Friday, August 09, 2013

Lise Sinclair

Lise Sinclair

It's the night before Lise's Funeral and I'm still at a lost of words,
but I would like to share a few links with you all at this time.

Shetland News

Scotsman News - Obituary

I also think if we relisten to Lise in this video my wife Liz Musser did for the BBC and A Time to Keep music project you can hear in her words what a champion she was to not only to Fair Isle, Shetland & Orkney but to small remote places and ways of life all over the world.

Shetland Times Tribute

Shetland ForWirds - Promoting Shetland Dialect

The Island Review - Malachy Tallack

Northlink Ferries

Lise disliked when ever I took a photo of her, so out of respect I am not sharing one now.
Even though I have some that I think are quite beautiful. xxoo

I would also like to share this story I wrote for a German international cultural magazine a few years ago. They asked if I would write a story about how our island deals with death as one of many stories from around the world on the subject. At first I declined, but then I reluctantly said ok. The story turned out to be very difficult and emotional to write. Still it in no way begins to express the sort of loss of a young and vital Islander like Lise. I don't know why I share it now? at a time when there are no good words... I think it is because I find funerals on Fair Isle are strangely beautiful in there unique traditions. 

Buried Treasure

I slip on my Wellie boots as I head out the door. My stainless steel garden spade is resting quietly on my shoulder as I walk to the graveyard. I can see a few men have already started digging, while the dozen able-bodied men on the island are also arriving. Very few words are spoken. You just watch and learn and take your turn. This is the way it is done; you dig because there’s been a death in the family.

By family I am referring to the 65 residents of Fair Isle, one of the Shetland Islands in Scotland. Fair Isle is the most remote inhabited island in the United Kingdom, small in size about 3km by 5km. A community like most families, slightly dysfunctional with strong independent wills that know ultimately we need to get on with each other as we are all interdependent. When I say family, I should say “new” family as we have been recently adopted. I moved to the Fair Isle in November of 2006 with my wife and son now 12years old. We moved from the USA, Saratoga Springs, New York. In the States my wife had heard a story on National Public Radio about a house for rent by the National Trust for Scotland the owners of Fair Isle. It was with some degree of media interest from curious on lookers. Somehow we were picked out of the thousands of applicants. Yes! We were off on a grand adventure! In retrospect it may have been more honestly called a midlife crises.

The island is world famous as the origin of the laborious and challenging Fair Isle knitwear and as a stopping place for rare migratory birds. A visitor to Fair Isle might romanticise the humble crofter’s life style of most folk here as they toil with sheep and the many various odd jobs that constitute a living. Believe me, when I say you would be humbled if you spent a day in their shoes, or in this case Wellie boots. You would also be surprised that the average education levels are higher than most communities as most have gone to college or university. You might also think we live alternative lifestyle even though here on Fair Isle there is no other way to live.

Upon moving here my wife found partial employment in home care for the elderly. A job no one else wanted. The old men seemed to get a real treat out of this, as it was quite a novelty having daily visits from this young American woman. It was quite a change for my journalist wife who just left her job as a producer of educational documentaries for the State of New York Research foundation. As one of our jealous American New York friends working a large add agency for pharmaceutical companies once said, "you have gone from kissing ass to wiping a few, and I am sure the ladder is far more appreciated." The job had one added bonus the men quickly realize my wife loved a good story. It was these stories that forged our friendships and helped connect us to our new home’s history and way of life. Soon they were regulars for Sunday dinner where they would delight us with stories of shipwrecks & tragedies at sea, wood found in the geos after storms, discoveries of rare birds never seen before in Britain, Fair Isle knitting and crafts, glory days of Halibut & Lobster fishing, tales of Vikings, Wars and the oil viscosity in world war 2 submarines.

The phone rang, my wife spoke, one of the men had... She was with him as he died. With the island nurse they stayed to clean the body. He was dressed and prepared for burial. Not part of the job description but at least she felt useful in a time of grief. Living in such a remote place you are often surprised by what you do, or can do, because it hast to be done. I never thought of my self as sheltered living in N.Y. but, I had never seen a dead person outside of a coffin before. I’m open to new experiences but when I was told to meet after lunch 2pm. at the graveyard to dig, this was a new one for me. In no way does it compare with what my wife had just been through, but as we dug the sky got darker and darker. The deeper we dug the darker it got. Then one of the islanders remembered he had heard on the news that morning we would be having a solar eclipse today. So there I am digging 3 or 4 foot deep in a grave during a solar eclipse, when I find on the end of my shovel a skull! The bones of an ancestor, as macabre as it seems, the bones are given great respect and are reburied at the bottom of the grave.

It was then I was told the graveyard is on the site of a long ago Kirk or church the foundations of which are barely noticeable in the tall grass just over the grave yard wall. Hundreds of years of burial records were lost in a fire. Not the type of fire you are thinking of, but awhile back an islander died. Proud of Fair Isle history and thought as an island historian, he had gathered historical documents and written down many others down over the years. When his estranged family came to clear out his meagre estate, they had a bonfire to burn what they saw as rubbish. Many important documents were lost, including the Grave burial maps going back hundreds of years. Thus not only leaving the Isle grieving the  man, but all his irreplaceable collected  history.

A casket arrives as freight on the Good Shepherd ferry boat with friends and relatives, even more come in by plane. In the Chapel or Kirk a simple service with appropriate hymns sung, I like the one about the anchor and the storm. The coffin is carried on poles or oars from a boat. The men all take turns bearing the weight, as the rest of the mourners follow on down the road to the graveyard, where the body is laid to rest. Up top a cliff bordered by a lichen covered dry stone dike, the ancestors view the South Harbour, the North Sea to the left and the Atlantic on the right, and the South Lighthouse beacon to guide them though the night. The view is everything you could want in a final resting place.

In the past 6 years 4 of the older men have died, men of great local knowledge and the keepers of unwritten stories and legends. Deaths well foreseen and without shock, but still sad as a huge hole is dug in the life of the living as a treasure trove of local history is buried with them. 
by T H Hyndman


  1. Donald, Maureen and Christine Wilson9 August 2013 at 02:46

    I know what you mean,Tommy. We were very sad to hear of Lise's death.We are truly lost for words.

  2. A tragedy for her husband, her children, all the people of Fair Isle, and the extended family of those who loved her words, singing and musicianship.
    Her beautiful haunting voice will live on in all who heard her.

  3. Thank you Tommy for the links - there is little need for words when Lise speaks so eloquently for herself within your links!

    Please pass on a Tommy sized hug to Anne from me - a woman of great knowledge and wisdom who I have great respect for.

    My condolences to her whole family and to the FI family .

  4. One of my favourite albums is FriĆ°arey's 'Across the Waters', which I once bought on a whim, without knowing anything about the musicians or their music. When I was in Shetland last week and participated in the minute's silence before the funeral on Wednesday, I became more interested in Lise, and discovered that she was one of the beautiful voices on my favourite album. Really sad news. Thanks for sharing with us.