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Archive for the ‘Sadness’ Category

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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ABC NEWS Has Come Through For Pine Ridge

Over a year ago, I was contacted by a researcher/producer for ABC News.  She had found one of my blog entries (in which I was chastising ABC for not paying attention to the disasters in the west, especially on the reservations).  She told me they were working on a Diane Sawyer prime time special in her “A Hidden America” series.  The prior one had been on life in Appalachia.  This time they were planning to profile Pine Ridge Reservation.

Those of you who have been reading my blog will know that there is not much that fires up my hopefully righteous passion more than talking about life on Pine Ridge Reservation.  So talk we did, for almost an hour.  And we emailed – resources that they might find helpful.

I had heard that Diane Sawyer was out on the rez this past summer when I was there (no, we didn’t happen to cross paths traveling the approximately 2 million acres on the rez.  But I did here that she went up to KILI Radio one of the days I was there.  Try to keep that quiet when you’re talking to DJ’s.

I am giving you a link to the promo for the show.  Please, if you have ever enjoyed or been moved by anything I have written, I implore you to watch the 20/20 program on Friday at 10 PM.  See with your own eyes the good and the bad of Pine Ridge.  You may not find it possible but this place does exist.  I have been there and I suspect they will not tell you the worst story nor show you the poorest homes.  But it will still be worse than you expect.  After all, the living conditions on Pine Ridge rival those in Haiti and the life expectancy on Pine Ridge rivals that of Burundi.

I work for an organization that works to support self-sufficiency – not an easy thing to have on Pine Ridge.  Many of us work to keep the dam from breaking by trying to improve the life of one person at a time.  The big picture can be truly overwhelming.

If you can’t watch the show when it airs, record it or have a friend record it for you.

I will be honest.  I prayed for someone with greater reach than mine to focus attention on the needs of Pine Ridge.  I did not know (or care) who it would be.  I am grateful to ABC News because I know that if more people see the conditions, they will be moved to respond.  I believe in the American people and I know in my heart that things can improve.  I do not have the answers but I know it can be done.

Thank YOU for helping them to raise awareness.  You can do that by sharing this blog post with everyone you know.

Oh yes, here’s the link to the promo:  http://abcnews.go.com/2020/video/hidden-america-children-plains-14708439#.TpOhj9LOE2E.facebook

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I have owned cats all my life and I have seen cats do some odd things.  Eat spaghetti sauce with mushrooms.  Burrow under a pile of blankets to sleep.  But last night my 16 year old male cat did something I have not seen before.

I should point out that this cat is not feeling well.  He stopped eating while we were on vacation last week and has lost 2 lbs.  Not good for a small, 9 lb cat.  He has been losing muscle mass and is weak and slightly uncoordinated now.  I am worried that there is something seriously wrong and will be calling the vet in the morning.

Still, it was almost funny to watch this cat decide to take a shower.  We have a walk-in shower.  My husband was in the shower when he called me to quietly come in and look at the cat.  I expected to see the cat sitting on the toilet lid waiting for my husband to finish.

I did not expect to see the cat IN the shower.  He wasn’t there to drink the water.  He was wandering around in there because he apparently wanted to be with my husband.  The cat was in the end of the shower away from the shower head and there wasn’t a lot of water hitting him in that area.  Then he started to walk around a bit more, seemingly oblivious to the water sprinkling him.

Frankly I just stood there with my jaw dropped.  I knew for sure the cat was not well after that.  I put a towel in there for my husband to dry the cat when he was done, then shut the door and left them both there.

**********

I took the cat to the vet 2 days ago and they could not find anything obviously wrong.  We would have to wait for the blood work.

Yesterday we got the results of the blood tests.  It was not good news.  My cat was experiencing kidney failure without the presence of any infection.  There was nothing to do and nothing to treat.  My cat was dying.

I had 2 choices.  I could allow the cat to starve as all of his other organs shut down.  Or I could allow him to die quickly and humanely.  If there had been a way to cure whatever his problem was, I’d have done it.  But I could not be cruel and allow him to die a slow death.  So we opted for the second choice.

