To A Good Mourning

“How are you doing?” -Almost everyone I have never met, with a look of pity on their face.

This is the number one question I’ve been asked since my Mom passed last month. I have become aware that I shake my head while saying ‘fine’, or whatever lie rolls off my tongue, to complete strangers who’ve injected themselves into my life at a pivotal point.

I do believe that in many ways I am fine. I’ve learned to shoulder, shift, and carry the grief I was born with; it’s a huge part of this intergenerational trauma that’s always haunted my emotional, physical, mental, social, and spiritual being. I’ll occasionally break the awkward interactions with honesty and let the intruder know that I’m experiencing memory loss, massive amounts of clumsiness, that my usual aloof and numb state is becoming a concern associated with my PTSD and disassociation, but it’s really okay because I’m seeing a therapist for that. They’ll be taken aback, stammer out a quick reply, sharing that they hope I’m “seeing someone” for that, when they could explore their own grief and be confident in saying that these things are normal. And as much as I hate to slap normalcy on anything, these reactions are very “normal” or “typical”. And normal doesn’t mean easy, quick, painless, but it does mean that someone else might have similar experience with the same things I’m feeling. It means that I’m not completely alone. It means I might find comfort in knowing that someone else has been where I’m at, or is there with me, in their own private hell, right now. My grief won’t be a spittin’ image to anyone else’s, but my grief might have some things in common with someone else’s. I can pretty much pick my poison when it comes to defining grief; there are dictionary definitions, hospice center definitions, text book definitions, accurate quotes, millions of descriptors that breathe life into dealings with Grief, similar to the way we bring Death to life. Grief becomes a living, breathing entity who stalks you and shows up, always uninvited and always outstaying it’s welcome.

I keep reminding myself that struggling with my grief does not mean that I’m not handling things well, it doesn’t mean that I’m failing this grand grief and loss test. It does means that I need to slow down and be easy on myself. It means there’s something more there that I need to explore, and perhaps my reactions to grief are being ignored and my body is trying to find ways to let me know that on a subconscious level I need to process my grief.

After many sleepless nights I have decided that I want to keep an ongoing public journal of just how I am doing (with my grief). I was thinking about this last night as I fed my 2 month old daughter, how this will keep me accountable to myself, to my healing, my mom would welcome this, it might connect me with others who are experiencing/have experienced something similar, it might help someone else, and it will keep boundaries on people’s access to me as I grieve. I’m not sure how often I will post updates, at least weekly, if I’m having a harder time, or I’m busy there might be a surge in posts, or decline. I will keep this pattern up for a year, the first year of my Mom’s passing. I will include things that have been helpful to me, possible links to resources I learn about, anything I can share that might help someone else, and most importantly I will share my struggles and hardships on this journey. I will welcome comments, replies, interactions, tips, and sharing.

As I come to a closing point on this first post I will share that it’s important to remember that Grief is most commonly associated with death and dying, but can and should be applied to many different types of life loss. Said losses can include relationships ending, job loss/employment, illnesses, and other life changes. Other’s grief shouldn’t be trivialized. Grief may trigger other mental health diagnoses or preexisting conditions you’re dealing with, and should be included in medical and psychological reports and evaluations. Common reactions to grief can be emotional expressions, physical & mental/cognitive symptoms, social effects, and can have an impact on your spiritual beliefs and perspective. Grief is commonly broken down to “stages” and there are notable authors, experts, and researchers on Grief and Loss, so it’s good to become an expert on your grief, even if you use their framework, theories, research.

