The final farewells: Memorial for two-year-old Nikoline Røkenes, hometown funeral for Atle Husby celebrate the light they brought into lives


In addition to flowers, there were lots of balloons at the alter. And mourners in the overflowing church – between the tears – standing and following the priest in the singing and hand-signaling of “This Little Light of Mine.”

Invoking the memories of an innocent childhood lost, reinforced by the muted clamor from a dozen of her innocently unaware and restless peers at the far rear of the church, provided both relief from and a reminder of the crushing blow dealt to Longyearbyen – as much emotional as physical – by the Dec. 19 avalanche that killed two-year-old Nikoline Røkenes.

About 300 people gathered at Svalbard Church for a memorial of Nikoline, who died a day after being buried for two hours in her parents’ home, as well as a celebration of the survival of her sister, Pernille, 3, who was buried with her.

It is a miracle that she survived,” said Birgit Lockertsen, a visiting priest from Tromsø, who presided over the service, of the older sister. “Nikoline lives on in memories.”


A flag flies at half-mast at midday Saturday outside Svalbard Church, where about 300 people gathered for a memorial service for Nikoline Røkenes, who was killed in the Dec. 19 avalanche. Photo by Mark Sabbatini / Icepeople.

Svalbard Gov. Kjerstin Askholt read a message from Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg, and poems were read by teachers from Longyearbyen’s two preschools, one of which Nikoline attended.

The memorial service came one day after a funeral in Ås for Atle Husby, 42, a musician and Longyearbyen School teacher who was also killed in the avalanche. Svalbard Church Leif Mange Helgesen, who performed with Husby in the Store Norske Men’s Choir and presided over a local Dec. 22 memorial attended by a crowd similar to Nikoline’s, also presided over the funeral in Ås.

“A tone has subsided, a trombone has played for the last time,” he said, according to Akershus Amtstidende.

About 400 people attended the funeral. Among them were Hans-Gunnar Skreslett, a fellow musician and administrator at Longyearbyen School, who was one of the guest musicial performers at the service;  Longyearbyen School Headmaster Anne Søvold Vikanes; and Liv Mari Schei, a music teacher at the school and possibly Longyearbyen’s best-known musician.