My husband took him back to the vet last night and buried him today.  I could not go this time.  I have taken a prior cat (at age 22) for the same procedure and could not do it this time.

But it still hurts.  I told my husband I had the cat longer than him.  I have never been without a cat in the house — in 59 years.

I’m going to try to focus on that image that made me smile just days before – the cat walking around in the shower.  Wish I’d taken a picture [my husband might not agree 😉 ].

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A friend of my daughter’s just posted on Facebook about something that I’ve been saying since yesterday as well.

*scrape*  *scrape*  “Sorry for the noise, dragging my soapbox out.”

For many of us in New England, Hurricane Irene did not live up to her billing.  That isn’t to say that there was no damage or that there aren’t many folks who are still being inconvenienced by power outages.  There was damage and many are still in the dark.  But Irene had been billed as the “storm of the century” and hyped by every media outlet and government agency as nature’s version of Armageddon.  It didn’t turn out to be that way for most in the area where I live.

In my yard, for example, there were some very small branches that fell from the trees, leaves and a little bit of water in the basement.  We went for a drive yesterday afternoon and did not see much worse.  Yes, there were trees broken and fallen here and there.  Only one or two had fallen on or even close to a house.  Most of the fallen trees we saw either partially blocked a road, fell on power lines (hence the outages) or simply fell harmlessly in a yard or field.  Clean up work to be sure, but not significant damage.

If you were one of the few people who had a tree fall on your house, you did indeed suffer a catastrophe.  However, if you are out there just raking up leaves, you are in the majority and lucky.  We did not see roofs, shingles or siding blown off houses; we did not see signs blown down; we did not see shattered windows.

The problem is that people are complaining that it wasn’t “bad enough.”  After all, they went out and bought water and bread so they wouldn’t starve for a few days.  They were glued to their TV sets (til the power went out) watching for news of the devastation being wrought by the storm.  Perhaps some were realizing how tied to electronics they are when the power was no longer available.

I think folks should be grateful instead of complaining.  They should be acknowledging that we “dodged a bullet” on this one.  It was a HUGE storm!  We were lucky that it didn’t cause more damage here.  We were fortunate that the storm reduced in fury before it hit much of New England.  Mother Nature is notoriously fickle and change is one of her basic character traits.  She is also a bit of a trickster!  She loves to change a few small things to see how we respond (like taking some steam out of a hurricane or putting a tornado in an area which typically doesn’t have them).  Mother Nature revels in being unpredictable.  Just when we think we have her figured out with our knowledge and our technology, she throws us a curve ball to test us.

She isn’t always kind with the tests – there are plenty of times when things are worse than we had expected.  This time, in our neck of the woods, we got lucky and things were not as bad as expected.

So why are people complaining?!

Why are people blaming the weather folks for Mother Nature’s vagaries?  Why are folks unhappy that their homes were not demolished?  Why are they sad and whining about the fact that they prepared “for nothing?”

It wasn’t nothingeverywhere!  There were places where the predictions were spot-on.  There are places where people have been flooded out of their homes, where trees fell in the wrong places and where the winds tore up homes.

 

Personally, I think our society is in a sad state when people have so lost touch with Mother Nature that they expect to be able to perfectly know, predict and control her.  In the profound words of an old acquaintance,

 

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I got back from my recent trip to Pine Ridge Reservation last Wednesday and have spent the past couple of days recovering from travel fatigue and a pesky stomach virus that I must have picked up on the trip home.  I think I was also recovering from some of the stories I heard while I was visiting with my dear Lakota friends.

The occasion for the trip was a happy one – after 10 years of waiting, they had finally obtained a house of their own and had decided to have it blessed.  When I think about the hard times and sadness they have endured over the past 6 years that we’ve known each other (search the category “Lakota friends” for past stories), I think having the house blessed was a really good idea.  I had gone expecting a Lakota holy man to bless the house, but apparently summer, with its powwows and other gatherings, was not a good time to “book” one.  The task and privilege fell to one of the local Episcopal priests, who had also conducted the funeral for my friend’s daughter a couple of years ago.

