Alaskans who have had the bodies of loved ones cremated often look to the wilderness to scatter ashes. People take remains out to favorite fishing spots or scatter them along hiking or ski trails. A Sadie Cove couple has expanded their lodge operations to offer a new way of interring cremated remains: a Viking funeral.
Keith and Randi Iverson have operated Sadie Cove Wilderness Lodge in a little fjord off the south shore of Kachemak Bay since 1981. Last year, they added Alaska’s Eternal Rest to their lodge operations. Either in the woods, streams and mountains near their lodge or out on the water, they will help people place cremated remains into eternal rest. That service includes any memorial the family desires as well as entering the loved one’s name in the Book of Souls, a volume to be kept at Sadie Cove. For $10,000, they also can do a full Viking funeral, boat and all.
This isn’t like in the movies, where Viking warriors push a Norse chief’s body out to sea in a longboat and shoot flaming arrows at it.
“That’s a bunch of hogwash,” Keith Iverson said. “Then it would burn down to the waterline and you’d have a half-burnt corpse.”
Iverson, 73, is Norwegian American, and Randi is of Swedish and Norwegian ancestry. Iverson published “Alaska Viking: An Autobiography” in 1992. He came to Homer from San Francisco in 1972, and has spent the last 41 years at Sadie Cove crafting a wilderness retreat. In San Francisco he’d worked in corporate sales. Sales calls to Berkeley began to change him as the alternative culture rubbed off on him.
“This wasn’t what I wanted to be doing with my life, even though I had a houseboat, bachelor pad and a Porsche,” he said.
The Iversons offer a full Alaska lodge experience at $450 a day. Over the years, people have come to the lodge for weddings and honeymoons. Some people who stayed at the lodge earlier have returned with the remains of a husband or wife who has since died. That’s one of the main markets Iverson said he’s looking at.
“How about if you live in Chicago, New York, San Francisco or any place that doesn’t offer the beauty we do?” he asked. “We offer a great service.”
Iverson has sent out fliers to funeral homes and Sons of Norway organizations. A guy in Juneau told him, “A lot more times than you think, people have been looking for places to scatter the ashes,” Iverson said. “He even had somebody asking about a Viking funeral. Now he has an answer.”
That service is for cremated remains only — not bodies. Iverson noted the increasing popularity of cremation. According to a study by the National Funeral Directors of America, in 2013 about 45 percent of all human remains were cremated. Projections for last year were 48 percent. B.J. Elder, a funeral director at the Homer Funeral Home and Peninsula Memorial Chapter, said about 70 percent of bodies cared for by them have been cremated.
At the same time, Iverson said, many people don’t know what to do with a loved one who has been cremated.
“A lot of people have them in the closet, on their shelf, whatever,” he said. “We want to get it in people’s minds there is an alternative to putting your beloved in the closet on a shelf.”
For the full Viking funeral, the remains would be put in a boat. Iverson has a 21-foot Viking style boat built in Trondheim, Norway, that’s no longer seaworthy and could be used. He also could build a boat using the traditional lapstrake design. The boat would be burned on the beach — the way the Vikings actually did it, “a final send-off in the ancient style of the Scandinavian adventurers,” as Iverson describes it on his website.
“We’ll probably be playing Wagner’s ‘Flight of the Valkyries’ as they depart,” he said.
Diagnosed with cancer 10 years ago, Iverson said his illness got him thinking about death and what happens after that.
“Randi and I believe that part of the spirit of the body is still with those cremated remains. It’s part of that body even though it’s not in the original form,” Iverson said. “That’s part of the closure: It’s getting recycled back into nature.”
Michael Armstrong can be reached at email@example.com.
Alaska’s Eternal Rest
Sadie Cove Wilderness Lodge
• Ash scattering in Kachemak Bay with ceremony: $1,000
• Full Viking funeral, including boat: $10,000
Keith and Randi Iverson
Homer, Alaska 99603