We Respected Our Elderly People

Interview with Feona Sawden

By Ephim Anahonak Jr

When we were younger kids, and as teenagers, we had respect for our elderly people. When someone died, the teenagers were the ones who stay up with the dead people. Our parents trusted us, so we didnít need a chaperone when we stayed up with the dead person. We used to play games quietly, and if someone fell asleep we would ďpaintĒ their face with soot while they slept. Most people used to use wood heaters and we would get the soot out of the stove. The fire would be out because you didnít want it to be to warm for the dead person.


One time there was five teenagers and one older person who was with us. We were staying with this person who had died. It was close to midnight. Pretty soon we heard a loud noise. We all ran out the door. We thought the dead person was getting up or something like that. So after we ran out, the older person came out and asked ďWhatís the matter?Ē We all asked, ďIs it okay to go in now? What happened?Ē It turned out that it was just air, which was stuck in the dead personís stomach that was released by itself.

Another time we were watching a little baby who had died. We were just little kids at the time. The older people in the house were sleeping. We had nothing to do so we went outside. We got into some mischief and my uncle found us outside. He ordered us to go into the bedroom and stay there. We all went into the bedroom, but my uncle wouldnít go back to sleep, so we couldnít get into mischief again.

People who stay up with the dead people have to stay at their (dead personís) house on the third, ninth, twentieth and fortieth days. We turn all the lights out and sit quietly until midnight. At a quarter to twelve you light a candle by the icons and watch it. If you are quiet and donít make any sounds, you might hear someone walking around. The candle might flicker as if the wind was trying to blow it out.


They say itís the little wings of the angels blowing the flames of the candle. The mischievous ones are the ones that were mischievous people when they were alive. Iíve heard that if you are not scared, you can get down on the floor, and youíll see something floating or hear something walking around.

Iíve never seen a ghost. Iím not saying that I believe in them or not. I just donít feel like finding out if they are real.

One incident I remember happened when we were the only ones living on the east end of the village. There werenít any lights out. I was taking my girls to my mothers. We wee half-way there, by Walterís house. There was a skinny tree.A person was walking, it looked like a shadow. There was a light behind the shadow, where Walter Junior is now staying. With the light on we could see the person walking. When the shadow got to that skinny tree, it never came ou the other side. I just kept walking. I thought someone was going to scare us. We went all the way around. My girls were only about 4 and 6 at the time. They both hung on to me. They said ďMama, did you see that?Ē I said, ďYes I saw it. I think itís just someone hiding.Ē I didnít get scared until I was by my motherís house. I told them what happened and they said our faces were pale.

Shortly after that someone died. The shadow could have belonged to the person who was going to die.

The reason people stay up with the dead people is so they wonít be alone. You have to have candles lit there all the time. Someone had to be there all the time to keep the candles lit and incense placed underneath them lit all the time.

We used to let the older people sleep while we stayed up with the dead people. Usually the dead person was buried after three days. But the priests and deacons say you have to bury them after a day, maybe because of the body decomposing.


An interesting thing happened to me while we were living in the tent. One morning I was looking for my scarf. I was in a hurry because I was late for work in the cannery. I finally saw it, pulled it but it didnít come loose. I kept pulling it. It was just a light scarf, not stuck on anything. Finally something pushed it into my hand. I guess it was just one of those experiences you canít explain. I didnít think anything about it until I sat down to have my tea. I told Tom about it. Of course, Tom doesnít believe in them either. It felt like a big finger was pushing it into my hand.

This guy was going to a house where a dead lady was. The graves used to be by Walter Meganackís place. Anyway, he said he was walking this way and no one was around. The moon was shining brightly. There was nothing but trees around the graves. He said he heard something rumbling over there like sheets or plastic coming down. He stopped and looked at the graves. He called the dead ladyís name, and said ďI know itís you and Iím not afraid of you.Ē That thing was following him until he went into the house. That lady used to be very mischievous.

One of the nights when they were staying u, it wasnít late yet, probably close to midnight. (It was the same dead ladyís house but she wasnít in the coffin yet. This other lady was standing under where they used to have an opening to the attic. Something was rattling over her head. She looked up and two masks were showing themselves down. They say when you finish masking, you should burn or wash the masks. She had saved these two masks in here attic. When she died these two masks were looking down at her. So the husband took and burned them. Thatís one of the things we were always told. Never save anything after masking unless you wash it. If someone dies and they had used it, they would make a lot of racket with it. The person who heard the rattling died a couple of years later.

Another story is about the guy who drowned. This lady didnít have any idea that he had died a few hours before. She woke up and something was making noise. She looked out the window. They used to be pretty high. She looked out and the guy who had died was looking in. The lady said. ďWhat are you doing?Ē He wouldnít say anything. She said, ďGo away.Ē Finally the guy went away. She didnít think anything of it, it didnít dawn on here that he had gone fishing. The next day she heard that a person had drown. Thatís why she felt kind of leery about it.

When Tom and I were first living in our tent, there wasnít any one living down here where we live. There was only the trailer up by the corporation building. There were no lights on at all. I was pregnant with my son at that time. I was playing cards because I was down for a couple of hours and then get up and play cards. About 20 minutes to 12 I kept hearing a really light knocking. It would knock three times. I figured someone was hammering or something. I thought the noise was coming from the trailer. After awhile my husband said, ďDo you hear that sound?Ē I said, ďYes, I though I was hearing things.Ē I kept listening.

What they say is, if you are living by the graves when someone is going to die, what theyíre waiting for someone to join them. Thatís whatís called heeling. That happened when some people died.

My grandparents in English Bay used to live by the graveyards. They used to say, come nighttime donít make any noise or else the graveyard wonít let you sleep. If one starts heeling, they all used to start heeling. He said theyíre really noisy. I never used to stay awake to find out if they all would heel. So itís just that I donít want to find out if it is true. I have heard the heeling.

Iíve had experiences seeing a shadow which didnít look white tome. It looked black. If you see a shadow or ghost, itís usually not really white.

Staying up with dead people is like saying goodbye to your loved ones. Sometimes the dead people communicate with the people sitting up with them. So before midnight I try to go to sleep.


Copyright 1981,Kenai Peninsula Borough School District.All rights reserved

Volume 2