As an Episcopalian who had also had my own house blessed (some 30+ years ago), I was familiar with the ritual.  I was also pleased to see that the priest, with his Lakota beaded stole, had made slight adaptations in the rite to align it a bit more with Lakota culture.

Much of the rest of the time I was on the reservation was spent sharing stories.  I have often thought that a book should be written about my Lakota friend’s life.  Although it may be somewhat common to the lives of many on the reservation, it is the story of a woman who has already, in her 30’s, overcome more obstacles in her life than most of us will face in a lifetime.  I tell her that if she gives me the stories, I will put them together in a book and the money will be hers since the story is hers.  She laughs, but I think she has been considering it more seriously of late.

While we were sitting at her dining room table sharing coffee and conversation, I asked her what her earliest memory was.  Personally, the early memories I have center around holidays and playing with my younger sister.  So I was not prepared for the story she told me.  As you read her story, I ask you to ask yourself:  What does it do to a person to have this as his/her earliest memory?  Can you put yourself in this picture?

Her earliest memory is an event that occurred when she was about 3 and her sister about 5.  They were at home in their mother’s trailer.  The extended family had gathered there – aunts, uncles and some she does not recall.  Her mother was 8 months pregnant with her next sister.

The adults were all drinking heavily.  Apparently that was typical at that time in her mother’s life.  Suddenly, and for no reason that a 3 year old could recall, her uncle picked up a huge, old-fashioned butcher knife and stabbed her mother in the back.  The knife, which had about a 10 inch blade, had been “slammed about halfway” into the left side of her mother’s back as she and her sister watched.

An aunt quickly pushed the 2 girls into a closet to protect them and locked the door from the outside.  However, since the trailer was in poor condition as are many rez homes, the closet door was not a snug fit.  There was plenty of space between the door and the frame to allow the 2 children to watch what was unfolding in the hallway outside the closet.

The girls could see the knife still protruding from their mother’s back as she lay on the floor only feet away.  They could see the huge pool of blood forming around their mother.  She turned her head and looked straight at them, forming the words “help me” as best she could.  My friend clearly remembers her eyes connecting with her mother’s eyes.

She also recalls that all of the adults who had been there left, without helping her mother or calling for help.  The 2 little girls, who were terrified, threw themselves at the closet door.  The door, which was not well made or in good condition, as I noted before, gave way.  My friend’s older sister ran and tried to pull the knife out of her mother’s back – but she was too small and the knife was too deep.  The girls ran to get a neighbor to help.

The neighbor pulled out the knife and called for help.  When the police arrived, they arrested the neighbor for the stabbing, in spite of the stories told by both the girls.  Although the neighbor was eventually cleared, the uncle was never arrested.  The police refused to believe the girls’ story.

My friend’s mother was taken to the hospital, where they delivered her baby a month early and worked to save both lives.  The baby survived.  So did her mother, although it took a long time for her to recover.

My friend has had a stressful, tumultuous relationship with her mother over the years, for reasons that still remain unclear to me.  However, part of the difficulty seems to stem from the fact that her mother has never accepted and validated the trauma that it was for her 3 year old daughter to observe the stabbing.

My friend told me that she once asked her mother to stop wearing tops with thin straps so much.  Her mother told her she would wear whatever she wanted to.  She didn’t understand that my friend had a reason for asking that of her mother.  You see, every time she saw her mother in a tank top or camisole, she could clearly see the huge scar on her mother’s back when her mother turned away.  The sight of that scar would tear open the scar on her psyche every time, bringing her back to the night she was a terrified 3 year old.

When I think about this story – the alcohol driven chaos, the violent violation of a child’s mother, the abandonment by relatives who were meant to care for family, the adults who would not believe a child’s story and the emotional scars left on an innocent little girl – I can understand much of the rest of my friend’s life.