It will be important to note that I have C-PTSD, I have a 2 month old baby (so I’m in my postpartum healing period) as well as 2 older children, I have cancer, and high blood pressure that hasn’t resolved itself from preeclampsia that lead to the late-term premature delivery of my daughter. I have a background in mental health work and advocacy, I’m a Mortician/Funeral Director by trade, with a death positivity perspective. Also important to note I’m an enrolled and active citizen of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation. I’m currently living in Virginia, having moved here two years ago to be with my mother, as well as decided to return to school (again) while here. This means that I’m physically away from my entire support system, aside from my immediate family and a couple of friends. My mother and I lived together for a year before we both moved, and we lived in neighboring towns. She was also in the midst of moving across the country when she was suddenly hospitalized after being taken to an emergency room. She had been doing very well in her recovery and we even had some time with her while she was awake and were making plans for her discharge and rehabilitation. My brothers and I chose to respect and honor her life, wishes, and physical being by taking her off of life support after we learned she would not recover from the damage that occurred during the cerebral vasospasms that are common after cerebral aneurysms. I believe that these things influence my grief processing. I’m also working with the hospice grief counselor, and have been treating my C-PTSD through neurofeedback treatments, and will be seeking a new therapist due to recent insurance and employment changes.

I hope that if you choose to follow my journey of healing and grief processing that you share and grow with me. Cheers, to a good mourning.

See You Soon

time has dropped its hands in my lap, there is only a before and after you.

memories weave themselves throughout my moments, no rest, even for the weary.

when i close my eyes, you’re there. behind my lids, like a movie,

the VHS film, delicate and crinkled winds itself around my fingertips.

i place my heart in the VCR and press rewind, i must’ve watched us a million times;

queen of corn palaces and balls of twine, road warrior, still battling mile markers,

scar across your furrowed brow, talking in poetry…the last of a dying breed,

true romantics can’t even speak our tongue

reading maps, the folding kind. my legs tick tock, tick tock

my arms are restless, i reach for you in the dark, only more night comes

i examine stars like they’re freckles on skin, searching constellations

for signs of you. strung out on hope, movies, and memories-

for a moment i feel you, so i don’t give up on wondering

                                                            what happens to us when we die.

i’ve a newfound faith in a cactus’ ability to teach us lessons in how to keep love alive

and you stretch out in front of me, like the vast expanse of desert floor,

like mountain meadow with a meandering stream,

like the fruited plains, switch grass rolling like ocean waves

there isn’t a place i can run to escape memories of you, memories like movie-

from sea to shining sea, left coast to right now

i press my tongue to the roof of my mouth

swallowing hard, turning in bed, twisting in sheets,

recalling the sound of you snoring, recalling the sound of your happiness

scared i might forget what that means, worried your ghost won’t remember

                                                                                                the good in me.

-i press pause.

we are frozen in a single embrace

your hair gently falls across my face

my arms crush you, as i squeeze

“okay, mom. see you soon”

The End.

Room 704

Room 704 is bursting in a million different directions, scattering down the hall, slipping through cracks on the floor, under doors, forcing its way through closed windows stretching out into azure sky In my mind this room has become a collection, of mason jars with lids haphazardly screwed on, piles of cardboard boxes, and suitcases full of teeth, heartstrings, shoelaces, crumpled pieces of paper, half-written letters in lost languages There are jars full of hope, a box crammed to the tiptop, overflowing with heartache. I shiver from a loneliness I cannot shake, in a world away from you. A suitcase filled with spring leaves, tender green catches my eye, then a jar of seashells, a suitcase full of red clay earth, boxes are stacked to the ceiling, full of cameras, dragon’s scales, stamps and stones and crystals gleaming… Screens light up the gloom of Room 704; one full of pastel cloud filled skies and a sliver of a moon, another with flowers blooming and my head is booming with all of I’ve been holding in Boxes under the bed, full of smiles, screams, rage, handfuls of moments well-lived, secrets whispered over table tops stained with water rings, turquoise memories, single strands of silver hair, boarding passes, avocado seeds, expired credit cards, never declined invitations Mason jars lined the window ledge, jars full of laughter, Wyoming roots, tree branches with naked limbs, projects unfinished jittery movements, felt hearts, mountain tops and winding rivers, eagle feathers and river flutes, I listen to the beep, buzz, hum of machines inhaling to exhale for a tremendous collection of love, stretched thin on a hospital bed. And Room 704 is so full of collections of life that this much proof of living cannot be contained in four walls, for too long The heart and soul of Room 704 shifts, slips, and brushes past me, Rushing into all it could never be when it was being contained In Jars. In boxes. In suitcases. In body.

