I just spoke to my friend on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, some 2000 miles away from me, for about an hour on the phone. (My husband will love that bill.) But there was no way I could hang up.
My friend lost her 16 year old daughter in mid-March. She died at a friend’s home but her mother made it there before the paramedics because medical care and emergency response times on the rez are not what they are for the rest of us – even those of us in rural areas. She watched the emergency crew try to resuscitate her daughter. Until today I had not gotten the full story. Apparently her daughter, who had a history of seizures, had a seizure while taking a bath and, because she was unconscious, drowned in the bath.
My friend has tried to keep her children safe and well, in spite of odds that are certainly piled up against her living on the reservation. She had vowed not to treat her children like her mother had treated her. I learned more new things today. I learned that when my friend was young, her mother had sent her to live with her grandmother. Then, when she was 12 years old, her mother put her in a dormitory (I think she was referring to boarding school) until she was 18. When she got out of there, she met her daughters’ father and quickly got married so she could escape the rez. He was from Salt Lake City and they moved there. But the relationship didn’t work and she moved back to the rez in 1995, even though they didn’t officially divorce until 2002. She has fought tooth and nail to keep her family together under circumstances that most of us cannot imagine.
Two of her daughters have been raped. They have lived in other people’s homes until last fall – sometimes sharing a small home with a dozen others. They have had their food stolen so that family members could sell it and buy alcohol. They have had their cell phones, CD’s and even clothing stolen for the same reason.
Last fall they moved into a house that barely stands. It is not insulated, had broken windows and no way to heat it. My husband and I paid for an electric heater through the organization One Spirit. It was the only heat they had for the little house throughout the winter – blizzards and all. They have no running water. They are still waiting for the tribe to get them a water tank so they will have water storage at least. They have used an outhouse since they moved in – imagine that in the South Dakota winter! They had no furniture to speak of. My husband and I bought them beds for Christmas. I could not stand the idea of my friends sleeping on the cold floor. They have no major appliances. No stove, no refrigerator. We’ve sent an electric skillet and a toaster oven. Laundry and showers are done at family members homes. They have no transportation. A family member gave them a car last year – if you could call it a car: broken windshield, mechanical problems, physical damage. A typical “rez ride.” Now the car needs a wheel bearing. It will sit in the yard – there’s not enough money for food, let alone car repairs. So they will walk everywhere again. If you know anything about the reservation, you know that distances between settlements areas and services are measured in multiples of miles, not blocks.
Then in March, her daughter died. It appears to have been the final straw. She had failed her child – at least in her own mind. I knew she was taking it hard. I helped with the funeral arrangements where I could and you can find more about it in another post.
The other day I got an email from my friend. That meant she had gotten to the Oglala Lakota College campus in the next settlement area. But what she wrote concerned me. She sounded even worse than she had in March. This is what she wrote:
How are you doing? I know it has been a long while since I wrote to you. Well I’ve been staying home, mainly in my bedroom, I sort of isolated myself from everyone on the rez. I’ve been taking [my daughter’s] loss very hard, I’m suppose to go too another ceremony to accept her eagle feather and I am also suppose to Sundance but I can’t right now, my family has been having it hard health wise, and I don’t want them to point their fingers at me and say that I caused these problems, they are strong believers in my culture. You know my heart is so broke right now, I expect too see my [daughter] everyday.You know the morning she passed away, I woke up real early about 6:45 am that day, I was going to call her, but I thought she would chew me out like last time so I didn’t call, instead my brother in law called me and said she wasn’t breathing, I told him to start CPR, I caught a ride out to My brotherinlaw’s and I saw her little lifeless body laying there everyone was doing what they could to help her, but when I walked in his house I knew deep down that she was gone when I saw her, that runs through my mind all the time, I wished I picked her up night before, she would be here today.When she passed away I went to a ceremony for her and she was brought to me by a bear carrying her on his back, I was feeling scared in this lodge, and she said don’t be scared this bear is a big old fraiddy cat, then a few weeks after that we had a lowampi (healing ceremony) for her sister and she came back she said we would see her in our dreams, and we all had our different dreams of her. In my dream we were on a really high mountain, clouds all around us and there was Emily standing there in a white buckskin dress and she was saying look mom, look how pretty it is up here, she said don’t be scared this is what I wanted you too see, I was on the prettiest mountain up in the sky then I woke up and started crying because she wasn’t there when I woke up. i sometimes think I hear her in my room saying mom in a really faint voice, It is very hard for me to let her go. I hope you understand why I haven’t been calling or emailing you, I’m bearly starting to leave the house, I don’t really see anybody anymore. I have alot on my mind especially her memorial coming up, I have nothing to offer, I can’t even get her a headstone, How sad is that? Alot of things need too be done and not enough time, it sucks right now. I hope to hear from you my friend.Always and forever