Archive for the ‘Funeral’ Category

This is going to be one of those short, musing pieces.  There are a lot of things I’ve thought of to write about while I’ve been in Canada, but I don’t have the time to really sit and focus.  So perhaps I’m meant to keep my Canadian thoughts to myself.

But I have been checking on friends’ posts on Facebook off and on, just to keep up on what is happening on the home front.  In doing that, I learned that my Lakota friend’s cousin/sister died.  Based on the tidbits I’ve read, it was alcohol related – liver problems.  Still, when someone probably 20 years younger than I am dies, it is unsettling.

More unsettling than this one death, for me, is the number of deaths that my friend has had among her family in the 6 years I have known her.  It has not been “the old ones” for the most part.  It has been her own generation or younger.

I’m trying to remember all of them:  an uncle, a sister, a brother, a teenaged daughter, a stillborn nephew, an ex-husband (the father of her children) and several other cousins/friends.  There may be some I have not heard about, too.  To me, at least, that is a lot of death in 6 short years.  It is especially a lot of death in close family.

It is, sadly, not unusual on Pine Ridge Reservation where they live.  I have heard stories from many who have had significant losses like that, though I can’t say I’ve heard of so many in that short period of time.  When you add to the frequency of death the many other traumas that people on the rez experience – accidents, illnesses, injuries, the struggle to get from one place to another, the trouble finding a stable home to live in, abandonment by parents, no money to buy the necessities of life, violence and crime – it is likely that a very high percentage of individuals on Pine Ridge suffer from PTSD.

I don’t know how it is possible to bear all of the grief and trauma that my friend has borne.  It is difficult being 2000 miles away.  I do what I can to support and mostly I pray for the family.  That is really all I can do, in the long run.

I don’t know a lot but I do know that my friend has encountered more than her share of loss through death for someone who is not yet 40 years old.


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This is a sad story, so if you are already depressed, you might want to read it another time.  It is the story of an event in the lives of our Lakota friends.

I have met sister/cousin before – actually the first time we visited the rez over 6 year ago.  But I really got to know her better when I visited for the house blessing this past August.

I should probably explain the term “sister/cousin” because it is one I made up to explain the relationship between the woman I will write about and my friend.  My friend’s husband’s mother and this woman’s father were siblings.  So technically the two are first cousins.  However, as often occurs on the reservation, the two ended up being raised in the same household as siblings instead of cousins.  I have found that on the rez, the terms used are more reflective of the situation than the technical, biological reality.  Otherwise, how could I be “Unci (Grandma) Bee”.  I have no grandchildren but I am unci to my friend’s takojas (grandchildren).

So the two are sibling/cousins.  They care about each other as if they were sister and brother.

Sister/cousin was pregnant in August when I visited my friends.  She was expecting her 5th child.  She was happy about it, even though she worries because her husband drinks with his friends and he is not a pleasant drunk.  But I thought she seemed very swollen, like she was retaining fluid.  That is not a good thing for a pregnant woman to do.

Fluid retention can be a sign of pre-eclampsia, a condition of pregnancy in which the mother’s blood pressure rises dangerously and her kidney function declines, resulting in the retention of fluid and build up of toxins in the blood.  It was at one time called toxemia because it was thought to be a toxic condition.  However, the true cause is not known.  It is associated with multiple pregnancies, poor diet, diabetes, cigarette smoking and prior hypertension in the mother.

If it continues to become more severe, the complications can include seizures for the mother, premature separation of the placenta from the uterine wall (called an abrupted placenta) which leaves the baby with no oxygen or nutrients, and maternal and/or child demise.

As both a woman who has experienced mild pre-eclampsia in her own pregnancies and a childbirth educator who taught over 1,000 students over her 10 year teaching career, I can say that most medical professionals take pre-eclampsia very seriously.  They check your blood pressure frequently and work to bring down the hypertension.  Why?

