Gyasi Ross: Funerals become family reunions in Indian Country

Gyasi Ross. Photo from Cut Bank Creek Press

Gyasi Ross reflects on life, family and mortality:
At this very moment, all of us are missing out the life of someone we say we care about and love. There’s some who means the world to us whom we will never see again, and we don’t even know it. Right now.

Sorry for the dramatic introduction. I’ve lost some people recently—people who were incredibly important to me—and so I’ve probably been thinking about mortality, and the practices around mortality more than I should. Maybe. Most of the deaths were young and unexpected—people who were seemingly perfectly healthy and then BOOM…

They weren’t anymore. Like many deaths within our communities, they are sudden, brutal and completely earth-shattering. We can’t imagine a stick game or a pow-wow or going to the store or Christmas without that particular loved one.

But now we have to. Our dear cousin/uncle/auntie/brother is gone.

As with many Native funerals, the deceased's DEATH was the impetus to think, “Damn, I haven’t been communicating with them like I should.” You never know what you have until it’s gone, right? Since I was a child I noticed that my family doesn’t really do family reunions—we do funerals. Funerals have become the default time for us to reconvene, touch each other, hug each other, tell each other that we love each other and then disappear again. Until the next funeral.

Maybe it’s not a “Native” thing; maybe it’s just a “broke” thing. I don’t know. However, it’s a recurring theme when I think of the way that my family congregates. It's the way many other Native families congregate; it makes sense. When a family isn’t blessed with great economics, it could be just a byproduct of living paycheck to paycheck and month to month. We think “We’ll get around to family when we’re older and have more time.”

Get the Story:
Gyasi Ross: Native Funerals as Family Reunions: A Few Thoughts on Loving Each Other Better (Indian Country Today 3/26)

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