My great-great grandma gave birth to eleven babies. The first died at four months, the second at age eight. It went on like that for years, grandma giving birth and grandpa making babyboards, digging holes and lowering those dead babies into the ground. Five of her children lived, but then Willie died at age 19. It was a time of measles and smallpox epidemic for Indian people.
After my son died my mind glimpsed my great-great grandma. I felt a distant memory pulling me back, and I could hear her wailing like wind coming up, crying and swaying. I thought about how her cries probably drifted into the cabins of nearby white settlers, and I wondered if they knew the high, shrill sounds pressing against the night were from an Indian mother mourning her dead baby.
-An excerpt from my memoir Pushing up the Sky
I adopted my son when he was 13 months old, and I think about his first mother. She give birth to him, and I held him in my arms at age 15 when he crossed over to the other side into the spirit world. Not my planting, but my harvest, my child, our child. And like a river stone tumbling in the raging water, my grief has grown softer over the years, and I found gold and grace along the way, but I had to reach for it.
Our family always does something special on Jay's death day, to honor life and celebrate being alive on earth, and to pay honor to the spirit world. Grieving is hard work and we've had plenty of those years behind us. So now we also try to be a little bit silly and playful. We treat ourselves and each other with extra kindness.
We got the idea when our daughter was then 17, shortly after her brother died, and we were shopping and she wanted a pair of red satin pants.
I kept saying that they were not practical and where would you wear them.
And she said, "But Mom, I'm alive! I could wear them anywhere just because I'm here on earth."
It made us burst into laughter and tears steamed down our face, and we bought her the pants. And every year since we've made a point of doing something special for each other, or buying each other something fun and a little bit unnecessary. Most of all we have fun together, just the way my son would have loved it to be.