It makes me feel so protective of that child and so angry at the adults when I think about this story.  It makes me sad beyond words that this is my friend’s first memory.

So let’s go back to my questions now.

What does it do to a person to have this as his/her earliest memory?  I suspect a psychologist could write a book on that.  In all likelihood, in layman’s terms, it would scar the person for life.

Can you put yourself in this picture?  In all honesty, I cannot.  I gratefully grew up in a home where peace was the rule and verbal arguments the infrequent exception.  There was no physical violence.  Some of you may have had more experiences with violence as a child.  I pray that your first childhood memory is not something this traumatic.

But that was rezlife as a child for my friend.  I sadly suspect she was not the only one.

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I thought yesterday I had a great new story about a Lakota woman who had some real dreams that were being hindered by life on the rez.  That was before today’s phone call from a sponsor who had distressing news from the elder she sponsors.  Now I had another story line.  What should I do?  Write 2 stories or try to combine them?

One the surface, it didn’t seem as though these stories had a lot in common.  But I never just stay on the surface, I guess.  The more I thought about the 2 women, the more I realized that both these women were being frustrated and stressed by the conditions on Pine Ridge.  In the words of the Law and Order narrator, “These are their stories . . .”

Story 1

Woman #1 is in her early 50’s.  She has been wheelchair bound about 15 years as a result of an auto accident – she was rear-ended by a drunk driver.  I have written about her before, describing the small, non-accessible apartment she lives in.

Yesterday, when I spoke to her, she told me about a house she yearns to have.  She wasn’t asking me for it.  She was just expressing a yearning for a home.  It already has a ramp entry and everything.  She has been making the rounds of the tribal offices involved, trying to find out what she needs to do to be eligible to the house.  She also told me the story of why it is so important to her to have that house – or one like it.  At the very least she needs something bigger than the apartment she is in.

She told me about her 2 cousins who are in their 30’s.  They are sisters who used to live with their parents.  They are also mentally challenged.

When they were young, they were in the “special education” classes at school.  They were mocked and called “retarded” by the other kids at the school.  Rez schools are small and they could not seem to avoid it.  They transferred to another school.  It was further away from their home in a different rez settlement, but they did not endure the same taunting and bullying there.  After their schooling was complete, they lived with their parents.  They helped with the daily chores and were capable of taking care of their own personal care.

Their mother died first and more recently, their father died as well.  The only family they had left were an older brother and sister.  The brother did not have much to do with the family.  The older sister was appointed guardian of the 2 handicapped girls.  She went to court to have them placed in a home with the stipulation that they must be kept together.  Then their sister moved away from the reservation.

The 2 handicapped sisters were placed in a kind of group home — in Hot Springs, SD (over 60 miles & one hour away), not on the reservation they had known all their lives.  They are the only Native American women at the home.  There is one Native American man who is much older than they are.  They are very unhappy to be so far from home and from anyone they know.

The woman I spoke to on the phone would like to have her cousins come live with her.  She is the only one who has visited them (a difficult trip for this paraplegic woman).  She has arranged with the court to have them visit with her for a couple of weekends, especially for the 4th of July fireworks.  The court has said it would give her custody if she had room for them to live.

And so we are back to the house this wheelchair bound, paraplegic woman desires so much.  It isn’t just that, as she said, “I’m 50 years old and want a place of my own.”  It is that she needs the extra room so that she can bring her 2 handicapped cousins back to the reservation, the only home they know, to live with her.  Officials have already told her it cannot be done while she is in the small apartment that barely accommodates her and her wheelchair.

She told me that she watches “that show with Ty Pennington” and thinks, “Hey Ty, I need your help.  Can you come to the rez and help me?”  She said she cries right along with the families that get the new homes because she knows how much it means to them.

She is a sweet, gentle woman with a lot of love to share.  I do not know how to find her a new home.  I usually deal with the smaller things, like toilet paper and school supplies.  So I will leave it to you, readers, if you know of any resources that can help this woman.

