Collective Grief, Collective Healing

To begin, I struggled with deciding on what stories I wanted to share for today’s post. At the forefront of my mind are the grief and the tears of the losses in my family and community over the past year, the past decade. Also warring for the stage are my thoughts about becoming a better educator and my experiences as I grow with a group of young people, as their teacher (and them as mine) in my second student teacher practicum.  Then, as I was driving, I could not help but think about how ridiculous and unnatural it felt to try to separate the two, and to compartmentalize what I am experiencing, when in reality I am not two people and I never will be. I think about my peers, colleagues and students, and they two are living these full lives, full of hurt, yes, but also full of beauty, growth, and evolution. They should not exist in isolation. I thought about Tara’s blog post before this, on the grief she herself has experienced, and many people continue to feel in our communities. We are grieving. Not past tense. 

I say goodbye to the students; today is a half-day. My morning was busy and my mind keeps switching from the building I am about to enter and back to what I can learn from my second science lesson in grade 5 that morning, and how I could do better. A short drive later I walk into “the hall” and am greeted by the familiar green and light beige walls. The hall is big, and today it is full of community members. Simultaneously, like in a dream, I hear both laughter and crying, coming from different parts of the big, curved room. No, it is not a dream. Today, we are laying a community member to rest.

I have started and restarted this sentence what feels like a million times. How to say what I want to say… do I even know what I want to say? I sat in that big room, surrounded by my relatives, the community members of Saddle Lake. Everyone has come together for the funeral, and although I kept whispering, “so much people,” I was truly not shocked to see so many. Our community has suffered a great loss: Windy passed just over a week ago in a car accident. He was a high school teacher, a storyteller, a father, uncle, brother, and friend to many.  As I sat in that hall, I would flash back to almost a year ago, being in this same hall, for my uncle’s wake, or eight months ago, for my kohkom’s wake. My eyes kept flashing to my kohkom’s “spot,” where she would often sit with the other elders at community events, expecting to see her sitting there, I miss her.

The day of his passing, we were having a PD day and I had to rush out to leave at the end because my daughter had a sliding accident at daycare and hit a pole (she’s fine). I remember later that evening my mother called me and told me the news. I remember thinking, “but I didn’t even shake his hand goodbye.”  I struggled with the shock of someone being her and suddenly not being here.

Death and grief have a way of making me really think, and as I try to process and make sense of something that seems so sense-less, I cannot help but to be reminded of something my sister said, that we are facing a collective grief. As I was sitting in that hall,  a sea of Cree people in front of me, I acknowledged that yes, we do feel that grief together, but it is because we feel it together that we can heal together. I believe in and love my community, if I didn’t, I would live elsewhere. Today that love for my community grew, as I sat and observed and watched my kin. People hugging, and kissing cheeks. People holding each other, or laughing at each other stories. I would watch a kohkom and their grandchild, and notice their features and where they are similar. Or a mom and a daughter. I shook many hands, and got a lot of warm hugs. People hugged me who I didn’t, even know, but they knew me because they knew my mom, my Kokom, and that’s how Cree people are.

The passing of my former colleague has reminded me of the importance of community. I am grateful for mine. We are not perfect, we are hurt, and the amount of losses and pain can be staggering, but we have a lot to give too. In that hall I saw so many talented, smart, beautiful people. Each with their own gifts, and each aiding in the healing of the collective grief that everyone was feeling. A message for those who are working for and with(in) our communities I urge you to support each other, be there, because you never know what others are going through, even if it’s a simple as a group chat to check in, you never know who might need it.

I will probably spend some of my evening planning for school. It seems like such a juxtaposition, but it is not. I am lucky to be teaching and learning from my young community members. Every day I get to spend time with our future, and the children themselves are healing.

The photo above is very special to me. The week prior we had just buried my kohkom. I remember not expecting any of my family to go to the pow wow that year. I thought it would be too painful without her. Instead, we all came, and sat with each other. The act of being together was incredibly healing for me. I was surrounded by people I love. The simplest act (and art) of visiting and just being with people cannot be overstated for healing.


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