In death as in life, Lower 48 rules don't always apply up here in this cold, wet country.
After Nov. 1, a body that arrives at the Alaskan Memorial Park Mortuary, in Juneau's Mendenhall Valley, does not get buried. It is stored in a gray unit behind the building, neatly labeled and in a casket. It waits for spring.
The issue is not that the ground is too hard.
"There's a certain time of the year when the ground just becomes so saturated," said Steven Graves, director of the mortuary. After all, he said, we live in a rain forest.
Dig a deep hole, and it will surely fill with water. If that hole is between two other graves, the water could threaten the structural integrity of those - and nobody wants to witness any collapsing accidents at a burial service.
The water is enough of a logistical problem in the warmer months. Graves said the holes can fill up so fast that he'll have someone pumping the water out while people are arriving at the service. And then he has to time it so the unceremonious equipment is removed before people arrive for the graveside ceremony.
That is a job he knows, for he wears many hats at the mortuary: funeral director, embalmer, accountant - and gardener or gravedigger if necessary.
But in the winter, it's impossible to keep up with Mother Nature's onslaught of precipitation. So the funeral home has a slew of spring burials, from about mid-April through May.
About three-quarters of families choose cremation here, in Graves' experience.
That's unusual. In the Lower 48, particularly in the Midwest, traditional burial is still the rule. More people choose cremation on the coasts, but they're still a minority. Graves said he thought perhaps Alaska was different because so many people here are transient; cremains are easier to ship than remains.
But for those who choose burial, this is how it works: A person dies in the winter months, his family has a service, and then they have another service when the ground is finally ready to receive him.
Or else they don't.
For those who have died and will be buried, Graves said, about half of their loved ones choose not to have a spring graveside service. People go through their natural grieving processes, and they don't wish to reopen the wounds. And many change their minds again before the spring comes, Graves added. People can't predict how they're going to handle a death.
Kevin Wilson died in January last year, while working in St. Thomas. He was just shy of his 28th birthday. Two weeks later, his body had still not arrived in his hometown of Juneau.
"It was such a stressful time," said his mother, Kathy Thomas, 62, of Douglas. "I still wasn't quite ready to deal with the whole interment."
Wilson's body was buried without the family there, five months later. Thomas was still grieving. She chose not to have another service.
"I still haven't dealt with it," she said.
For others, the physical lowering of the casket is a welcome closure. Furman "Tom" Marshall Jr., now 61, lost his father in December 2006.
"I don't feel that there was 100 percent closure until that time as they did bury him," he said. Furman Marshall Sr. was a U.S. Coast Guard master chief, and as such was given military honors - in May.
The event was an important ritual for the son, who valued his father's service. And it was a comfort, but not as much as his faith was.
"As far as I know, he was with God anyway," he said. "What we were putting away was just a vehicle."
The appropriately named Steven Graves, director of Juneau's Alaskan Memorial Park & Mortuary, has been interested in the funeral business since he was a teen.
But Graves, 54, is more jolly than a funereal. He jokes about his own name. He wears a suit for a service, but not when he doesn't have to. He doesn't use the usual euphemisms to describe death or disease that many in the business do. And he has dug his share of graves.
Graves grew up in Kansas City, Mo. Across the street from his house was the funeral home. From the teenage Graves' bedroom window, he could see people arriving there at all hours of the day. He was a curious teen.
The funeral director used to come over and play cards with his parents. And everybody around town, at church or the drugstore, would say hello to the undertaker.
"Everybody liked him," said Graves. "I thought, 'I'd kind of like to be like that.'"
That was in high school. A few people thought the choice was strange. But then again, it wasn't if you knew the town undertaker, Graves said.
At this point he has worked in about 35 different funeral homes. He has been in Juneau for the last three years. Over three decades, he has seen all the strange ways people can die and the even stranger ways their loved ones can react.
"There's nothing I feel I can't handle," he said.
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