Words Of Comfort And Condolence For The Departed And The Mourners
by Jake Swamp
We are not supposed to mark the graves, for in our teaching it says do not let your mind go back to the mound, meaning the grave, because that will hold you back from freedom to move into the future, because your mind is in the past. At the grave site there are words that are said; we instruct the person that is being put back into Mother Earth:
“You were here with us for a very short time, maybe…, but you were given those days to live, and now we are the ones that have come here to perform our responsibility. We have brought you here to this place where you will rest. We have prepared your body in the finest clothing, and we are going to place you back into the Earth, because the Mother accepts you again, your body. And then your spirit will leave, and the Great Spirit will take that spirit, and it will be reassigned in the other world, where it will eventually remain. We take a fine plank of wood, and we put it on top of the body so that your family and relatives will know that when it rains, it will be protected, for when the sun shines so hard it will not spoil the body. This is what we have done. And today, we are going to turn around and go back and continue life. We wipe away your tracks that you have made on earth. We take your name and we put it back; we give it back to the mothers. You will not be hampered in your journey about what transpires on earth. You will go on, we now clear, you will go on without worrying about what goes on in your family. We release you, you are free to go on your journey to the spirit world, and we will go on with life."
That is why they said, do not look back to the mound. For sometimes when we do that it causes us to be aggressive; it gives us worry; we need that freedom to go on with life without any hindrance... Without any tears, even if it is possible only for one day, that is what they tell us. When our minds are uplifted, they add on at the end; we want you to feel better, even if it is only for one day, for tomorrow someone else might fall. That is how life is. And so our life is like, acceptance, acceptance of nature and how it is in its…and that’s what our lives are about.
When we feel good, we have to enjoy life. When there is no death, enjoy life to the fullest. But when there is a death, we all get together, pick the people up that’s been affected. It has gone so far astray today. At times it seems people that have lost members of their families, and you know what happens. People stay away. “I don’t want to go there. I might intrude on them in their suffering.” We should be, “I am going to go there and offer my hand to help them.” That is what we do. That is the way it is supposed to be. That is how the balance comes about, back and forth.
So there are many things that now are out of balance. People sometimes spend their whole life suffering, because no one was there to help them back up. Sometimes you go into the big cities, you see them living in cardboard boxes. Sometimes you see them walking on the streets talking away, waving their hands. Those are the signs of the unbalance in the world. But there is something we can do. We can educate ourselves. As long as we know the process, we can learn in our own way how to go about, how to put it into practice. But it is not to dishonor any nation or any family in the way that we do it. We do it in an honorable way. And if we learn to do that, then everything will be good.
The longhouse is divided into two sections: those who are grieving (family, friends, clan) sit to the north while those who are responding ( the other clans) are seated to the south with the body of the deceased in the center. The body is carried into the longhouse from the east (men’s entrance) with the feet placed to the west (women’s entrance) from which it will leave. The speakers for the event are selected from the healing clan with a responder chosen from the mourning clan. The pallbearers, all from the healing clan, sit behind the casket across from the immediate family.
The body is spoken to at the time and place where the last breath has been taken. The person is addressed with the belief that the spirit will hear the words. The person is told that the body has died and they are to prepare for their transition to the other world. They are told there is a time for the spirit to adjust to this new experience and there should be no confusion as to what has taken place. They were given the gift of life with the body taken from the earth and now it is time to return it to the mother. The spirit is told of what will now take place, that a specific number of days have been set aside for the friends and family to gather and grief. The spirit is told that the body will be cleansed and prepared so that the people may see their loved one and affirm that they are no longer on this earth.
The spirit is told that the body will be brought to a certain place for the mourning period and then carried to the longhouse for the final ceremony. At times, the death of the body make happen suddenly so it is important to speak to the spirit to inform them of what has happened so that it understands. The body is brought to a place of mourning (home or otherwise) for three nights where meals are set aside for the spirit. Once the three days are completed the spirit is told that the body will be brought to the longhouse.
Once the body is before the people the casket is opened and the speaker from the healing side begins. The healing clan speaker says:
"You, (Mohawk name) have had great power. You have called together all of the people from many places, some of whom have travelled great distances, to be here today. Such is the love they have for you; the leaders of the nation, your friends, clan and family have been brought together to see you once more as you begin your journey to the Creator’s land. No one knows the number of days in which we are given to live on this earth. The Creator only knows this and has given each one of us a certain number of days, like notches on a stick. It is the Creator’s will that we don’t know our days so that we will take nothing for granted and will be grateful for the gift of life. While were in grief we cannot hold on to it. These words are spoken so that sadness will be relieved. We know the kind of person you were. You took delight in in your family and friends. You enjoyed the things around you and were kind to other people. You were generous to the chiefs,clanmothers, faithkeepers, family and friends. You had a good sense of humour. You enjoyed the game of lacrosse, making things for others, preparing a good home for your family and visitors. You took pleasure in the ceremonies. You always had a good word for others. Now this is over and those things which brought you pleasure have ended. You are now to go on to the Creator’s land to undertake a journey of power. Your body will be placed into the ground to be wrapped in the blanket of mother earth. The mourning clan has been informed as to what has happened. We have taken over their normal duties and have taken care of the body and the funeral. We have prepared a place for your body in the earth. We remind the mourning side that while there is death the creation goes on. The winds will continue to blow across the land, our eldest brother the sun will rise in the morning, the birds will sing, the waters will flow. As they do, we also must carry on. There are a certain number of days in which we grieve but at its end we are restored to our duties."
The speaker for the mourning clan responds by accepting the words of condolence. The speaker will remind the people of the need to return to their normal tasks. The people will be told that they may not see their loved one in this world but will there will be a time when they are reunited in the Creator’s land. They will see the deceased when it is our time. The people are told that the body is here for them to see one last time. The healing clan then walks to the body and speaks directly to the spirit. The spirit is told what has been done from the time of death to the present moment. The mourning clan is told that the words are meant to clear their throat so they may speak using the purest water, that the eyes are cleared to they may hear using the softest off feathers and their eyes wiped clean of tears with the fur of the deer. Once that is done the leaders of the nation view the body, approaching from the east, walk around the coffin and leave the longhouse in the western door. They are followed by the healing clan, the mourning clan, then the immediate family. The pallbearers are last to leave, carrying to body to the gravesite.
At the grave the speaker will address the body after it is placed into the earth, the head to the east, the feet to the west so the spirit may begin its journey. The spirit is told all of which has happened to that time and that the body is returned to the embrace of the earth. The people are asked to walk in a counter clockwise direction around the grave and each one takes a handful of earth and places in on the grave. The people then return to a place where they take part in a communal meal with one plate set aside for the spirit. They are told that they are to resume their normal activities after the time of mourning (10 days) is over. In ten days at the dead feast all the goods of the deceased are given away to relatives and friends. Each person who took part in the funeral from speakers, pallbearers and grave preparers are given special gifts. At the dead feast food is set aside for the spirit and then taken to a remote place the morning after. In one year a final feast will be held and the rituals are complete.