The only cure for pre-eclampsia is delivery of the baby.  If the mother’s blood pressure cannot be controlled by diet or medication, labor must be induced or a Cesarean surgical birth must take place immediately.  Otherwise, there is an increased risk of complications, including death, for both mother and baby.

Sister/cousin, so I am told, had pre-eclampsia when I arrived to visit in early August.  My observation had been correct.  By October, her blood pressure was unable to be controlled, even with the hypertension medication she was given.  She was finally scheduled for an induction of labor.  However, there was a week that passed between her appointment and the induction of labor itself.  I cannot say why [or personally understand why] someone whose blood pressure was as high as sister/cousin’s was, for as long as it was, would not be induced immediately or taken to the operating room for surgical delivery.  She was sent home for a week — and never put on bed rest, never told to lie down on her left side to improve circulation to the baby.  She went home and tended to her other children and husband.

When she was finally induced on Halloween and after a long labor, she gave birth to a 6 lb 5 oz son on November 1, in the wee hours of the morning.  The little boy was born dead — stillborn.

The extended family who had attended her during labor, including my friend and her daughters, were devastated.  Sister/cousin was beyond consolation. I don’t know if she had been prepared for this possibility before the birth by the medical staff.  Sister/cousin called her husband, who was not there, to inform him that his son was dead.  Being drunk, he cursed at her, called her names that are not printable in this “PG” blog and refused to come to the hospital.  Sister/cousin then called her own mother to let her know that her grandson was “gone.”  Her brother answered the phone, repeated her husband’s behavior and hung up on her.  My friend said the pain in sister/cousin’s eyes doubled after those phone calls.

The doctor who examined the baby told sister/cousin that based on the physical condition of the baby, it appeared that the baby had been dead about a week.  The baby was sent to Bismarck, ND for autopsy, though no one knew why, since that was unusual.  The baby was buried at the end of the week.

Rest in peace, little one.  You had a very short walk on the earthly part of the Red Road.


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I have been feeling relatively good the past few days.  With the holidays over, all that had to be done was dismantle and pack the tree and decorations.

Of course, I did have my uncle’s wake and funeral to attend on Monday and Tuesday.  But while that was sad, it wasn’t the kind of emotional melt-down that causes the fibromyalgia to flare up.  And Wednesday night was my class after trying to get back up to speed all day on my work for Pine Ridge.

So why on earth were my pectoral muscles so sore when I woke up on Wednesday morning.  I had not done any heavy lifting at the wake or funeral.  I was not a pall bearer.  Okay, I wore flat shoes instead of sneakers to the wake, but the shouldn’t have used chest muscles!  My feet being sore I could understand, if they were – but they weren’t.  But my chest muscles had not done any work that I recalled.

You don’t know how you use a muscle until it is sore.  Then you realize how often you use that muscle because everything you do seems to irritate it.  That’s how I realized what had caused this current issue.  I got home from class last night and walked from the garage to the house as usual, thinking I was grateful for the new garage door opener.  I did not have to jostle with the old, heavy wooden door to close it before I went into the house.  Just one little button to push.  I was thinking about the fact that my chest muscles felt sore again and the old door would have been a real pain when I suddenly realized what has been the cause of my chest muscle complaints — driving.

Now most people can just jump in the car and drive as far as they want to go.  I don’t do a lot of driving.  I could, I just don’t have that far to go.  But the wake and funeral earlier in the week were about a 45 minute drive each way, in traffic.  And Tuesday, I had made a very rare exception to both a rule and habit.  I had talked on the cell phone while driving on the way home Tuesday afternoon.  I NEVER do that.  But it was my brother calling from Florida.  We’d been trying to connect for several days and if I didn’t speak with him then, it might be a lot longer, since he’s up to his eyeballs in work.  So I talked for about 20 to 25 minutes.  I actually did well:  stayed in my own lane, merged onto 2 highways after negotiating the ramps onto them and caused no one a coronary in the process – not even myself!

