September 23, 2017
By Vi Waln
September is designated as National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. “Take a Minute, Change a Life,” is this year’s theme. Many Lakota people have been affected by the suicide of a loved one. If you are contemplating suicide, please take a minute to read on, it could change your life.
Lakota people grounded in spirituality understand the sacredness of human life. It doesn’t really matter how you pray, the important thing to remember is Tunkasila, Wakan Tanka, Creator or Father God puts every human being on Earth for a purpose. Each one of us has a certain amount of time on Earth to fulfill our life purpose. You were born with the inner strength to complete your life’s mission.
Lakota teachings do not advocate suicide. Lakota spirituality focuses on life. A central prayer is for Wicozani or health. Most of the sacred songs we hear at Sundance, Inipi, Lowanpi and Yuwipi ask for strength and courage to live in this world. The Native American Church prayers and songs also focus on life.
Still, many Lakota people suffer from depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, mental illness or other afflictions invisible to those around them. These conditions are hard to overcome, especially when you are young. Healing is always possible, no matter how dark your life might seem.
Suicide is not an escape. You will not have an easy time when you choose to end your own life. Lakota teachings say birth involves certain Spirit helpers who assist our transition into the human body when we are born.
It is believed these same Spirit helpers are there to help us make the end of life transition when Death comes. However, you must consider the possibility that those Spirit helpers might not be there if it isn’t your time to leave this world. The spiritual pain you experience could be intense when you commit suicide.
Love will overcome all your darkness. Family members often pay attention to one another to make sure they are okay. Yet, there are times when no one can see a suicide coming. A person makes a rash decision to end their life.
As difficult as it may be, you must think about the enormous pain your self-inflicted death will cause those who love you. You must also remember that if it isn’t your time to die, the risk is great. That is, the spiritual help you might expect when you kill yourself might not be there. Your Spirit will have to depend on the prayers of the human family you’ve left behind.
In 2003, my oldest Takoja walked into the spirit world. My family was devastated. The loss of a child is something you never really get over. My Takoja passed away from an infection called Group A streptococcus, which you may hear people refer to as strep throat.
A temporary doctor working for the Indian Health Service Hospital at Rosebud, SD failed to diagnose her illness. She was 5 years old. I filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the US Government and won a settlement.
On the day of Takoja’s funeral, the late Dinah Crow Dog-Running brought a small basket filled with spiritual food (wasna). I had watched her make spiritual food many times during her life. Tunwin Dinah would often blend 3 sacred foods into her wasna. This is the kind of wasna she would serve to the public when she was asked to pray at a gathering.
Sacred food generally refers to the 3 bowls of wasna served with the morning water in the Native American Church (tobacco/cornhusk) prayer services. Dried buffalo or deer meat, dried chokecherries and dried corn are each prepared into an individual wasna. After the morning water is shared, the 3 bowls of wasna (morning food) are served to the people.
The basket Tunwin Dinah prepared for my Takoja was covered with a piece of red felt. She uncovered the basket and I saw a tipi made from sage on the wasna. She told me to use my finger to make a door in the tipi and to take some wasna to put in the small bundle she prepared for my Takoja. I did as she asked and then shared the sacred food with my family.
With a prayer, she helped me put the small bundle of food in my Takoja’s hands. We stepped back when we were done and stood looking at my Takoja. Then an incredulous look came over Tunwin Dinah’s face and she whispered, “they all followed her.”
She told me there are many lost Spirits who don’t know where to go when they die. On the day we buried my Takoja, many of those Spirits followed her to the other side. My Takoja helped them find the way to where they are supposed to go. I believe many of those Spirits who followed her were relatives who committed suicide and left this world before their time.
It’s important to remember who we are. The way a Lakota family buries a blood relative can bring spiritual help in ways we may not understand. Spiritual help can come when the family prepares spiritual food with a prayer to send with the loved one making their journey. The prayer put into that sacred food creates a path for many to follow.
It’s time for all Lakota people to live their culture. The Lakota teachings we still carry weren’t left to us for nothing. When families begin regularly making the spiritual food with a prayer, we will see our society turn itself around. Consequently, wasna is meant to be shared regularly, not just when someone dies.
Life might seem hard, but please know that wandering on the other side will likely devastate your spirit even more. Many believe the suffering in the spirit world is more intense than the pain we experience in our body.
People love you! Call 1-800-273-8255 to speak with someone who cares, or text NAMI to 741-741 to be connected to a free, trained crisis counselor.
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