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For some Pacific Islanders in Anchorage, a group outing to tend family graves is a Memorial Day tradition

Jasmine Falefuafua drops flower petals on the grave of her father, Iese "Chase" Falefuafua on May 31, 2021. (Marc Lester / ADN)

Jasmine Falefuafua visits her father’s grave every day.

Sometimes that means rushing over during breaks at her job to steal a few moments at the cemetery plot of her dad, Iese “Chase” Falefuafua.

“Every day. Rain, shining, snowing, cold,” she said.

On Monday, she had company. Falefuafua and other family members had outlined the still-fresh dirt of her dad’s Anchorage Memorial Park cemetery plot with flowers.

They formed a heart with carnations and left a pair of Budweiser beers.

For some Pacific Islander families in Anchorage, Memorial Day means a trip to the cemetery for an afternoon-long excursion. Families say graveside gatherings are a time for families to spend time with their departed loved ones, bringing flowers, balloons, photos and other mementos and cleaning and tidying gravesites.

Memorial Day gravesite gatherings may be tradition, but they are not necessarily somber occasions, said Sally Masalosalo.

“The best word for it is bittersweet,” she said.

Pepe Ahkui, left, and Lagi Silao wore memorial t-shirts when they visited the grave of Urata Silao-Faitau on May 31, 2021. (Marc Lester / ADN)
Family members of Urata Silao-Faitau visit her gravesite at Anchorage Memorial Park Cemetery on May 31, 2021. (Marc Lester / ADN)

Masalosalo and some of her sisters were at the cemetery to visit the grave of their sister, who died of cancer last year. Some wore a memorial t-shirt bearing a glamorous photo of her, and broadcast her grave, heaped with lilies and sunflowers, on Facebook Live for far-away family members.

Some of the gatherings go on for all afternoon and involve generations from toddlers to grandparents, taking on the feeling of a picnic and a family reunion.

Sharnel Faamasino-Lesu’s family has been coming to visit their grandmother’s grave on Memorial Day for more than 20 years now. The whole family gets together to pay respects, she said.

“It’s special to us,” she said, as kids blew bubbles in the rain.

Falefuafua’s younger family members gathered yellow blossoms and sprinkled them on the gravesite. Her dad was a loving man who was a San Francisco 49ers super fan and whose barbecue was renowned, she said.

It just feels right to spend Memorial Day at the cemetery, she said.

“I could have used all this time I’m spending with him now when he was alive,” she said. “When he was above ground.”

Happy Pagua makes bubbles at the family gathering near the grave of Mele Mulifai at Anchorage Memorial Park Cemetery on May 31, 2021. (Marc Lester / ADN)
Tre Tavita, bottom, and Keekee Tauanuu visit the grave of their mother, Sierra Toia, at Anchorage Memorial Park Cemetery on May 31, 2021. (Marc Lester / ADN)