guest blogger

Alaskan cemetary © 1984 Janelle Meraz Hooper

One of my favorite writers, Conley Snapper McAnally, has a blog ( ) that is near and dear to my heart because one of his subjects is Alaska. I've invited him to share one of his posts because it exemplifies a thought I've written often, "Sometimes we forget that everyone else is living their moments while we're living ours..." 
When I was a docent in the Anchorage Museum many years ago, I came to love and respect the native cultures. I hope you enjoy this little window into Alaskan Native culture as much as I did.
Conley writes about all of his world travels. I also love his stories from Italy. Check out his blog!

Death on the Tundra
Saying goodbye to Bright Moon
© Conley Snapper McAnally

Bright Moon and a bunch of her friends were riding their four-wheelers on the beach late one night. They were playing a game the kids called ditch'em. Bright Moon was riding with three other girls when they hit a piece of driftwood and were thrown in different directions. All suffered head trauma. They were evacuated to the regional hospital a couple of hundred miles away by plane.  No small feat in the middle of the night in the Alaskan bush but unfortunately a common one. Bright Moon was the most severely injured so she was sent to Anchorage. The family managed to raise enough money to be at her side the next day and eventually faced the horrendous decision of pulling the plug.

School was sort of a dismal place waiting for news about Bright Moon's condition. The vice-principal spoke over the intercom to try and set the record straight about her condition and asked everyone to observe a moment of silent prayer. An hour later he came back over the intercom and informed us that Bright Moon had died. School was dismissed.

The next day some village elders, a social worker, and the missionary came to Bright Moon's classroom and had everyone who wanted to talk about her and more or less comfort one another. They sang songs, held hands, and prayed. No separation of church and state that day.

A day or so later her body was flown back to the village where it was laid out on the family's living room floor. The wake was like a wake anywhere else. Friends and neighbors brought food, shared hugs and memories, shed tears, and bid Bright Moon farewell.

The next day a large funeral was held in the school gym. All the stores were closed, school was put on hold, and even the post office closed down.

A few days later Bright Moon's mother came to our classroom and presented us with an 8x10 colored photograph of Bright Moon. I found an old rosary and draped it over the picture. The picture and rosary hung there the rest of the school year.

When I returned the next school year the picture was still hanging on the wall. Some of Bright Moon's friends came by and asked if they could take it to their new classroom. It was a procedure that would be followed until her class graduated from high school.

The yearbook that year will have a page dedicated to Bright Moon and her presence and at the graduation ceremony her picture will be placed on the seat where she would have sat. Her name will be read as if receiving a diploma and then a close friend or relative will carry the picture down the aisle toward the future that should have been hers.
Note: Conley was a teacher in Alaska for several years.

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