This past Friday, we buried my dad. It’s now Monday, and I’m sitting in the office trying to gather my thoughts to put this week’s newspaper together; however, I can hardly put together a complete sentence on the computer or even think a complete thought.
Losing a parent is a hard pill to swallow. For 16 years, in my head I had been preparing for that moment ever since we nearly lost him due to a cardiac arrest in 2000. He pulled through that, but his health was in a state of decline ever since. In late 2000 early 2001, he had reached such a low point with his health that he was placed in hospice and was given 10 days to live. We started making tentative funeral plans at that time.
Laying in his hospital bed at Ft. Snelling Veteran’s Hospital in Minneapolis, my dad was so weak that he couldn’t get out of bed. After reaching absolute rock bottom with his health, he realized that he was just laying in that hospital bed waiting to die. However, something clicked inside of him, and he told himself that he wasn’t ready to go yet. He made the decision that he wanted to live, and he did.
Despite the obstacles that he was facing, he built up the strength to leave that place. After a couple years, he was back living in the country, breaking horses, hunting deer, and enjoying life.
Those 16 years weren’t perfect though, his life was a roller coaster ride. Periods of highs and lows. With each bad report from a doctor, he’d just tighten his belt, buckle down and keep on keeping on. He was a walking, talking miracle.
The outpouring of support from family, friends, and the community has been incredible. He sure made a lot of friends throughout his life, and they have all reached out.
As I sit here, the grief is raw and is bottling up inside me. It’s like I got punched in the gut. For as much as I have tried to mentally prepare myself for that moment, it all goes out the window when the time does arrive. I’m at a loss for words, which is not good for this profession.
Living in our modern society is tough. We are given a couple days for bereavement leave and are expected to return to our lives and carry on. For some it’s easy, others it is not.
As Lakota people we allow the grief of losing someone to be a part of us. From the all-night wakes, shoveling and filling the grave, and memorials, we allow death to be a part of our lives. It is something to be embraced as a means of remembering those that passed on, and grief is not meant to be stuffed away.
As far back as I can remember, when a family member passed away it has always been the custom for our family to grab a shovel and start covering our relative. Over the years I’ve come to realize that there is something deeply personal and very healing about the act. This past weekend my young sons and nephews took part in the process, each grabbing a shovel and throwing as much dirt as their little arms could into the grave.
I’ve been to a number of funerals held off the reservation, and it seems the grieving process is very sanitized and calculated. It seemed that a person mourning a loved one is expected to control their grief. Even the burial is a hands off process. The family walks away from the gravesite with the casket still above ground, only to be lowered and filled later by workers.
To bury our own, to me is a final act of love and respect shown toward our loved one.
I don’t know if this happens other places, but it’s just how we have done things around here, we do bury our own.
I know I need to do as my dad would do; buckle down and keep on keeping on. For now I’m going to grieve and miss my dad.