I got a phone call late last evening. Late for me (9:30 PM), not as late for the caller in South Dakota (7:30 PM). The risk of working 2000 miles away from where I live is an occasional late call.
The caller was a mom I had spoken with early in the summer. I had no sponsors available at the time, but did put her on the OKINI (sharing) list to see if someone would send her what they had an urgent need for: personal hygiene items like soap, shampoo, toothpaste. We included a request for the children for shoes and summer clothes.
This mom and her present husband were raising three children. She has a 12 year old daughter, a 7 year old son and a 6 year old daughter.
I read the Rapid City Journal every day – the obituary page. It helps me keep up with what is happening in my areas of the reservation. In July, I read the obituary for this woman’s husband. He was 31 years old at the time of his death.
I did not know the cause of his death. I did know that they were struggling to “make it.” How many of us, when asked what we need most urgently, would ask for soap and toothpaste. They didn’t have a post office box in the area where they were living; they got their mail “General Delivery” at the post office. They could not afford a post office box rental.
She told me the cause of her husband’s death inadvertently, one of the times she started to cry. “How could he do that to himself?” Her husband committed suicide – one of far too many on the rez who see no hope for improvement and no way out.
She said the children were having a hard time and she had to place the 7 year old boy in counseling. She told me they needed personal hygiene products again and the 6 year old needed shoes.
Then she told me something that I fervently wish she had not told me. She told me that, after her husband’s death, his family blamed her for it. It got so bad for her and the children that she has moved to Rapid City to get away from the harassment. Blame is a cruel game that serves no one’s best interests!!
No . . . tell me I didn’t hear her say that. Tell me she did not inform me she had moved to Rapid City. I must have been imagining it. But no, she’s giving me the address of the relative she temporarily staying with. Damn, damn, damn!!
I got her new information. I told her I would see what I could do.
But I KNEW I could do little if anything. I just didn’t have the heart to rip the last bit of hope away from this grieving mother at that time of the night. We said goodbye.
Then I stomped my feet on the plastic floor protector mat under my desk chair like a child having a tantrum. I let out a string of expletives. My husband looked at me as though I were nuts. “What’s wrong with you?!” Frustration!
So I told him the story, then said, “What’s wrong with this picture?”
He let out a slow sigh as he nodded slightly, “She’s in Rapid City.”
BINGO!! Give that man a prize!
The organization I work with provides sponsors and services only on Pine Ridge Reservation. That’s it. Move off the rez and we can’t help you anymore.
The reasons for this are, well, reasonable. We are a small organization. We do not have the resources to help those who move away. We know they need help, too. But covering the 2,000,000 (that’s right, 2 million) acres we already cover is a big job. We just can’t do it anywhere else — at least right now. We never have enough sponsors for all the children and elders on the reservation as it is.
I can tell you’re wondering what I’m going to do with this “little problem” that I now have. I’ll tell you.
I will not assign a sponsor to this woman’s children while she is in Rapid City.
I will try to get the 6 year old a pair of shoes and find some personal hygiene products to send – probably out of my own money in one of the post office’s nifty flat rate boxes.
I will probably stay in contact with her to see how she is doing over the next few months. She really needs emotional support.
I will watch to see if the moves back to the reservation. Many, many who try to move off rez end up moving back. My friends did that. If she moves back, she’ll get the first sponsor available.
She had to move about 50 miles to grieve and raise her children in peace.
Moving can make all the difference!!