As I Remember It: Teachings (Ɂəms tɑɁɑw) from the Life of a Sliammon Elder

Self-Care in Times of Grief

It’s really important to acknowledge grief when we go through our many losses, and how to look after yourself and how to look after your family during a time of grief. Realizing that at the time of grief, at the time of loss – in particular your parents, when you’ve just lost your parents, one or the other or both, or your spouse. There’s this – what is truly believed in by the ancestors, my great-grandparents and part of the practice – how to look after yourself at that particular time of loss, that you have very strong medicine powers. It’s almost like a gift. You’ve lost someone, but you have this gift of healing that you could use in a good way, or it could be negative. But I always focus on the good, and advise people, remind them, “This is a time that’s very powerful for you. You’ve just lost this person very close to you. It’s a time for self-discipline. It’s a time to take care of yourself. Be kind to yourself, be good to yourself.” And if there’s certain areas that you want to change in your life for the better, then that’s the time to do it. It’s a time to analyze your life and say, “Where do I go from here?” My grandmother used to say, “You are in this fork in your life. You’re either going to go left or you’re gonna go right. That’s your choice to make. If you choose to go right, then that’s the right way to go. It’s gonna be hard work. It’s gonna be tough. It’s always easier to go left. Because you don’t have to make any decisions. So there’s a lot of important teachin’s around that, about self-discipline when you’ve lost someone. So it all ties in with that other grief I was talkin’ about with cleansing every morning, askin’ for guidance, askin’ for direction, asking for the strength and energy, asking for your loved ones to help you – ask them to help you. So that all ties in together, that respect that you have for the teachin’s. And you listen – you listened – you listen to your Elders that advised you at that particular time.

“A Very Lonely Time for Me”

I was forty-four. Well, it was a very lonely time for me. It was quite sudden. And I felt I had to pretty much withdraw from activities that we shared together. Because our activities were around other couples. And we were going out to party here or, you know, just gatherings. I felt very odd and fifth wheel. I just didn’t fit in. Because being alone and you’re with couples, it just didn’t sit right with me. So I just didn’t go there. I pretty much isolated myself. But I kept working. I had a job then, as a social worker for the community, so that’s pretty much what I did. I just went to work. I only took two weeks off when my husband died, and then I went back to work. So I went to work and back home and looked after my kids and back to work and that was pretty much it. Yeah, it was not an easy time. But there were certain things in my life that I felt that I changed. I wanted to change, remembering my grandmother’s teachin’s. Sacrificin’ my friends. So I just did not miss only my husband, but I missed the friends that we used to associate with. Because I just didn’t fit into that anymore, to the outside activities outside of my family. So my focus was on my children, my immediate family. And I’m not sorry for that. It turned out okay. Yeah. It was important to do that for me. I think otherwise I would’ve, you know, if I didn’t have that in the back of my mind, that you need to discipline yourself after a loss, ’specially your dad, your mother, or your spouse. It’s a very powerful time. I guess that would apply to just about anything in life. When you decide, “I’ll be strong, I’m going to do this,” and you do it. It may mean sacrifices, but you’re gonna do it. Yeah. It works. Worked for me!

“That Power You Carry”

“One day I will go there to that other place where all my ancestors are. And I trust that they will meet me and greet me.”

So it’s a time to empower yourself. And your Elders made sure you did that, because if you didn’t look after yourself, then grief is very powerful. It can destroy you. You can go so deep in grief to a dark place that you’re not able to get up and walk. It can destroy you if you give in to your grief and cry and stay down. Crawl under your bed and cover your head, ’cause you don’t want to face the world. You’ve lost someone. There’s a lot of things to remember about that. You don’t only consider yourself and your well-being when you’re going through a grieving process. Or you’ve just lost – maybe your child, maybe your parents – someone close to you. If you allow yourself to grieve and cry and weep and never, ever see a good side or look for – “I’ve lost this child, it’s gone to a good place, this child is an angel now, it’s gone to join the ancestors.” You have to look at that side. The ancestors have – or my brother or my sister or my parent, whoever that was – the ancestors are on the other side. They’re in the spirit world. So when you lose someone, someone very close to you has died, which we all will someday, that’s what we have to tell ourselves: “One day I will go there to that other place where all my ancestors are. And I trust that they will meet me and greet me.” So that’s where you have to put your faith in. That my loved one has gone to be with the other family that’s on the other side. And take comfort in that. And that’s how you start to look after yourself.

