Tribal Connections.

11 02 2009

If you ask my opinion on what is missing in our society today, I would say the major component that is remarkably absent  is tribal unity. This unity, this tribal connection, this deeply rooted desire of human beings to be together, to commune, to live and love as a whole group, to stand witness to each and every delicate, fragile and ultimately so very precious life….. To stand witness of birth, life, and death.

This isn’t to say that I am going to run off and join some commune in the boondocks, and live out my days farming quinoa and chanting African rhythms every Friday night and changing my name to Sunbeam. Far from it. It is to say, though, that we humans, and more specifically, we North American humans lack a very basic component in our day-to-day life. To live as a whole unit with our fellow human beings.

And no where is it more apparent to me, than in our entrustment of our old people. Gone are the days of the obligation of taking in our elders, into our own homes and caring for them to their death. Hell no… We are quick to shuttle them to homes, we are hesitant to trust our own instincts to care and nurture for these people who sometimes have deep-rooted wisdom and family ties. We are sometimes incapable of coming to aid those who need it most. Jobs, children, lack of space in our homes, divorce, finances. All reasons, all valid reasons, yes. But did the very same people  100 years ago have some, if not many of the same reasons? Perhaps they did… And yet, Grandpa would come to live with his oldest son after his wife passed away. Aunt Martha, the spinster, would pack her bags and move to her great-niece’s house to stay the summer, and never leave. Grown children would foster these elders, and in return would reap the benefits ten-fold sometimes. An on-hand babysitter whenever was necessary. Someone to help with the laundry. A story teller to charm the children on snowy evenings.

I am sure many of these live-in situations were responsible for family arguments, long term resentments, and bitterness. The drudgery of illness, the animosity of crotchety family members, the accountability of caring for someone so frail and yet so benignly petulant probably made many women and men alike regret the decision to care for these people.

And yet, who are we to forsake these Elders? We all know, in Native ways, the Elders were acknowledged as leaders, were revered for their wisdom and were cared for with love and good intention to make their last days on earth peaceful and rewarding to them as well as to all others in the tribe. Elders told the stories of long ago around the fire. Elders were in charge of teaching young warriors. Elders showed the best ways to dry berries and cure leather.Elders were listened to and revered.

Don’t get me wrong. I know, as well as you do, we are who we are in our own society. In many ways we are so much more fortunate than those gone before us. So many comforts. So many indulgences and so many luxuries unknown to our forebearers. And our elderly, our sick and our frail, we have the option of ultimate care through long-term nursing homes. Proper medical attention. Safety and peace. And a 45 minute visit every second Sunday afternoon, dragging our reluctant children in tow.

Am I up to the task? I ask myself this so many times. I am staring down the barrel of 40, and I know this, that one day, my own parents will be frail and weak. They will need medical care, they will need help and guidance. Will I step up to the plate? Will I choose a home for them to live in? Or will I concede to tribal unity, will I go a different direction and bring these people, these wonderful caring people who raised and loved me into my own home? Will I give them all the comforts and love they need until their dying day? Do I have that inner strength to give back all that I was given? This, I don’t know.

But I do know that in my own elderly days, as a doddering wisened woman, wrinkled and cackling, telling my own eyebrow-raising stories to my grandchildren, that I would prefer the option of my last days to be one that is surrounded by the people who love me best in the whole world…..

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7 responses

13 02 2009
Melissa

Having worked in a nursing home, there comes a point where people do need to be there. It can get too hard for families to properly care for them in their homes. Their needs can become too great to remain at home. That said, seeing first hand how nursing homes operate I’d opt to keep my loved one home with me as long as possible.

13 02 2009
Kendall

I agree with you Kris, in the sense that we need to unite further as a society, to go back to our roots of taking care of one another and watching out for each other. I do also agree with your friend Melissa. There does come a point when it becomes to much of a challenge and more care is needed then what the families can provide. I would love nothing more then to be able to have my mom live with me, take care of her and provide a safe and loving enviroment. However with her severe brain injury, she needs way more care then I could ever provide, having more challenges that need to be addressed from medical care and qualified trained people then just a daughter. This day and age, families are not so close together anymore, so the families are not able to be there as much. Take my family for example… one of children is here, but the other two are in Alberta and in Ontario… I also look at my step mom when she was taking care of her mom before she passed away and it was exhausting and stressful for her. My stepmom wasn’t having much of her own life and this was causing a lot of tension and resentment towards her mom. I understand that there are different situations that may require different care and there will also be some situations where the elders would be a joy to have around… I would love to be able to have my parents around and take care of them… I hope I will be lucky too… if not, I would love to provide them the next best care that I could.
Just my 2 cents…

xxx

13 02 2009
Kris

I think that of course, major illnesses and extenuating circumstances of disabilities warrants professional care… Don’t get me wrong, this is not a lecture on how I think everyone should live. These are just all thoughts that enter my brain at different times. If it brings up dialogue, that is all fine and well, I just don’t want anyone to think I am telling others how to be. It just breaks my heart thinking of family members being “put away” adn so many times we see them deteriorate so quickly as a result…..

