I Rejected the Native Grieving Ceremonies My Mother Taught Me When She Died. But Losing Friends During the Pandemic Changed That

We grieve with ceremony—we have practices and traditions that go back thousands of years, before borders were created, before colonization, before smallpox brought more stories about devastation that made our healthy children skeletal and wiped out whole communities. Grief is honor work, and if you don’t follow instructions, it could hurt your family, hurt the dead trying to pass over into the next life.

I used to watch my mother cut her hair when someone died. I remember her dull, chewing scissors, her squinting black eyes and angular face. She was crow medicine, willful and perceptive. She was steady and certain. Maybe because she had done it so many times. She did outreach work, worked in shelters and group homes and helped people in our community. Her hair was always short.

When she died years ago, I willfully denied all ceremony—picked berries, left my hair untouched and condemned our ways, because I resented how often Indian women are asked to mourn. I didn’t want short hair like my mother. I thought I could will death away by denying my roots. But the pandemic has changed that.

I had five friends in the world when this crisis began, all Indigenous. I lost two.

By Terese Marie Mailhot, Time Magazine

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