A Journey

A sliver of a moon hangs
lopsided, like the Cheshire Cat’s smile,
nestled in the deepest dark.

Stars sprinkled around us, like
Forget-Me-Nots in heaven’s meadows,
we remove the clock from the wall
and sit in silence.

One stubs their toe,
the other wipes their eyes
I prick my finger at the exact moment
you become a collection of memories,
all of everything between mile markers
on universal highways, a journey
of your own making.

We want signs, we beg for them,
signs that’ve been there all along-
even a word that might embrace us in this silence.
We sink into the quiet, watching You light up
the vast expanse of foreverness,
witnessing the beginning
of a million stories being told.

We’ve never been your children
more than we are right now.
We take the road you haven’t gone down.
You take the road we’ve not yet traveled.
Sky is ablaze. Earth bends.
Only time breaks, shattering
into a thousand unspoken confessions
of love, of loss,
of a lifetime of movement
stretching out in front of us, for always.

One sighs, the other cries out.
I hold my hand to my chest and feel
You embracing us.
As you have all along.

Lambs Death and Honey Wine

lambs teeth shoved in pockets
she greets me at the door with sweat soaked pits,
blue buckets of frozen rainwater on her porch,
under a heavy winter’s moon

she tells me we’re making mead over her shoulder,
as she disappears down a darkened corridor
gallons of honey, the whole house smells of raw meat and sweet
this is a lengthy process

she slips across hardwood floors in flowered socks,
dressed in a hand-me-down corduroy skirt, stiff
standing over butcher’s block
we were raised by wolves in sheep’s clothing

Kotex Queens in acid wash jeans,
engagement and wedding rings sat sink side,
because sometimes feeling unowned is the best vacation
naked bodies tangled in white cotton gowns, with menstruation stains at the hem

as the moon sets she pulls lamb’s tooth from pocket
and asks me what i thought they felt just before they died

Blue Gold

parts of speech shift the closing
between us, particles slip off your lips,
i can’t hear anything, i’m lost in your blue gold
purples in shadow, indigo ridges
copper threads in my eyes wrapped tight,
woven around shutterbug pupils, wide-eyed

your eyes…
are cake of indigo; blue gold,
Mesopotamia, Nile merchants, Spice Islands,
Egyptian gods, Persian impositions of dues to pay
-in Japan your eyes became especially
important during the Edo period
Newton described them as one of two
primary colors, adding them to the
rainbow, Lectiones Opticae in 1675

your eyes came to North America
by way of trade, on ships where
they became cash crops, they settled,
like dust, blossomed like wild flowers,
like dreamers, shined like a wishful spring morn
they dug roots deep into lush lands, cool hues
grew into discs that glisten
like mountain glacier pools,
your eyes, your precious blue gold-

IMG_9508

The Archetype

So I won First Place in The Skyway Writer’s Competition in Illinois with this short story, it’s Fiction…

The Archetype 

I paced the hardwood floor like a mouse in a maze, back and forth over the same lose floorboards, too tangled in the webs woven throughout my mind to truly appreciate the creaking of the gently aged wood under my weight. My anxious heartbeat more of a burden, annoying me with this clanking against the backside of my sternum, a constant reminder of my miserable existence. I’ve wanted to reach deep into my chest cavity and disconnect myself from life source, to squeeze until it burst like a ripened strawberry in my palm. I’ve been on edge for days, since the news of his passing came. My bones knew before I did, they whispered his last words through my stiff joints, my lower back pain, a dull throbbing ache at the base of my neck. Grandma came to comfort me, as she often did. Just before Dawn my eyelids fluttered, my limbs twitched like tree branches in autumn breeze. It’s as if these prophecies were playing out before us, we’re wide awake dreaming our way home. Our long journey, we’ve had such a long walk home.

I’ve been so tired for so long.