Story 2

Late in the afternoon I got a call from a sponsor.  She had just been speaking with one of the two elders she sponsored.  The elder was very upset because she was basically being evicted.

Apparently one of this elder’s teenaged daughters is acting out and getting into trouble.  The landlord, who is somehow related to the elder, “doesn’t want any trouble,” so he told the elder that she and her daughters had to leave.

I’ve written about this woman before as well, in fact quite recently after we visited her on our trip to the rez in June (the second story in “Two Amazing Lakota Women 6-24-11).  I had written about the crushing poverty I had found at her home.  Now she was to lose even that.  She had called the sponsor, crying, with nowhere to go.  She needed a home.

She told the sponsor that she would be forced to move to a shelter in Rapid City since she had no one on the rez who could take her in.  I thought of this woman whose health is so fragile, who depends on oxygen tanks for life, and I wondered how she would survive in a shelter.  What would her daughters do?  Would they take care of their mother or set out on their own and leave her alone in the world?

I do not have any way to get housing for people on the reservation.  There is a severe housing shortage.  The tribe needs thousands more homes if everyone who needs one were to have one.  I will make some calls to find out what is available to assist this woman.

My title with ONE Spirit is “Area Service Coordinator.”  But it means that I try to match people on the rez with the services that we, as an organization, supply — OKINI, food, wood, sponsors.  I am not intended to be a social worker for the two areas I serve.  I do sometimes feel like one.

Sometimes, all I feel is frustrated.

Frustrated that I am not aware of all the services and programs available to individuals on Pine Ridge Reservation.

Frustrated that the Oglala Sioux Tribe (OST) does not have the means to meet the needs of the Oyate (their people) and does not appear to manage what they do have well.

Frustrated that the OST does not have a better way to communicate with the people about resources that are available to them.

Frustrated that a culture which values family, which considers women and children sacred, doesn’t have ways to assist those very groups in their dire need.

As I always say, I don’t have the answers, just the questions.

Right now, I also have a lot of frustration that I would be happy to share.

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Well, be careful what you ask for.

I asked for more sponsors and what did I get – more sponsors, of course.  I have that kind of life – often getting what I ask for or need.  I don’t mean an excess of anything – I’m not rich by any means.  I figured out long ago that whatever the universe has in store for me, it is not getting rich by winning a lottery or some other prize.

But I get what I need – including material goods like a furnace (another story, another time).  I have never lacked food, heat or clothing.  I don’t have much desire for material things anyway, so it works out well.

But sponsors?  I asked for them because I had not had any in a few weeks and was getting concerned.  Now I have 2 – actually 3, but one is already placed and I just need to get the information together.

I can hear you from here . . . So what’s my problem?  I should be happy and grateful.  I should be excited that I can call some families on the rez and help them with their daily life.  Why I am whining about all this?  Just shut up and get to work!

I think my problem is depression.  Someone I am close to has be dealing with it for a couple of years now.  So, my dear amateur psychologists, can it be that depression is contagious?  Oh, I’ve have a few hours of depression here and there.  But never have I felt like this feels – as I wrote in my last post, it feels as if someone has snuffed out the pilot light on my passion for life.

The work will get done soon.  The sponsors and families will be called and connected.  I will do my job.  But it will be done on a superficial, intellectual level if I continue to feel like this.  I will have to force myself to do something that I was doing for the joy of it just a week or so ago.

It makes me angry because I don’t think this problem stems from my work and I don’t want that to suffer.  I know my writing has suffered because I have no passion for it at the moment either.

I am on too many medications already to add anymore.  I am way past menopausal.  I know intellectually the kinds of things to try in order to dispel this deep gloom (exercise, proper nutrition and sleep, sharing with someone) but they have not yet had any effect.  I still have that feeling of something sitting on my chest (no, not a heart attack).

So if you are someone who prays or sends white light or whatever, I will take all of that right now!  I think I need a small miracle so I can get back to the joy of life I used to feel.  Otherwise I’ll have to list my soapbox on Craig’s list . . . I wonder what category I would place it in.

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