Thursday, April 19, 2012
COUNTING THE YEARS...
It is hard to believe that today is the fifth anniversary of my mothers death. I remember when my mom would count the years after her own parents passed and now here I am doing the same. After losing my sister, watching my mother die was the second hardest thing I have ever experienced in my life and can only hope nothing equally as painful ever comes my way again.
The death of a loved one is life altering in so many ways. I remember after my mothers third heart attack and struggle with breast cancer I'd try to imagine what life would be like without her. It was a defense mechanism in a way. If I prepared for the loss then maybe, just maybe, it wouldn't be quite so painful. Of course I was wrong. No one is ready to lose someone they are so attached to.
One of the biggest internal struggles I had after my mom died was trying to decide how to honor her life and mourn the loss. We have somewhat of an eccentric family (you may have noticed that already by some of my posts :). My mother was raised 7th Day Adventist but ran screaming from the church when she was 18 (not literally, just figuratively). By my own choice I've had lots of experience with Lutheranism, Catholicism, Judaism and Buddhism. Before my mother died she shared with me what she had settled on as her spiritual beliefs and they didn't involve religion. She wanted to be cremated and didn't want anyone coming to mourn her that wasn't a presence in her life when she died.
While sitting with a Hospice Chaplain it came to me. My mother believed in God but she didn't care for religion. She loved nature in all its forms (she could identify every tree, plant and wild berry by name), she raised her children to value all living things and she cherished all the childhood memories she had of her families experience with the Native Americans.
I decided I wanted someone from the Native American community to help me say goodbye to my mother, someone who understood how our family felt not only about my mother but about the earth, its inhabitants and the feeling of loss; but I had feared finding such a person wouldn't be easy. Of course, in traditional Michelle fashion, I marched over to Franklin Ave. in Minneapolis and started looking for "the" person. It should be of no surprise that I was met with a lot of skepticism. It isn't easy going into the Native American community asking someone to conduct a service for your dead mother and it certainly wasn't easy for the Native people to grasp such an idea. As usual though, everything worked itself out. I was very fortunate to find the person I was looking for in the form of Clyde Bellecourt.
Clyde is one of the original founders of AIM (American Indian Movement), a civil rights organizer and a member of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe here in Minnesota. It is ironic really that he turned out to be what I call my "savior" in the midst of everything I was going through at that time because I had read about Clyde and AIM many times over the years. Clyde, we had discovered, was a friend of my daughters God father. He graciously offered to do a "Wiping of Tears Ceremony" for our family and moms closest friends, all that he required in return was a can of tobacoo (a specific type) used to carry prayers and wishes of our family to the Creator and to cleanse us of any spiritual negativity. Clyde, his niece and great nephew performed the ceremony together.
Again, another odd coicidence, I chose the Minnesota River Valley as the location for the ceremony and it turned out that the Native Americans lived along the river valley prior to Euro-American settlers arriving. We love that particular area because my mother would take our children there for long walks and to teach them how to identify medicinal plants and wild berries. Did she know it's history? Probably.
During the ceremony it was the first time I really felt at peace with all that had occurred. Clydes niece had prepared a bag full of juniper for me to burn in the days after the ceremony to clear my heart and my home of any sadness. We concluded the ceremony with every individual present releasing a single monarch butterfly into the sky. It was a good ending to what had been my mothers life. When I was little my mother told my sister and I the story of how a Native American woman saved my great grandfathers eye sight when he was just a boy and then there we were with Clyde and his family, them helping us heal and move foreward.
I am eternally grateful for what Clyde and his family did for me and my family five years go. There isn't a day that goes by when I think of my mother that I don't think of Clyde, his niece and nephew too. It is the kindness of others that have helped me live with my mothers death to this day.