“That's the ideal meeting...once upon a time, only once, unexpectedly, then never again.” -- Helen OyeyemiI attended a funeral last weekend. It wasn't really anyone I knew. I'd met the person once: he was a fellow employee that worked at one of our remote construction sites. He passed away unexpectedly, and when my boss sent the email with the news, I was sad. He showed me a simple kindness once, on the first day I met him on that work site: he handed me a pair of earplugs. And I thought that that was kind. He knew I was an office worker, and that I wouldn't have thought to bring ear protection. I can't even remember if I ever talked to him, or if I ever saw him again.
And then, he was gone.
I attended with another coworker on behalf of the company. His cousin, another employee, had been in contact with me the week before to extend the invitation to us. We had taken up a collection, which turned into a large donation and a bursary for others working towards the same trade certification. I felt like it was only right to attend in person.
He was a native person, what we refer to as First Nations in Canada. He was proud of his culture, and would have wanted everything to be done traditionally. I learned a lot that day. I learned about how he had quietly purchased tools for a coworker when he couldn't afford them, only asking that he pass on the kindness... how he loved rap music, but refused to write lyrics that were demeaning to women... how he was so, so proud to be a carpenter, because that's what the men in his family did.
I learned a little about the traditions of the Coast Salish Peoples. Many people carried around small drawstring pouches, in which they carried coins. I looked at them with great interest: they were all knitted or crocheted in different colours. The family circled the casket and placed coins in a pouch worn by the person officiating the ceremony, and then later, to other people who had helped put the day together: the dancers, the singers, the pall bearers, the people who organized the lunch. Others that attended the service took coins from their pouches to give to the family, and one person noted down their names. "We write it down so that we remember who helped us," his cousin said. "And then, when they are in need, we remember to help them."
The First Nations of the Cowichan Valley are famous for their knitted sweaters. I remember reading about it at a museum in Cowichan Bay, and I remembered taking a photo of the panel below. Since then, I'd been interested in knitting a version for myself - I just haven't gotten around to it yet:
The pouches I saw were either knitted using their two-coloured stranded technique, or crocheted, also in multiple colours. I saw snowflake patterns, birds in flight, wolves in profile. I didn't take any photos (it seems wrong to take photos at a funeral), but I couldn't help but study each one I saw carefully. I asked one of the cousins who made them, and she said, "They just appear... people arrive at our houses with bags full of them. They are just always being made."
And well, that's just the way it is. They are made by people who make them because that is what is done.
When I got home, I pulled out some of my own yarn and started to crochet a pouch, just to see if I could do it. I think I might try a stranded knitted one sometime... just because I want to. It is what I do.
When we were at the gravesite, I learned another thing: It is unbearably painful to watch a mother standing at the gravesite of her son as they are lowering him into the ground. It's during those times when my senses are extra strong... as my eyes prickled with tears, I looked up and saw hawks circling near by... and I watched them as they came closer and closer. I became aware of the slience in the graveyard, even with all of the people there. I wondered if the hawks knew that we were letting go of someone, and if they were there to help his spirit on.
I am glad I went. I am glad to have known this person. And I will remember him as I knit.