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The feast of bear, joyous celebration and the funeral and mourning that took place at Mahoney's Grotto Iona on Father's Day

The Mahoney family cemetery at Grotto Iona has appeared in this and my original blog several times since I first parked my bicycle here nearly three years ago and stepped into this "Place of Prayer." In all of my previous pictures, it has been empty of all people except for me, yet, somehow, no matter how empty it has been, to me it has always felt to be full of presence and spirit.

When I first stopped, I knew none of the Mahoneys, but after I left the Grotto, family members just started to appear around me - and all treated me good.

Now, on Father's Day, June 17, after having two flights from Barrow to Anchorage cancel out on me and then after barely working my way onto the sold-out, overbooked, flight that was my last hope to get here, I found myself in the Grotto with many people. When Gideon Mahoney tossed his frisbee, I understood that this cemetery was not only a place of death, sadness, mourning and sorrow, but a place of life, energy, joy and fun - the very things that we all carry about within us every day.

I had come at the family's invitation to photograph the funeral of Rebecca Louise, daughter of Tim Mahoney and Jaigne Olshanksky and sister to the now grown Mahoney Children, Rachel, Sparrow and Joe, as well as Sarah, another daughter of Jaigne. Rebecca died last August in Seattle at the age of 37, was cremated, but had now finally been brought home to rest in the same ground as her grandparents, Paul and Iona Mahoney, and other family members.

The Mahoney's gather at the Grotto every Father's Day to clean, maintain, barbecue and enjoy.

The burial was preceded by a feast. There were hot dogs and chicken, various salads, watermelon, strawberries, pies and such, but the main coarse was black bear. The bear had been shot by Catholic Deacon Dave Schott who dropped it off with the family and told them something to the effect of, "you will know what to do with it."

And they did. This was the most tender and sweet bear meat I have ever eaten. I do not eat bear that often, but every now and then. Usually, it is a bit tough, with a wild and gamey taste. Not this one. I heard that one husband who came gave a piece to his wife without telling her what it was.

She ate it, and proclaimed it to be the best pork she had ever tasted.

Then her husband asked her if she would eat bear. No, she answered, she would never eat bear. She was certain bear would not be good. Her jaw was about to drop.

Andy Hammond, husband of Abby (Mahoney) had been in charge of the bear cooking. Judging by the taste, he marianted it in just the right mixture of spices, for just the right number of days.








Barney Mahoney, uncle to Rebecca, helped with the cooking and serving of the bear as well as the hot dogs. He came casually dressed, but then one of his sisters - Paulie if I remember correctly - clipped a tie onto his tee shirt. Now he was dressed in formal attire.

Rebecca's sister, Sparrow, fed a piece of cherry-rhubard pie to her husband, Charles Rogers, as nephew Wesley looked on. Regular readers will recognize Wesley from the times he has come to Abby's Home Cooking with his grandpa, Tim Mahoney - father to Rebecca, Rachel, Sparrow and Joe.

Abby baked the pie. I have linked to a slide show version of this post that includes every image here, plus about 20 more. Those who view the slide show will find a portrait of Abby looking back at them.

This is the grave of Paul Mahoney, head of the Mahoney clan who originally homesteaded the property with wife Iona and made a nice, tidy, ranch and farm of it. After Iona died and wound being buried in Montana, he made the Grotto as a place where he could come to mourn, memorialize, pray and remember her.

Little Trinity Mahoney rolls a toy wheel barrow over the feet of her great-grandpa. Michael Atsina sits on the other side of the wrought-iron at the grave of a Mahoney boy who died in the womb and never got to see daylight. The grave is decorated with a train engine, and other toys.

A poem composed by Paul Mahoney is inscribed atop the marble bench just beyond the grave.

Along with their daughter, Leroy and Diana Symbol take an affectionate look at the Rebecca Louise memorial photos.

After paying her respects, the daughter frolics with other children as they run a circle around the shrine to the Virgin Mary.

The sun beat down hotly upon the gathering, but to the north, towering cumulous were darking, sometimes letting loose with spikes of lightning. Patrick Mahoney arrived on his bike.




It is not an easy thing to move straight from a feast to bury your daughter, but a sprinkle of rain drops fell, and so Tim had the pictures removed from the shrine. He wandered around just a bit after that, then took a good look at the darkening clouds to the north, as the occassional rumble of thunder crackled across the Grotto.

