“When is it the right time to die?”

Isagha looked at me blankly, “Hunh?”

“When is it the right time to die Isagha?”

I asked that question because my Naahsa ( mom’s father) died on the side of a road in a snowstorm.

He was walking home because there was no one to give him a ride.

I was 12 years old when that happened.

I sat beside Mom in the church on Siksika as the family paid their respects to a man who was a Sundance holder of songs. All of that was gone now. All that I saw the the pained look of Naahsa as he laid in his coffin and the tears of all my relatives who sat there in stunned silence.

Maybe they were thinking about what actually took place.

Who was suppose to look after him? Why was everyone too drunk to give him a ride or insist that he stay for the night until the next day?

Mom gave me a Juicy Fruit stick of gum and I thought of other things.

Like the idiot priest, who conducted the service, with as much cold precision as it was outside. The stained glass windows that were iced over with images of some guy being crucified with soldiers who wore mohawk hair-styled helmets pointed spears at him. Another showing the same crucified guy knocking at a door (I assumed it was supposed to be a Rez house) and holding a lantern.

“Hey Man!!!… we lived in TeePee’s before in case you didn’t know that…”

Oh by the way there is another one of the guy with holes in his hand and his feet and what is suppose to be a halo glowing around his head.

My cousin was sorta dressed up like the priest. He was an altar boy and we know the stories of what happened to them nowadays. Dunno if that was the case here but he sure was shy to walk around swinging a chain that had a bulb at the end with smoke coming out.


How can you be mad at anyone when you’re 12 years old?

The Juicy Fruit was much more interesting.

I just looked at mom and she just sat there not showing much emotion at all. Maybe because she was the youngest in the family, next to my uncle, she didn’t have to show anything. I just don’t know.

My older Uncle was the one stunned the most. Surrounded by things that weren’t so pretty to anyone. The reality of what happened. Maybe he was just living enough to make it thru the day.

His big laughter was gone and I don’t know if he ever found it again after that.

“When is it the right time to die Isagha?”

My cousin was an exceptional horsewoman as were all of my cousins. She won many barrel race competitions and we were always close to each other. The streets of Vancouver swallowed her up in time but I always think of her when the Northern lights come out. She is racing back and forth on her horse to the delight of all our ancestors.

“When is it the right time to die Isagha?”

Isagha was a Chief for us and both would drag me all over the country when they went visiting or when there was a ceremony somewhere. Isagha and Kunshi lived good lives and lived to a very good age. They decided when it was their time to leave but it always left me pondering about when is it the right time to die. Cause it sure hurt like hell when they left.

Time has meant that many people have passed on. I think we can all agree on that subject. Some have been family and distant relatives. There have been many good friends and other people known only in name that have gone to make the journey. Even people who have been a thorn in the side have died.

Some were violent incidents, others were from sickness, Some were just so unexpected. There were even ones that went peacefully in their dreamtime. I wish I could have one more day to make things right with many of them, Have one more sigh. Things I can treasure until I too die. If they could only wait until tomorrow.

Some came to write songs that are forever etched into my heart about freedom, about emancipation, about love…

Well Ma-cook-ins…. Few of us get to choose when it it time to die. We just have to accept with faith that we did what we had to do to finish this life. The pain is the price we pay for having experienced love. Don’t get stuck in the sorrow because thats not healthy for you. It is the path we all have to walk to get past the anger we have at the loss.

When your uncle, My son, died. Your dad was already at residential school and he couldn’t come home to see his brother. They would not let him. I was so broken by that. Why did we have to send our kids away like that? It was the law. and it was the tradeoff so not all would be sent off.

Your uncle was dying and I could not stop the tears. Kunshi couldn’t stop crying either. No doctor was going to come around. We just had to watch him slowly leave. He just laid there and looked at me.

“Dad,…. sing me my song and I will leave. Don’t cry too much. I am happy to be going,” is what your uncle said to me.

“I sang him his song while we cried and he just laid there and listened to me struggle thru the song and slowly slipped away with peace in his heart”…

“He was just a young man but he was the strength for me to carry on because he said I had to. I never will forget him and what he said”.

“So I guess the answer might be that it always is the right time to die”.

“How you treat your family,friends and enemies is what will help you become a human”.

that’s what I remember and I tell the story…

(April 16, 2014)

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