When you bury four of your children, two sons 40 days apart, you will understand why I thank Hospice & Home Care of Juneau for saving my life.
I had gone back to school at the University of Alaska Southeast the fall of 1999, and one of my requirements was to do 200 hours of an internship with an agency that offered social services. I met with Jan Young, then executive director of the hospice and shared, "I think you need me to open the doors to our Native community and I need hospice to heal from my losses."
Up to this day, I continue to be involved with the hospice and have become a whole and healthy person. The staff did not hesitate to guide and support me in my healing and growing process.
I was assigned to do home visits with terminally ill clients, and was fortunate enough to be assigned to people I already knew. One special person came from Hoonah and was actually a part of my growing up years there. Our children are related through their father's families; so our roots were strong. All her knowledge was so invaluable to me.
Our shared passion was beadwork; we would go over patterns and many of her completed works. She shared her growing up and her learning of beadwork. When it was close to her time, she packed up sewing material for me. Even some patterns that were her aunt's she gave to me, which I truly honor. I told her, "I don't feel right taking these materials," but she told me, "I want you to have these materials, because I know you will carry on the work."
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What is the wisdom of the eye? Well, I have done beadwork for the past 40-plus years, along with my grandmother, Mary Marks; my mom, Emily Williams; and my younger sister, Tillie James. I call them the masters of beadwork. They are known for their art. I sure look forward to the time I can sew to my heart's content. Tillie and I like to sew projects such as vests and tunics, which are a part of our regalia. As much as I wanted I could never sew the "eye" on any project! Tillie patiently showed me over and over, but in the end, she would take it and sew it for me - until this past year.
My mom, Sti Shaa, clan mother for our Kidsadi Clan, died March 21, 2004. Last year we did a memorial potlatch to honor her. It was an accomplishment to have this party. I myself needed it for the healing and closure. She used to tell us, "I don't want a party when I die." But, you know what? Her spirit was with us in full strength, and I can truly imagine her preening, seeing all the guests who were there to pay tribute to her. While I miss my mom, Aunt Lillian, Uncle Ernie and Aunt Judy have stepped forward and taken us 11 children under their wings with unconditional love.
In preparation for this party, I sewed vests and tunics for my siblings and kids as part of the honor to my mom. One night, very late, I was busy sewing and had gotten to the part of doing the eye. My sister wasn't with me; so I started praying. I kept thinking: Just once I would like to accomplish this part. I did it.
I was so happy I took my beadwork to one of our grief support meetings at Hospice to share. Maybe I can now sew the eye because of support of others, "seeing beyond my grief" to share this wisdom.
As a family case worker for Douglas Indian Association, a volunteer at Hospice & Home Care and the eldest of our large family, I am constantly dealing with life and death. With the hospice, I found the courage to go through the grief I had tried to avoid; so I am now able to help others, especially Alaskan Natives, with theirs.
Sue Ann Lindoff is a Hospice & Home Care volunteer. The daughter of the late Father Michael and Emily Williams, she was born in Juneau and raised in Sitka and Hoonah; so she has the "best of two worlds."