Eric Frost’s Funeral, Thetford Center, 12-22-07

I just came back from Eric Frost’s funeral. He was 24, killed in a hit-and-run accident in Oregon a few days ago. He was traveling north, on foot, with some possessions, twenty bucks, and a stray dog he had picked up along the way. The dog was thrown, but not killed, and sat guarding Eric’s body until somebody found them. The dog came East for the funeral, and the original owners saw the dog’s picture in the paper, and will be getting her back soon.

Eric’s dad lives near me, (in Thetford Center, Vermont) in a group of hogans (kind of like yurts, but made of wood) next to a beaver pond. Eric grew up there, where he and his sisters each tended their own fire in their own little house. Water is pumped with a hand pump, and the lights are mostly kerosene, solar added only recently. The fridge runs on propane.

We buried Eric after four hours of storytelling about his life and work during an interfaith service at the church on the hill. In a small town like ours you can have a service with 300 people there and know 90% of them. I like that. I also liked that hardly anyone was dressed up.

Erik was an Aquarius. An old soul, ahead of his time: not an easy combination. Donna Moody said this meant he was usually frustrated, and often angry, because what seemed obvious and simple to him was way out of everyone else’s reach. A deep reader and philosophical thinker, he dealt with his frustration by trying to do the right thing: delivering food to homeless people, helping out a disabled family, feeding a dog whose owner had been arrested, talking about the absurdity of young people killing other young people in wars. Elizabeth Upton ended the service by saying really slowly: “Eric, we love you. We got your message.” And she urged us to go home, and before we closed our eyes to go to sleep tonight, to think about a part of ourselves that we had left behind along the way, that needed to be brought back.  He also had a great sense of humor: when his Dad asked him how he had liked California, he said “I love it: The trees are bigger, the girls are prettier, and the toilet paper is softer.”

We buried Eric’s ashes in a deep hole dug into the frozen Vermont ground, on the darkest night of the year—the winter solstice. ( The last time I saw Eric was on the summer solstice, in this same spot.)  The sun had gone down, but one of Eric’s friends had gone ahead and made a fire next to the grave. Donna and John Moody kept it simple, and sacred. John smoked his tobacco pipe and Donna sprinkled sage, sweetgrass, cedar, and tobacco into the grave, speaking easily of the spirit, mother earth, and the four directions. Donna apologized to his mother as she deposited the first gift for Eric’s spirit to take along the way–an organic cigarette, the kind he smoked. Then John climbed into the hole and invited everyone to place whatever they had brought for him in the hole in the earth—a bearskin, a freshly tanned deer hide, chocolate, lucky coins, a heart shaped rock, a lock of his mother’s hair, a Bob Dylan recording, some favorite books, and many other items went into the earth to accompany him on his journey. John’s pipe fell in, but was retrieved, with a laugh. “Nice try,” said John shaking his finger.

Then we filled the hole back up, with many people taking turns digging. “Wow, you people really know how to move dirt,” said John, “From now on I’m going to call you the Ompompanoosuc grave diggers society.”

Tomorrow at 1:00  is the give-away, friends will come and take what they want of Eric’s possessions.

To me, this whole event reminded me of how powerful ritual can be when it is kept down to earth and close to nature. There was nothing that happened in a ministerial “holier than thou tone” of voice, even the prayers were just people talking to each other. Everyone who led anything or did anything was a friend. It was just people helping other people. Neighborliness. The food was not catered; it was all brought by neighbors, including enough supper for everyone who stayed on into the night. Eric was buried at home, next to his childhood dog. No casket, no funeral home.

Connections like these are powerful medicine.

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