Gall bladder stones --my mother's genes. Check.
Straight hair --my mother's genes. Check.
Brown eyes --well, they both had 'em. Check. Check.
The ability to crave alcohol --my father's genes. Check.
The ability to refuse alcohol --my mother's genes. Check.
The ability to grow big huge knotty callouses next to my baby toe on my feet --my mother's genes. Check.
So far, mom's winning....
Funny how that goes, heh?
Got news through Facebook that my second-oldest sister's mother in law died this past week... Both my sisters lost their mothers in law in the last couple of weeks.... And I never had one.
Funny how that goes....
And I'm thinking of death ceremonies off-Reservation... and wondering. Knowing how to shape and form and live with grief or loss is not inherited, it's learned.... But, we do pass it down, generation to generation.
When my mom's mom died, I was thousand of miles away... but even so, my own mom didn't plan a funeral with her sister. My mom was too busy with work, too desperate to keep things going as is, she didn't take a break and go deal with her mom's death. After months of waiting and wondering what to do, my auntie went and buried my grandmother without ceremony.
When my dad's mom died, my eldest sister received the cremains in the mail. After a couple of months we all went and buried Grandma Hambly in the veteran's cemetery south of San Francisco. We donated her full grave site to a needy veteran... and decided to bury her in the same plot with Grandpa. We gathered around the small hole and put Grandma in it, laughing that now she would be 'on top' forever... crying tears from the head, not gut, in the confusion of unresolved grief --she died without any family around her, abandoned in a nursing home in Wyoming by my father's second wife --both of her children having died before her --and she losing all her mental faculties... grief compounding grief.
When my Dad died, his second wife buried him. I went looking for his grave. All his grave stone and funeral records had the wrong name... Sargent Alvin Hambly instead of his proper name, Alvin Sargent Hambly.
My mom's death was so fraught with tension and dysfunction.... My youngest brother, being her caretaker, had been arrested for neglect and abuse --circumstances I had been screaming about to my siblings for months --and a stranger finally took action where my siblings would not. Upon receiving a phone call about my brother's arrest, and suddenly knowing without any one saying it --that she was dying, I scrambled to get to her home in Oregon from the east coast where I lived as quickly as I could. As I got off the plane, my second-oldest sister met me and listed all the tasks that were to be done, and I was supposed to write the obituary and plan the funeral liturgy. 'Is she dead, then?' I asked. 'No, not yet. I'll plan the party, Mom wanted a party instead of a funeral,' she said.
Funny how that goes, heh?
Patterns of grief and denial --no tracks laid across the wilderness of death --just an unthorough regime of disposing of bodies....
God is so funny. And here I am, suddenly, in a culture where ceremony and grief surrounding death are intense, lasting, dignified --and are marked for at least a year.
In working through my mother's death, I established landmarks for myself so that I would know and remember where I was in my grief. They weren't the Kubler-Ross landmarks so similar to the ones taught us in seminary --denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance... minding that Kubler-Ross was looking at those dying, not necessarily those left with grief after death.
I put different words to it all --denial... I chalked this one up as some said --death is just a part of life. Ummmm.... NOT --death is the END OF LIFE as we know it. The end. Over. Out. Anger --I chalked this one up as not being able to look beyond one's own nose --self centeredness.... Bargaining --I chalked this one up to that same self-centeredness --trying to recreate the situation in to our own image. Depression? --well, death is disorienting and certainly challenges our smugness in 'dealing' with it. Duh. Acceptance? --ummmm, no, let's go back to that denial business.
Here --it seems my own landmarks are well expressed.
What is NOT said at funerals here on the Cheyenne River is that everything is going to be alright, because every one knows that it is not going to be alright....
What is said and done, a partial and initial list:
Recognition: true loss (physical, emotional, financial --every which way) is acknowledged, sometimes/mostly named out loud. And standing by the grave until by sweat, blood and tears, it is filled and the mound of dirt is accomplished --it leaves no doubt...
Spiritual (for lack of a better word): that life is forever changed, but not ended. Disorientation due to the loss and grief is not alarming --it is the opportunity for a vision....
Letting go: the deceased's personal articles are burned or given away. Beyond that, the grieving gives a lot of other stuff away in gratitude of the presence of the community.
Process: there are ceremonies to mark the desolation and wilderness of grief; one knows where one is by cutting hair, giving away, feeding others, stopping your normal routine and giving yourself a new one, and 'wiping away the tears' --after a year.... There is lots of prayer. Lots.
Ceremony and ritual: yes, we are more than physical beings, but we are definitely bodily beings, and sometimes our bodies know stuff before our mind knows stuff, so marking grief with ceremony gives bodily recognition of 'where' we are. And honoring the body of the deceased recognizes that bodies are important --in love, in anger --well, in everything. "In my body I shall see God."
Resilience --or is it Resurrection: looking for the laughter, lots of it; tending to the children; telling stories, particularly about the deceased; feasting; funerals are like family reunions....
How did I get here this morning... in the first week of summer... with the sun out and no funerals on the horizon? Perhaps it is the distant recognition of the loss of two mothers in law, which in Indian Country would have me traveling to the homes of my sisters to do what must be done, and participate in it... and in my own family systems means quite the opposite.
At prayer this morning (Psalm 90)
Lord, you have been our refuge *
from one generation to another.
Before the mountains were brought forth,
or the land and the earth were born, *
from age to age you are God.
You turn us back to the dust and say, *
“Go back, O child of earth.”
For a thousand years in your sight
are like yesterday when it is past *
and like a watch in the night.
You sweep us away like a dream; *
we fade away suddenly like the grass.
In the morning it is green and flourishes; *
in the evening it is dried up and withered.
For we consume away in your displeasure; *
we are afraid because of your wrathful indignation.
Our iniquities you have set before you, *
and our secret sins in the light of your countenance.
When you are angry, all our days are gone; *
we bring our years to an end like a sigh.
The span of our life is seventy years,
perhaps in strength even eighty; *
yet the sum of them is but labor and sorrow,
for they pass away quickly and we are gone.
Who regards the power of your wrath? *
who rightly fears your indignation?
So teach us to number our days *
that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.
Return, O LORD; how long will you tarry? *
be gracious to your servants.
Satisfy us by your loving-kindness in the morning; *
so shall we rejoice and be glad all the days of our life.
Make us glad by the measure of the days that you afflicted us *
and the years in which we suffered adversity.
Show your servants your works *
and your splendor to their children.
May the graciousness of the LORD our God be upon us; *
prosper the work of our hands; prosper our handiwork.