“You can go so deep in grief to a dark place that you’re not able to get up and walk.”

If you don’t do that and you hang on to your grief and cry and cry and always cry, the spirit of your loved one is never going to be able to go on its journey to the other side, because they now see you as grieving and they are going to be concerned. Because they’re always around. The spirits of your loved ones are always gonna be around. And if they see you grieving and cryin’ and you neglect the rest of your family – you could neglect the rest of your children, if it was your child that died – you have to go on living for the living.

So after the person has gone and you continue to look after yourself. If it’s a time you want self-discipline, it’s a time you need to do that. It’s time to take care of that. Want to change your habits. If you’ve been eating too much, you want to stop that. You do a fasting. You discipline yourself to eat very little. And you do not face your children when you’re eating. You face away from your children, because that’s how powerful it was to the old people that as a widow or widower or someone that’s lost a very close connection, you face away when you’re eating, ’cause you’re saying you’ve got so much power that you could be taking on the life of another person you’re facing when you’re eating. So I saw it when I was growing up, a lot of the old-timers, they would just face away and eat. That’s how much they believed in that power at the time of loss and grief. Just things like that. That’s just one of the things. And to brush yourself every morning, you know, ’cause you’re not going to forget overnight that you’ve just lost someone. You’re always going to be missing that person you’ve lost. There’s always going to be an empty space in the house, or around the table. So you take care of that.

“You have to co-operate. You have to be willing, ’cause nobody’s going to help you if you’re not willing to help yourself. It’s like you could lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink, right? So that’s that kind of mentality. You have to have that desire.”

It’s always gonna be there. It’s always gonna be hurting. It’ll take time, you know, gradually get over it. But you’ll never forget. But the first year is so critical. The first two years is critical. You’re not gonna get over it in a month or two months. You’re gonna remember that person, especially at the different seasons: “Now it’s summer, oh ...” It’s really hard. It hits you hard. “It’s winter now and snow on the ground.” All these things – just reminders. And it’s painful reminders that your loved one is out there, out in the cold. Or they’re somewhere where – just the things you used to do in the summer, it’s all going to flash back to you. So that’s when the tears come. So after the tears, you have to go wash your face, brush yourself, take care of – say, “It’s okay, they’re gone. I know they’re in a good place.”

Because of that power you carry, that powerful medicine you carry, other people that know you and you’ve just become a widow or you’ve just lost someone – especially the parents, like, your mother, your father, or your spouse. There was, like, the three, actually, is the most powerful. And you would go, “Oh, so-and-so has the power. I really need to go and be taken care of.” So you go – it’s like going to a doctor. You go there and they will cleanse you and ask the ancestors to look after you and take care of you and brush you and put their hand on your head and your heart and – you know. And it just gives you that lift that gives you that will to live and to come away from your ailments, whatever that may be, if it’s depression or you’re emotionally upset all the time about something and it’s dragging you down. Or it could be some people even with, I guess, maybe arthritis or aches and pains or whatever. And a lot of people go through heartache and broken heart. Whether it be broken relationships or whatever it may be, and you’re grieving over those things. And you go to this person that’s got the power to help you. And that person will help you in that way to talk to you and to give you that cleansing. And that was used in that way. Yeah. And I think a lot of it is you believe in it. If you go and expect that person to take it away from you, you got to co-operate. You have to co-operate. You have to be willing, ’cause nobody’s going to help you if you’re not willing to help yourself. It’s like you could lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink, right? So that’s that kind of mentality. You have to have that desire. And people knew how powerful that was, and they used it. And a lot of that is getting lost. And it’s so important to remember that. You could use whatever is available today.

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