He knew it had to be done. He uncovered the grave that had been dug and in his quiet but strong voice let the family know the service was about to begin. As they gathered around, Tim began to speak.









Tim soon removed his hat, then continued to speak whatever words his heart told him to say. Those who knew her best tell me his daughter was very bright, talented, and giving. For whatever reason, she felt an affinity for the people of the streets and moved onto the streets with them.

During what would prove to be the final years of her short life, Tim would frequently travel to the streets of whatever city his daughter was living in at the time. Tim is a man of the country and of the wilderness. Like me, he has spent much time on the Arctic Slope and among his friends are many Iñupiat.












Yet, his daughter taught him to appreciate the streets of the big cities and the people of the streets. In San Francisco, she took him to meet gay and lesbian people. He learned from her and them and was glad she did. Rebecca died of illness in Seattle.

Tim's son, Joe, his sister-in-law, Melody, her husband, Daniel, and two more Mahoney brothers, Dennis and Patrick listen as he speaks. Joe would also say a few words, as would Rachel, Sparrow and a few others.

When the speeches, none of them long, came to an end, Tim lowered the ashes of his daughter into the hole that would now be her grave.

Tim was the first to place a shovel-full of earth into the grave, then family members and close friends followed, one by one, until the grave was nearly filled. Vincent Mahoney was the last to shovel before the tarp upon which the dug-up earth had lain was lifted over the grave and emptied of all remaining dirt and soil.












Barney patted the dirt down in preparation for the headstone.

Rebecca's sister Sarah is second from right.

Rebecca's Aunt Paulie stepped up to the newly finished grave.

Patrick Mahoney now recited from memory the poem engraved onto the marble bench at the foot of his father's grave:


Blest with the Grace of a Saint


by Paul Mahoney


Many nights of bliss

many children to kiss

and still it comes to this.

That heaven I've missed

Nod with lady up there,

Eyes dimmed and stare

Frame needing repair

and soul wrought with care.

Ahah! Finally comes pay

The great Milky Way

that looms ever so bright

In the darkness of night

Each star but a step

Leading on to the next

Like hopscotch I'll go

be it quickly or slow.

So I'm circling around

And studying the ground

Where first star step be found.


And me thinks "it's the mound"

of a newly filled grave

so the one who lies there

May be off up the stair

Toward more heavenly air.












Sisters Rachel and Sparrow, Sparrow's husband Charles as mourners sang, Amazing Grace.






















Tim Mahoney, at the conclusion of the funeral for his daughter, Rebecca.






















His grandson, Wesley and Rebecca's sister Sarah, turned to Tim for guidance, comfort and strength.















Right after I took this picture, the clouds broke open and dropped their rain. The family moved to a barn to continue to visit, to make music and to dance. I had an inclination to join them, but my own children had gathered at my house and at this moment were preparing a Father's Day dinner in my honor. So, on this Father's Day of 2012, I said "Goodbye" to this father, and returned home to be with my own children and grandchildren.

I hated to leave, but was exceptionally glad to join my own children and family on Father's Day. The Mahoney's had demonstrated just how important such things are.






Slideshow, including 20 additional images


I have a major task I must complete before Sunday ends. I may not blog again until Monday. Then again, I just might - but if so, short.

Reader Comments (4)

Thank you Mahoney and Hess families for sharing your Father's Day celebrations,all of it-the fun and the tears.
Alzheimers has drawn a curtain between my father and his family which has made the day very hard to deal with.
I smiled a lot over the bear meat. My Dad had a secret recipe for bear and venison sausage which was darn good.
And the smile brought back hundreds of memories of my Dad which I've been hiding from myself.
Thank you all.

June 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAlaska Pi


June 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSuji

My condolences to the Mahoney family. I'm glad that you were able to make it to the funeral. Your pictures show a very warm and loving family. I've never had bear meat. But that meat looks mighty tasty.

RIP Rebecca

June 22, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterjuicyfruityy

Very nice to see how peacefully, and beautifully Rebekah was laid to rest. But it would be a nice to see a picture of the headstone..do you have any pictures of that? Also It would mean a great deal if you could fix her name all throughout this piece. Her name is REBEKAH, a wonderfully unique spelling for a wonderfully unique friend. Thank You

January 29, 2013 | Unregistered Commentermeghan

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