Bee Heard: What do we do when a family member or friend passes away?

Photo Credit: SAMHSA

Mique Nuchus, this article is going to be a little out of the normal in the sense that I’m going to talk about my own personal grieving process and the recent loss of one of my favorite uncles.

To start here is just a little background of my past. I grew up on the Ute Mountain Ute Reservation, I experienced loss throughout my life from family and friends dying of natural causes, substance related complications, and un-natural causes. Many of us have similar experience and this isn’t out of the normal for most reservations. Because of all the loss, I became familiar with common rituals my family and my people practiced. Some practices, depending on the family, were new to me, but I understood the meaning behind them when they explained why they did certain things or didn’t do things before and after their loved was laid to rest.

You can experience a lot of loss in your life and you might think you get numb to it, but that wasn’t the case for me. If anything, it was hard for me to cope with the loss of my uncle, an uncle that I mimicked growing up, that I looked up to because I thought he was so cool and an uncle that I respected for living his life the way he wanted to. When I found out he had passed away I couldn’t do anything but cry this horrible cry and a part of me doubted the news. A part of me thought about the last time we talked. A part of me thought about all the times I wanted to call him, and I didn’t. A part of me thought about his voice and how he was the only one nowadays that called me by my family nickname. A part of me wanted to fly to Seattle and be there by his side. A part of me felt sad and painfully hurt. But after that rush of sadness and grief, I felt happiness for him. Happy that he was going home to be with his mom, dad, grandparents and all his family and friends that have passed before him. Why did I feel this way? I started to remember all the words my family would tell me when we lost someone. Things like, “don’t cry to much because you’ll make yourself sick,” “drink a lot of water,” “don’t go out at night and stay inside during this time,” “don’t be out in big crowds or going to places where there are a lot of people,” “burn cedar and pray every morning and night and think only good thoughts for yourself and for your uncle.” These are just a few examples that started flooding my mind and I automatically kicked in the practices that were taught to me.

We all have similar yet different practices, depending on your family and people. But one thing we have in common is resiliency. These verbal practices were passed down to us not to bring us down, but to lift us up, to give us strength and energy to keep moving forward. It’s there within us. We all have the right to grieve, feel sad and then to change that to happiness and strength. It might take some prayers, some songs, some long drives, some alone time and that’s okay. But we also must remember, our loved ones and our ancestors would want us to keep moving forward with our lives. There’s one practice that I always try to make sure I do after losing someone and that’s getting away for a couple days. At a very young age, I remember after someone close passed away, we would travel somewhere, go stay with relatives or get a room somewhere out of town. My grandmother and uncle would tell me it’s good to get away for a couple days. Let yourself grieve and to also let the spirit move on. When we would return home it always felt good, like that sadness and stuffiness wasn’t there anymore.  My uncle would bless our home off and all of us as well and he would say, “today is a new day, you must keep moving forward.”

We use the medicine that mother earth gives us. We use the words and wisdom from our people. We use different religious beliefs. We use our own beliefs and values. We use prayer and songs to help us get through rough times. Let’s help one another, share stories, share the words that were passed down from our grandparents and their grandparents. Those words, that knowledge, will help us heal.

My healing journey has just begun, and I know there’s no quick fix for the pain and loss I feel in my life. All I can do is set a plan for myself to talk to my family and grieve with them, keep praying and blessing myself off, and get on a schedule to see a counselor regularly to help me work through the loss of my uncle and to also work through some things that have surfaced due to this incident.

We all handle grief differently, but I’ve come to realize we can’t handle it alone. We all need support and guidance from our family, our people and yes, from a counselor or therapist sometimes. You don’t have to be going through rough times to talk to someone or do some self-care. It’s good for all of us to just check in every now and then.

Thank you for letting me share a piece of my grief and story with you. I pray and hope that if you are grieving too that you find comfort and help so that you can moving forward and find happiness in life again.

We all need a little help and guidance sometimes.



Want to help and be a part of the change?

Looking for community members and youth to join the Prevention Coalition tasked to reduce youth substance usage, eliminate mental health stigma and start the discussion around suicide and prevention. Upcoming Prevention Coalition meeting, Wednesday, Feb. 26, at the So. Ute Museum, Large Classroom. Dinner served at 5:30pm, meeting starts at 6pm-8pm. Contact Precious Collins, Native Connections Program Coordinator for more information 970-563-2487.


Upcoming Trainings:


Speak Now! Community Training. There is no perfect way to talk with your children about alcohol, marijuana, prescription medications and other drugs. But being honest and involved has a big influence on your children. Come learn about how to start the conversation with your children about drugs. Tuesday, Feb. 25 from 6pm-7:30pm at the SunUte Community Center. Please register with Precious Collins 970-563-2487. Free training, dinner and Active Kid Care provided.


Youth Mental Health First Aid Training: This training is designed to teach parents, family members, caregivers, teachers, school staff, peers, neighbors, health and human services workers, and other caring citizens how to help an adolescent (age 12-18) who is experiencing a mental health or addictions challenge or is in crisis. Friday, March 13 from 8am-5pm at the SunUte Community Center. Please register with Precious Collins 970-563-2487. Free training for anyone who works or lives in the Southern Ute Indian Reservation. Light snacks will be provided.


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