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HomeEditorialsColumnsFamilies are in mourning. Our Wahzhazhe ways will keep us together

Families are in mourning. Our Wahzhazhe ways will keep us together

"I’m grateful for our community and our Osage ways that comfort us. Please think about all of our Osages families in mourning and those who care for them and for all of those across our nation who have lost loved ones."

Whenever Osage people gather, our elders gather us with a prayer that reminds us of our veterans and families in mourning. We have a number of families in mourning now.

I live in a small community. Cathlamet, a town on a hillside along the Columbia River, that has a population of about 550. After growing up in a military family, I learned how to live in an intergenerational community. My husband was born here. His grandfather came from Norway in the early 1900s. DV, with his prodigious memory—a family trait, can tell you the names of each member of generations of families.

This is unusual in America, even in Cathlamet, which has experienced the loss of older generations and an influx of new people, mostly retirees. While we walked on Thanksgiving, he ticked off a classmate’s eight siblings on his fingers. “That was my generation,” he said. In communities like this families know each other and have the context of generations in one place. It’s like the Osage Nation, or a portion of it, in that way.

I know Osage words because of the language community. I started to study Osage by listening to CDs from the language department years ago with Gina Gray. There was Mogri Lookout’s voice, Oklahoma in his accent. I knew Mary Oklah then, though I don’t remember where we met, and she would send me CDs (long ago technology) and encourage me. Although the Edmond language class was meeting online, I wasn’t part of it. The Language Department wouldn’t lean into distance learning until COVID.

𐓲𐓣𐓧𐓟 is the Osage word for family. As I understand it, it’s the place we live, and also, the tracks we each make walking in that space together. Families, then, are the people we live with, walk with. I imagine a blueprint with dotted lines for the tracks we make through the day from living room to kitchen, back and forth, different size tracks crossing over each other.

Our dogs (Huckleberry and Walker) died within months of each other. They were middle-aged, well loved. For a while after they were gone, I felt I could see an empty space in the air, about two feet off the ground, down at the height where they had walked.

Time itself seems to shift when life suddenly changes with a serious auto accident or illness or a death. When I learned my 33-year-old brother died unexpectedly, it didn’t make sense. I heard my sister-in-law say three words, “we lost John.” I slid into a dimension where that fact existed by itself, walled off, until I did what I had to do in the agency I was running to arrange to travel home to be with family.

I also remember driving across Sacramento from downtown toward the suburbs after my Mom called to say Dad wasn’t breathing. Those interminable minutes in the express lane of the freeway, the gray concrete divider, blue sky above.

I’m thinking of my friend Mary Oklah and the ways the Osage people wrapped around her family, Scott BigHorse and John Maker and many others, when her sister Patia Pearson died unexpectedly on Nov. 18, 2022. Patia had just been with us in language class a week or so before.

I’m grateful for our community and our Osage ways that comfort us. Please think about all of our Osages families in mourning and those who care for them and for all of those across our nation who have lost loved ones.

In this life we have each other, our families as sojourners. We have each other; we walk together.

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Ruby Hansen Murrayhttp://www.rubyhansenmurray.com/
Ruby Hansen Murray is a writer and photographer living in the lower Columbia River estuary. Her work appears in As/Us, World Literature Today, CutBank, The Rumpus, Yellow Medicine Review, Apogee, About Place Journal and American Ghost: Poets on Life after Industry. She’s the winner of the Montana Prize in Creative Nonfiction. She’s been awarded residencies at Hedgebrook, Ragdale, Playa, Vermont Studio Center, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Storyknife in Homer and the Island Institute in Sitka, AK. She is fellow of the Jack Straw Writers Program, Fishtrap: Writing the West and VONA, who studied at Warren Wilson College and received an MFA from the Institute of American Indian Arts. She’s a citizen of the Osage Nation with West Indian roots.
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