By Reba Hylton

As his voice cracked, Mayor Doug Olerud from Haines offered these words of comfort to those listening to KHNS. 

“It’s okay not to be okay,” he said.  

Hearing Doug brought me to tears. It wasn’t the first time I cried over the devastating loss my friends in Haines are currently experiencing. Their pain is my pain because just like Skagway, once you are part of the community, the community is a part of you.

There’s definitely some truth behind the belief that most people who move to Alaska are running away from something. It was true for me initially when I moved to Haines in 1996. Reflecting back on my 24 years of living in Alaska, I now know that I was finally in an environment that suited me so that I could become me. 

Haines embraced me and I embraced it right back. The wildlife, the pristine environment, the people, the way of life. Oregon is where I grew up and where my family still resides, but Alaska is my home. 

I remember Jenae Larson as a young child. Her incredibly blonde hair was often disheveled and her clothes always a little dirty. Dirty in the best way, like a badge of honor from a happy childhood. 

I remember her mother, Kim. She had a solid bat, played a mean first base, always made you smile and had a jovial, infectious laugh because she prioritized fun and displayed great sportsmanship. 

It’s been years since I’ve seen either of them — years. But as a lot of you know, a child in our community belongs not to just one family, they belong to us all. Mothers have an unspoken solidarity with one another, a common heart. I can feel the pain from the community of Haines wafting over me, through me, being blown over to Skagway in this strong south wind that showed no mercy and brought immense loss on so many levels. Loss of life, loss of homes, loss of security. 

I can’t help but think what if the devastation had happened here in Skagway. The possibility of that reality has been too much for my heart to handle this past week and I feel broken. 

This has been quite the year. As I write, I just became aware of the third death to occur in Skagway in the past 24 hours. Grief will linger over this holiday season just as ornaments do on the tree. The uncertainty of what 2021 may hold in store for us as a community and as individuals takes my breath away. I long for a full night’s sleep and a day of blue skies and no anxiety. It will happen. I know it’s just a matter of time. 

I can see the acts of kindness, generosity and the overwhelming community outpouring of support and togetherness. 

But today. Today I am not okay. And that’s okay.