My drive back to the Rez was surreal, my little car quiet as a coffin, still and lonely, as the moments just before dying often are. Days prior to leaving I stayed silent, I lacked the agility to move among the living with any grace so I remained in solitude. As I drove home I turned my phone off, no radio sang me sad mourning songs. Each of my memories had an echo that sounded off of the walls I’ve been building since birth. Maybe I’d never wanted to leave my mother’s womb.

I’ve had values, over the years they trickled down my thighs, soaked tampons, pads, panties, and the sheets of men who never even knew if or why I came. They slipped through my lips, sometimes slowly exhaled in twirling smoke rings from Camel lights. They’ve slithered down my veins, capillaries, from my centerpiece, to my arms, to my fingertips pointing to all the dirty spots. They flirted with the reflection we’ve seen in passing windows as we’ve taken our walks of shame further away from home. Everyone I’ve loved has disappeared behind the walls I’ve carefully constructed out of growing pains, hunger pangs, and wounds inflicted generations before I was born.

A heavy past has lead me to this moment. This tiny abandoned church at the top of the hill overlooking the only safe place my body will ever know as an Indigenous Woman in this world. A warm Southern wind whipped through the open door, gathering my ribbon skirt that was skimming the floor. Brightly colored slivers of light dancing over faded cotton and vibrant ribbon hand stitched in place, as if they’re dancing was a prayer we’ve never been able to finish in peace . I tip-toed over the floorboards, pivoting like a broken ballerina, scooping up the bottom tiers of my skirt, sidestepping bent emotions under furrowed brow. My moccasins slide over spots where elements have smoothed stained wood, sliding past busted stained glass windows. I come to a standstill in front of shattered history framing our relationship with dominant society for hundreds of years, shards of glass the color of greasy grass and bloodlines soaking in late afternoon sunlight’s golden rays. The hazy orange gold of early autumn don’t match my darkening mood, like winter storm churning in my guts and glory. I turn away from the sun, turn to the wall opposite the graves below, turn my back to the later afternoon sun. I watch my slinky shadow making movements in some otherworldly space, like a spirit keeping me company. I wonder if he’s still here.

My shadow swayed with my hair, my regrets crept up behind me, chills racing down my spine, causing such a shiver I almost wake from my most restful sleep. I cast strange shadows, almost as if there are two of them, maybe three…maybe they’re just my insecurities. I paused to smirk at my own current state of insanity. I’ve aged well into my anger, my melancholy, my broken ribs and heavy bones, my aching heart, and skin tight impatience. My anger fit so well, so snug I wore it out, wore it until it was a sorrow, so deep and dark it consumed the Indigenous. In my twenties I decided to avoid fucking, but buried the woman in me with my grandmother. I’d then buried my traditions with my grandfather. He’d labeled me a savage beast of the latest generation’s assimilation and written me off long ago, looking past me the last our eyes met. My family has stopped leaving the porch light on and I’d stopped begging for attention from the darkened doorway of an empty house to avoid freshly cut feelings of rejection at a dinner table set for none. Whiskey wishes and cocaine parties in suburban life were family enough for me. My addictive personality kept me plenty company. I’d learned to drive away from all of my mistakes with at least a half a tank of gas and my head held high. This is how we white wash. I’m the new version of the old American Dream. Always too stubborn to come crawling home on bleeding knees.

This church’s four walls closing in on me. All four walls constantly closing in on me. Even with the doors hanging off their hinges and windows blown out. Here we are, mourning in the midst of brightly colored glass, littering the sun-stained floor. I stood in the middle of the of the tiny mission church that sat in the Reservation’s gut, and looked straight up, staring at the steeple. The bell still hung in the tower, the thick rope hanging in threads and tangles in front of my face, begging to be tugged, to be rung. I wanted to ring it. But the service at the bottom of the hill would be interrupted with my antics. Everyone would forgive me, yet again. Write it off as my war cry, a grief stricken sister finally finding her way home. Taking a break from digging my own grave to grace the original people with my presence. Selfish, just like the world I’d gone to live in. Everyone would whisper behind my back at the Hall during feast later in the evening. They’d snort and scoff as I walked by, eyes focused on my soft buttery yellow moccasins. They’d glare and suck their teeth around the gossip and here I am making this about me, again. This is how we avoid reality. Who is better at avoiding and hiding than me?