16 02 2009
LORI

Hey Krissy…
Lawrence’s momma, for instance, was such a beautiful woman. She would do anything for anyone and even worked as a cook in the ‘home’ in Grand Forks, where she lived out her final days, with Lawrence by her side. She made it very clear to Lawrence, even tho she couldn’t speak, that she wanted to go to the’ home’ and leave her house and garden, that she loved so much.

I do understand how Kendall feels, having to deal with someone with a brain injury. Annie had that terrible stroke, which affected her brain, being unable to communicate was sooo very hard on everyone and especially her. Even the nurses and attendants had a hard time with her. Some she liked and some she would snarl at.

She could be a real handful at times. She hated my poor kitty,Casius. He went flying a couple of times and the poor thing was scared to death of her. She would just have to look at him and he would be gone. She could become mean and nasty and so unpredictable. She kicked at someone’s little kid at moms’ a few years ago, during Xmas I think. Could have been one of yours, I am not sure, but Lawrence had to take her out of the room because she was so cranky and then she disappeared and we found her in mom and dad’s bedroom, snooping in the dresser drawers. We have know idea what that was about. Good thing she didn’t find the “Family Heirloom”…..hahahaaa

She did allow me to cut her hair every couple of months, with Lawrence sitting right beside her and holding her hand, telling her she was going to be beautiful, after I was finished. The glare she would give me was one of those “if looks could kill” looks. Yikes…but we always made it thru. If he hadn’t been there, it felt like she woulda turned the scissors on me and I wouldn’t be getting no hair cut. heheehehe But, at the same time, she seemed to trust me, allowing me to take her to the washroom and help her clean up.

She did like to try to help in the kitchen tho. She found it a familiar and happy place even tho she couldn’t do much. One evening, she even tried to show me how to knit, in a funny sorta way. She knew what I was doing wrong but couldn’t help. Fun but sooo sad. I found it so hard to care for her especially because of the communication thing.

But, on the other hand, I don’t remember, my grandparents being hard to handle. But I don’t know too much about what they were like. Grandpa died at home, with Grandma and Wayne there with him. Each time I would go to visit, he seemed to be happy and content. I don’t know what it was like for grandma when no one was there.. Grandma, was in the home in Trail, and she seemed to be alright there. It was a long time ago, and mom could probably tell us things we don’t know. hehehe…. maybe we don’t want to know.

It does make you wonder though, what it was like, years ago when there weren’t these places for our families to be “placed in”, cause we couldn’t handle them or didn’t have the time. You didn’t have those options, except to maybe share your their care with your siblings.

I can’t imagine working in one of the ‘homes’ though. Auntie June and Ella did for years. Aunty June told me lots of really funny and scary things that happened to her. Especially the getting bit on the tit time…. when she leaned over to help some old man.

Ok… those are my thoughts. Have a great day….

Aunty Lori

18 02 2009
Raven

It is hard to keep going when it gets so tough you want to give up. Taking care of an old person would lay you bare after a while, like children do sometimes. That is when the tribe would step in to help out. But we have cut ourselves off to opening up in that way now. We have a tendency to be scared and unsure, even with those that are close by. I just think that it comes with all the things that are put in our face in this day and age.
I know I would die for my mom if I had to and that is just how it is. Now my dad is a different story. He would be the old guy trying to smoke a joint at 99 and then ending up shitting all over the sheets cause of it. Life is a hard one to understand.
I do think though that it is not where you traveled or the car that you have but the love and care with which you surround yourself with. It takes a heart of gold and courage to just give yourself over to another’s life cause it actually benefits them and not you. And when it is over, it is over. That was the time you had with your loved ones and if that means you need help to get there then that is what is important. It all seems to go by very fast in the overall picture.

2 03 2009
Jami

Hey Kris,

First, what a great group discussion and your writing is inspiring as always…

A few years ago I was given the opportunity to care of my Great Grandparents. They wanted to stay together in their home till the end. My schedule and life at the time provided me with this one in a life time chance to care for them in their golden years. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

At times it was obviously heartbreaking to see them slowly slide down the big hill, but I always knew that this was a once in a lifetime experience and that once it was over, there was no going back. Great Grandma Chic really didn’t approve of me being in her kitchen let alone helping her with all the little things in life that us young folk take for granted. She was known to say “what the hell is going on” at least once a day! Grandpa was sharp as a tack and he knew why I was there and what I was providing for them and he also was aware of my sacrifice, to be taking care of them, up on a mountain top, sequestered away from the world. He and I grew to have one of my most memorable relationships and for that alone, I wouldn’t change it for anything.

The evening before Grandma passed away she became fully aware. She really seemed to know who I was and what the hell was going on. She was so tender and loving with me. I felt like I was five again, but instead of her lifting me out of the chair, I was doing that for her. She was at peace and I saw it with my own wide open eyes. It was amazing.

I don’t have my own home yet. Someday though, I will and if the opportunity to care for my loved ones comes to me again, I will say yes. Yes. Yes I can and I will! Our lives are made of moments and sometimes those moments can slip by all to quickly. I am all for the family that plays together, stays together and I think you and I are on the same page with that statement.

2 03 2009
Kris

Oh, Jami… That made me cry… you are so wonderful and inspiring… Truly… I love you!!!

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