Thursday, August 4, 2011

Celebrating Nick, Part 1

We usually try to take our vacation to St. Martin in May. Prior to this trip we’d been in January and mid-June as well but have found May to be perfect. We are perfectly sick of winter and cool weather and we arrive in St. Martin to perfectly blue skies and warm weather. By the time we get back home, it’s not that long before it warms up there too.

July is the time of year when people native to Grand Case go home. The third Thursday of the month is a celebration they call Fete so it’s like a giant extended family reunion. Since so many family members were planning to be there at that time, Nick’s family decided that would be a good time to hold his memorial and leave his ashes at Creole Rock. So, instead of going in May, we waited in order to be a part of that. While we did not arrive until the day after Fete, three days later, Nick’s memorial would turn into a party of its own!

It is always interesting to me to see how other cultures do ceremonial things. While the family had done (American) traditional calling hours and a mass here in the USA, I really wasn’t sure what to expect for the St. Martin memorial.

Saturday evening as we sat and watched the rain from our balcony I remarked to Mr. Helen that I really hoped the rain would stop for Nick’s memorial. Mr. Helen replied that Somebody Bigger than us was in control of the weather, but perhaps if he was listening he would honor our heartfelt desire.

Sunday morning we woke up and as usual watched the clouds roll over the mountain and over the bay. There were some dark clouds that were worrisome and sure enough it started to rain a bit. Then suddenly, the sun and blue skies broke straight through. I looked at Mr. Helen and said, “We’re going to see a rainbow!” Right in front of our eyes, almost at eye level, one formed!

Can you spot the rainbow almost right in the middle of this photo?

Remembering my Sunday School lessons I said, “You know, the rainbow was God’s promise to Noah that the rain would stop… perhaps it’s for Nick today.” It never rained another drop that day.

We gathered in front of the family home to start our trek towards the church. It was like a big reunion. 

One of Nick's daughters, holding the urn

This precious baby is our friend Michael's granddaughter and Nick's great granddaughter

Grand Case really only has 1 main street – the Boulevard. Walking with the ashes or casket is a common thing on the island. I think it has something to do with the lack of vehicles for some and the general lack of parking available as well. The Boulevard really is only 1 vehicle wide.

As we walked along, some of the people who work in the restaurants and shops along the way saw us and we could hear them speaking rapidly in Patois and French and saying, “Nicolai! Nicolai!” It was moving in a way that is hard to describe.

When Nick was younger and then again after he retired and went back to Grand Case, he used to stroll the streets with his guitar and sing. How fitting that he had that stroll one more time.

About 3/4ths of the way down the Boulevard is the little Catholic Church where Nick’s memorial mass would be held. We arrived at the church and prepared for the mass. Trust me when I say, if you are Catholic or have ever been to a Catholic church, you have probably never experienced a mass like this one. The music was just gorgeous with a beautifully distinct Caribbean flair and rhythm. Plus the people were so welcoming and the whole aura of the sanctuary was calm and peaceful - a true "sanctuary."  I’m not Catholic and if I lived there and wanted to go to church, I would have no problem at all attending.

After the service, we gathered outside where there was more catching up with old friends. As you may have gathered, there is quite a large Grand Case community in the city we live in in the USA.  One of Mr. Helen’s high school friends has now gone back to St. Martin permanently. As Nick was his uncle, of course he was there to honor him. I love this photo of the four musketeers!

Stephen, Michael, Andre, Mr. Helen

After that time we had around two hours to go back to our room and get a bite to eat and change before we would gather at the dock to load up onto boats to take Nick to his final resting place.

Tomorrow, the rest of the story...


  1. What a way to remember someone. I love it, the story touched me, especially the walk to the church.

    Here in Holland most funerals are in black and all about grief. Not about celebrating the life of the one that passed away. I prefer to celebrate someones life.

  2. I don't know what to say. This post just captivated me. I love learning about other cultures but the......I don't know....closeness? of the community is touching. It's so down to earth. It's like an island of friends and relatives. A beautiful island at that!
    It makes me want to go visit Grand Case and see it for myself.

  3. Awww! What a lovely tribute to an obviously lovely man! (especially the walk to the church) Thank you for sharing this deeply personaly event with us Helen. Have a great Tuesday.

  4. What a great coming-together of Nick's friends and family - I'm looking forward to reading the rest of the story.

  5. Very special. Great pics, interesting to actually see it while it was all going on.

  6. I love the way you narrate your life (and the lives of those around you) Helen. I felt as if I was walking down that street with you...

    By any chance to you know Christina Hodge from here in New London? I know her family is from St. Martin. She's in a book club with me :-)

  7. What a wonderful, wonderful remembrance.

  8. It's great that you guys attended. A nice, kind way to honor Nick's life.

  9. I just read this post and the last one and I have to makes me want to move there! lol. It looks wonderful and really, what a great way to remember and a loved one. It just speaks volumes about all of you. I am glad it was so peaceful and gracious.

  10. this is so lovely and how I,too, would want to be remembered.

  11. What a wonderful way to pay tribute to a loved one. The joy and the sadness intermingled, just like life.

  12. My stinkin job is getting in the way of my blog reading - what gives?!

    That church is gorgeous and I can just imagine how beautiful the music was!