“For us Native Americans, we need to be together, sharing food, stories, praying so our loved ones who are dead can reach the creator,” said Robert Gill, a funeral director from Buffalo, Minn., and a citizen of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate tribe.
Mr. Gill said he preserved some bodies for months to give people a chance to organize a larger burial service. When those gatherings finally happen, “spirit plates” — with the ancestors’ favorite foods, such as fried ribs, chokeberry jams and roasted buffalo — are served for attendees.
Many families are using the extended planning periods to create detailed remembrances.
Frederick Harris, a Vietnam War veteran, loved Smirnoff vodka with grapefruit juice and Motown music, so that’s what his daughter, Nicole Elizabeth, 34, will serve and play at his memorial in Hadley, Mass., later this year.
“It’s daunting to plan because I want to make it fun and want to be able to share memories with so many people,” she said. “But I’m hoping it’ll bring me some peace because for a lot of us, it’s just been this limbo.”
About 60 people were at the church in June to honor Mrs. Zimmerman-Selvidge’s father. Those attending passed a microphone across the pews and shared memories of him.
Finally, it was his daughter’s turn. Mrs. Zimmerman-Selvidge sighed. “He just loved us all so much,” she said, and then paused.
Her father’s urn was on a table in front of her. In her purse was a letter she had forced herself to write after his death.
It began with words that were sometimes too painful to speak aloud: “I miss you.”