Honoring the Memory

Vi Waln

July 7, 2019

Lakota children died at Carlisle Indian School. Their parents likely grieved for the rest of their lives. Photo by Vi Waln.


July is the month to remember parents who’ve lost children. Even though every July is acknowledged as a national month of awareness, the majority of our Indigenous people work hard to comfort their grieving relatives all year round. Every Tiospaye, Clan or Band in Indian Country knows what it’s like to have lost babies, children and teenagers to an untimely or tragic death. There are many of us who’ll mourn the loss of our child or grandchild forever.

Lakota people often speak about how the spirit of a blood relative can take all the bad with them when they pass away. For a long time, I didn’t understand what this meant. When someone died, I would look for the bad to go away from that family but I didn’t see it happening very much. Some of the family members didn’t change, they still enjoyed their bad habits even though they were supposed to be in mourning.

When my five-year-old Takoja died unexpectedly from an illness, it was the saddest, most painful time of my family’s life. Those first few days after her passing were marked with emotional shock. We cried. We didn’t sleep. We wondered how we would go on. Our lives were never the same.

The anniversary of her death is still hard. We remember everything we did that day she left us. I still remember all my relatives and friends who came to my house. They came by to comfort us by bringing hugs, food, coffee and their caring presence. My Maske came and cleaned my entire house. My friends brought quilts we used for the wake. Singers brought their drum. I saw Lakota compassion in action during our time of grief.

The passing of my Takoja helped me to understand how the death of a beloved child or grandchild could take the bad with them. Emotionally, nothing seemed to matter anymore when my Takoja died. That is, I didn’t want to have any hard feelings. I didn’t want to be mad at anyone. I wanted people to be happy and be good to each other. Takoja’s death showed me how precious life really is.

Takoja’s death changed my Tiwahe forever. It was the hardest thing we ever lived through. My family is still coping with our devastating loss. Every single day, we wonder what her life would have been like as an adult.

Those of us living in Indian Country understand the suffocating sadness that comes with the death of a child. Yet, I’ve seen a lot of our people show their willingness to let go of hard feelings, to let go of grudges that have perhaps been carried on for generations. This gives me hope. We want our Tiospaye to live happy. The only way we can truly be happy is to let all the bad go.

I believe our loved ones in the spirit world feel our sadness. And as hard as the death of a child is, the spirit world wants living relatives to be happy, not sad. They are in a spiritual place where they have the ability to take all our bad away. It’s up to us to let the bad go with them. They are in a beautiful place where deep sadness can be instantly transformed into unconditional love. They are preparing a place of beauty for us when it’s our time to walk on the Milky Way.

Pray for all parents who have lost a child. Remember the parents whose precious children are locked in cages at the border. Let’s honor the memory of our children who have passed on by being good to each other. Nothing will change until we live the changes ourselves.


Vi Waln (Lakota) is an award-winning Journalist. She can be reached through email viwaln@gmail.com

Published by Vi Waln


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