Coming Home

(I found several pictures of Rich on my computer but this was my favorite, he is at the right of the photo, and pretty much captures his essence. Laid back, smiling, enjoying a beer, not a care in the world)

Today, a little after 3 in the afternoon, Richard’s body was found in Rainy Pass. He was helicoptered in and now lies in state in his beloved garage.

He was found under just eleven feet of snow, but he is believed to have died almost instantly. He was next to his snow machine.

We are all relieved but saddened once again at the absolution of it all.

Tonight, we felt it would be wrong to intrude on the family while they sat in vigil over the body. But Rich’s sister in law came into the bar to have a drink and approached me and Howard and told us that it would mean a lot to the family if we went to pay our respects. She’d seen enough for the day. She was there with Judy and the rescue crew when the recovery was made. She’d flown back with Judy in the helicopter.

So we worked up our nerve and decided to go. We’re glad we did. His parents embraced both of us upon our arrival. Judy succumbed to her fatigue and was resting in the house. His two stepdaughters were there along with other members of the community. His father was heartbreakingly reflective. He explained how they found Richard. How relieved they all were that he didn’t suffer. We opened up about how much we liked Richard. How supportive he and Judy had been of Howard and myself. And the rest of the time we sat in awe of Rich.

He looked incredibly peaceful. His eyes were closed. His face was perfect. His cheeks rosy. The ice and snow kept him in a most pristine state. His arms were frozen, crossed above his chest, his hands formed into fists. In a way, it was comforting. Almost as if he knew he was drawing his last breath. His parents admitted they were anticipating him in a more “traumatized” condition.

Another person really affected was Rich’s dog, Millie. Rich was “her person.” She traveled with him the entire ride to Rohn. When he was out and about, so was Millie. A spoiled rotten Border Collie. She kept going over to Rich’s body, trying to jump up on him, as if she was trying to wake him. Her confusion broke everyone’s heart. She stayed right by his side. Never taking her eyes from him.

As we rose to say goodbye, we all hugged Millie too. Petting her, consoling her, all while she would look at us helplessly and confused.

Here in the bush, obviously funerals are much less formal. It is a lot like it was before funeral homes and embalming. The body lies in state at the home, people stay with body at all times, and when the time is right, the body is buried.

Everyone, including the family, acknowledges that we already said “goodbye” to Rich. There will not be another memorial service. We’ve said our piece. When his body thaws and the rest of the rescue crew comes back from Rohn, there will be one more bonfire, one more final goodbye. It’s the rural Alaskan way. The only way Rich would have wanted.

But we’re glad that closure has come, and he is home.

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