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.”
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.