I pushed pieces of glass around the wood’s swirling rings with my toes, taking a deep breath and inhaling prairie grass and sage, overcome with memories of my own unraveling. I’ve longed for the familiar embrace of home, but still centered on pushing away anything that feels like love. Mother, sisters, auntie’s laughter, even their cries, more human touch than anything I’ve felt in years. To fall asleep with the smell of fire clinging to my clothes, hair, and sheets. To wake just before Dawn with Dad, welcoming the moment of new day with fresh black coffee in camp mug, the taste of bottled water on the back of my tongue-don’t even use the faucet water to brush your teeth. Mending fence posts under the high plains sun. I hadn’t touched protected land since the last loss. During the summer I deconstructed The Archetype. The perfect child. The one I would never live up to. I ruined him to the best of my ability. Wrecked our family from my perch then flew away. I’d drained the blood from my body and remained as pale as a sheet ghost, living among the dead. I’d never called or returned home. Spent holidays at tidy tables with friends who didn’t even know my name. Learned to curl my tongue around foreign languages, they knocked against my teeth and no one answered. Sleepless nights next to men who’d crush my bones with their desire to feast on tradition of killing the Indian in me. The perfect child died with every step I took further away from the familiar. I’d walked in every protest to protect the very system that slaughtered everyone who had every loved me, but never walked up the steps to my own home.

The bell, still begging to be rung sat still, it’s long frayed rope dangling like a hangman’s noose. I looked out over the waist high grass, out the front door of the church to the cemetery resting below. Silhouettes slowly making their way to cars parked along the dirt road in the distance. One figure stood taller than the rest, he put one hand high in the hair and made a fist, then opened his hand and signaled a wave. Dad, and his brokenhearted welcome home.

My eyes brimmed with tears, I swallowed hard, and pushed my fist in the air, opened my hand and weakly waved back. Heart battered against my breastbone, choked hard on all the excuses I might’ve used this time. Maybe I’d run out of words. Maybe there was nothing left to speak, it was time to just come home. I slowly inched my way out the door, down the steps, across the field to the graveyard below. Wooden crosses lined a few dirt mounds, tall poles with feathers flying in the breeze, horse hair galloping across the plains. Each plot housing the remains of someone I knew and loved, knew or loved. Each hole in the Earth filled to the surface with stony soil, unfit for growing food that could’ve nourished us beyond commodity cheese and mill worm infested sacks of flour. I try to push it all out of my mind, these thoughts that come creeping in every time I’m reminded of what it means to be surviving in their world. But maybe it’s time to face these things that’ve always tried to break us. In the distance thunder grumbles down to villages and irrigation ditches, over sweetgrass and empty arbor, and I knew the spirits were welcoming my brother home.

The Archetype. The perfect child. The loyal one. I walk through the labyrinth of graves, families, lined up with clan; child and mother, father next to son, daughter and grandmother…for generations we’ve been coming home, or coming undone. I smile at the memory of how this was once the only place on the Rez that no one ever came without good reason. We’ve never wandered these grounds, sometimes my brother and I would watch these plots from the church steps on the hill. Overlooking our futures. We’d just gaze out over the distance. I thought about my brother’s toothy grin before I’d left home. He’d said, “You know I’ll be first and you’ll have to live up to me. All I never was, but what Dad expected us to be.”

His smiled had faded as he dropped his head, he looked down at my tight jeans and told me I needed to put some meat on my bones before I fell through my asshole and hung myself. We’d laughed deep and hard. I’d nodded, not knowing exactly what I was agreeing to, but realizing he was right. Like he always was, the copper kettle colored philosopher, bronzed from lifetimes of being kissed by the Sun. We’d sighed in unison, he’d put his hands on my shoulders and said, “Leave. Just go. Do all of the things you’ve never wanted to do. When you come home we can talk about how shitty the world really is. They’ll forgive you, cause you look just like me, just not as pretty.”

He’d been tired, a lot longer than me.