But in all that driving, I must have tightened my chest muscles without realizing it.  I was doing isometric exercise while driving, apparently.  And fibromyalgia, kind entity that it is, decided to remind me that exercise of any kind is frowned on – even accidental, isometric exercise.

That’s one of the things about fibromyalgia that I love/hate.  Fibromyalgia has no qualm about telling you what you can and can’t do.  It is sneaky though!  It lets you do it and reminds you afterward that it was a bad choice.  Thanks a lot!  That why, when people say to me, “I’m so sorry you can’t do _____________ (fill in the blank: gardening, yard work, vacuuming, needlework, etc) like you used to” I have to give them the following response, “I can to anything once.  If I try to do it more than once, that’s when I run into trouble.”

If I do any motion repetitively, the muscles decide to go on strike and not work properly for days (sometimes weeks) while at the same time creating significant pain which is not always proportionate to the activity.  That’s what I mean when I say fibromyalgia is sneaky.  You never know what an activity will bring you the next day – mild discomfort or mega-pain that keeps you drugged and in bed.  Not that bed is always more comfortable, but that’s another story.

So today, as I get ready to drive to the doctor’s office for a blood pressure check, I tell my muscles they will have to do it one more time.  I just hope it doesn’t raise my blood pressure!

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I know, it isn’t original.  Shakespeare said it a long time ago, in a lovely little play called Romeo and Juliet. In fact, the actual quote, for those of you who aren’t up on your Shakespeare, is

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”

Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)

I am not musing today on the names of persons, as Juliet did.  I am musing on the names we have chosen to call things.  Specifically today, because I am headed to my uncle’s wake this afternoon, I was thinking about the names we call the places where we go to show respect to the dead and their survivors.

The place I will be going to is called a mortuary, as in Smith’s Mortuary.  That term is rather uncommon in this area, actually.  Around here, one is more likely to go to a wake at a funeral home or funeral parlor.  I suspect mortuary was more common in an earlier era when people were frank about death.  Now, in our softer, gentler world we tend to pussyfoot around the concept of death.

So now, instead of going to a mortuary we go to a funeral home/parlor.  How cozy!

I took this musing a bit further and went to Dictionary.com to investigate.  Sure enough, I found that the word mortuary, which is defined as “funeral home”, has its origins in the 14th and 15th centuries, the late Middle Ages.

1350–1400;  ME mortuarie  < ML mortuārium,  n. use of neut. of L mortuārius  of the dead, equiv. to mortu ( us ) dead + -ārius ary
When I looked up the term used to define mortuary, that is funeral home, I found a better definition and the origin of the word, which is actually from the 20th century.

an establishment where the dead are prepared for burial or cremation, where the body may be viewed, and where funeral services are sometimes held.
1935–40, Americanism
I just love to find out I’m not out in left field somewhere when I start to muse.
I don’t have the time today to do more research to see if I’m on the right track regarding the reasons we decided to use the term funeral home rather than mortuary.  It could be that, since wakes were often in the dead person’s home at one time, when the business of preparing the dead for burial began to flourish as an “industry”, it was done in a house used for that business.  Hence, funeral house, funeral home.  I may do more research another day when I have more time.
Personally, I think the origin of words and how we came to use the ones we do is very interesting.  I am saddened by the fact that many people don’t even know the proper words, let alone what they mean and how they came to be.  Vocabulary is another part of American education which has sadly become neglected.
For those who have become accustomed to my writing centering on the conditions on Pine Ridge Reservation, do not despair.  I will write on that again, too often probably.  But I began this blog to write about what was on my mind – hence the eclectic focus of the name.  I realized that I have been, for better or worse, writing about the same thing a lot.  I need to stretch my mind now and again, so for a while there may be more posts about things other than rez life.  But rest assured that I continue to work with folks on the rez and you will hear it if I hear a story that captures my heart!
Now, off to the mortuary.

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