Four of our houseparents and I traveled two hours to Parmelee on the Rosebud Indian Reservation for the funeral of the mom of four of our students. All night wakes are still a tradition, and the boys spent most of Saturday and Sunday in the church hall keeping vigil with their mom, who was only 37 years old.
The pastor who led the services knew the family well, and was able to personalize his remarks. He was honest about the tough life and issues the family faced, yet offered hope and support. An elder in the community offered prayers in Lakota, and sang a traditional song. I offered my condolences and spoke about the Lakota concept Mitakuye Oyasin – We are all related and how in facing the loss of a mother how important the other relationships in life become.
We drove 10 miles out into the country, mostly on gravel roads, to reach the cemetery. Pall bearers used leather straps to lower the coffin into a rough wooden box at the bottom of the hand-dug opening.
The hammering of the nails echoed across the prairie as the box was closed and then the pallbearers began filling in the grave with shovelfuls of dirt. When I noticed the men tiring I tapped one of them on the shoulder and helped for a while until I was relieved. When the grave was filled in, the family lovingly placed all the flowers on top of the dirt, and we headed back to the hall for a meal.
The soup pots were about 3 feet high and about as round as a circle with my arms. They were filled with delicious homemade soup on a chilly November day. The star quilts that decorated the walls around the room were taken down and gifted to people who had helped the family through these sad days. One of the boys lives in Speyer Home (6th– 8th grade) and since the whole home came in a show of support on Sunday the family wanted to make sure we took home a quilt for them. I was also honored with the gift of a quilt.
Talking over supper, the pastor told of a retired teacher in the community. He and his wife always have a big pot of soup on the stove, and if youngsters in the community don’t have anything to eat, or just need a safe or quiet place to be for a while, that was a place of refuge. Those are the kind of folks that so inspire me. Hopefully our work at St. Joseph’s can provide a respite and shelter for Lakota students when their lives at home get tough.
The aunts who are the boys’ guardians had been working nonstop three days to get everything ready for the wakes and funeral. They asked if we had room to take the boys back with us and we were glad to be able to help. On the trip back there were more tears, and alternating times of quiet. After we stopped half way for gas and a break, the boys seemed to put the grief on hold for a while and talk about sports and other things. Our staff will try to be especially attentive and supportive of their needs in the difficult days and times to come.